I did my first Christmas photo-shoot with Bella last year, and, to be honest, I had no idea how she would react to wearing a costume. But since I have spent the last 5 years teaching Bella to trust and to not be afraid of a whole host of things from wrapping paper and stairs to weave poles and teeter totters, I was pretty sure I could gain her cooperation without traumatizing her too severely by making her wearing a hat. (Antlers, to be precise.)
Armed with her most favorite treat in the whole world (home-made chicken jerky), we had a blast doing that photo-shoot and have done several others since. To be fair, we don't usually use props. But these shoots, in our world, are training and bonding opportunities. To Bella, it's 'play time'.
Would Bella rather not have to wear a silly prisoner outfit to get that chicken jerky out of my hand? Oh, undoubtedly. Just as I'm sure she'd rather not have to sit for her dinner. But coupling an activity with something she loves is the whole idea behind getting a dog over their fear.
So maybe I wasn't really abusing the dog after all by asking her to don a triceratops horn.
But here's the thing, not all dogs will like being put in costumes. If your dog doesn't, you have two choices: 1) don't do it or 2) work with them to make it a fun experience. And if you don't know whether or not your dog does, err on the side of caution and make it a training adventure.
To folks on both sides of the "Dress Your Pet" divide, I say, come on, let's just use some common sense.
Towards that end, here are a few good ground rules:
- Pay attention to your dog. If you see their body stiffen, their head turn away, or their tail tuck between their legs, stop what you're doing. The costume pictured below came with leggings with which Bella never got comfortable. I put them on her twice briefly and she froze. So they came off. Simple.
- Be careful not to constrict your dog's breathing or movements with the costume or clothing. The princess costume came with a little "dress" that was just a wee bit too small for Bella. So I let her play with it instead of wear it.
- Don't dress your dog up for the first time on Halloween night when all the sugar-crazed kiddies are swarming to your door. The night itself is full of mischief and mayhem, don't make it worse for your dog by putting them in a completely unknown situation. Test first, train, make good decisions and do right by your dog.
The best part about trying to take pretty pictures of my dog is how grumpy she "appears" to be about the whole thing. If I was a better photographer, I'd have pictures of our play during these photo-shoots and not just pictures from when I beg her to just sit still for one second.
Remember, a couple of still photos doesn't really tell the whole story. Let's try to be gentle with each other, okay?
Finally, about that last 'costume change' I mentioned in our last post. This one goes out to all my "chicks". You know who you are and let me just say: you rock.