Do Pets Enjoy Dressing Up for Halloween?

gpointstudio/iStock via Getty Images
gpointstudio/iStock via Getty Images

Each Halloween, social media becomes congested with pictures of people's furry companions decked out in capes, caps, wings, and other Halloween flair. A Labradoodle is adorable to begin with. Put him in a bee costume and people melt.

But look closely at some of these photos. In the pet’s eyes you might see a note of humiliation or sadness. Like the court jester, they’ve been made to be comic relief. Shame seems to envelop them like a dark cloud. It’s as if a dog knows his dignity is circling the drain.

In forcing your cat to wear a bunny costume, are we depriving our pets of a basic right to decency? What if they’re just doing it for us?

Grey Scottish Fold cat wearing a hat with bunny ears
Asurobson/iStock via Getty Images

“That's one possibility,” says Alexandra Horowitz, Ph.D., a senior research fellow and adjunct associate professor at Barnard College and author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. “We are a society that asks dogs to stay frozen while we balance a dog treat on their nose. It pays off for them because we eventually give them the treat, the attention, the love. Dogs certainly have learned to endure small discomforts for our pleasure.”

Rather than be happy about having an alter ego—say, a hot dog—pets might instead be thinking their human handlers are scolding them, Horowitz says. That's because domesticated dogs have wolf-like ancestors. Their cousins, wolves (Canis lupus), are prone to covering a subservient wolf’s body with their own as a form of reprimand. In covering a dog’s body with a costume, a dog might have a genetic disposition to feel like they’re being corrected. That’s why some might simply freeze in place or otherwise act sullen.

“If they duck to get away, keep their tail low or ears back, or generally keep their body tight and low, that's submissive, appeasement behavior,” Horowitz says.

French bulldog dressed up as a pirate
Firn/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you feel like you’re not causing your dog emotional damage, costumes should still be evaluated for possible physical dangers. No puppy duds should obscure their eyes or face or fit too snugly around their chest. (It can restrict breathing.) They should be visible in low-light conditions, either for trick-or-treating or in case they dash out of the house. Some vets have reported having to surgically remove small accessories or objects that were dislodged from costumes and swallowed, so it’s good to make sure nothing on the outfit is removable.

If your dog exhibits signs of duress—pawing, itching, cowering, pinned ears, tucked tail—then you should reconsider their participation in the festivities. If you want to test their temperament before buying a costume, try putting them in a T-shirt. If they look unhappy, spare them the additional stress of dressing them up like a taco.

As for cats? “I would not do this,” Horowitz says. “Cats don't suffer our ridiculousness.”

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Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?

iStock/bonchan
iStock/bonchan

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

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Why Are Poinsettias Associated with Christmas?

iStock
iStock

Certain Christmas traditions never seem to go out of style. Along with wreaths, gingerbread cookies, and reruns of A Christmas Story sits the poinsettia, a red-tinged leafy arrangement that’s become synonymous with the holiday. Upwards of 100 million of them are sold in the six weeks before December 25.

Why do people associate the potted plant with seasonal cheer? Chalk it up to some brilliant marketing.

In 1900, a German immigrant named Albert Ecke was planning to move his family to Fiji. Along the way, they became enamored of the beautiful sights found in Los Angeles—specifically, the wild-growing poinsettia, which was named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the U.S.-Mexican ambassador who first brought it to the States in 1828. Ecke saw the appeal of the plant’s bright red leaves that blossomed in winter (it’s not actually a flower, despite the common assumption) and began marketing it from roadside stands to local growers as "the Christmas plant."

The response was so strong that poinsettias became the Ecke family business, with their crop making up more than 90 percent of all poinsettias sold throughout most of the 20th century: Ecke, his son Paul, and Paul’s son, Paul Jr., offered a unique single-stem arrangement that stood up to shipping, which their competitors couldn’t duplicate. When Paul III took over the business in the 1960s, he began sending arrangements to television networks for use during their holiday specials. In a priceless bit of advertising, stars like Ronald Reagan, Dinah Shore, and Bob Hope were sharing screen time with the plant, leading millions of Americans to associate it with the holiday.

While the Ecke single-stem secret was eventually cracked by other florists—it involved grafting two stems to make one—and their market share dwindled, their innovative marketing ensured that the poinsettia would forever be linked to Christmas.

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