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I dress my dog in tiny outfits. Am I being cruel? Add to ...

Welcome to Pet Detective, a new column where The Globe’s Amberly McAteer will find answers to the health and behaviour problems of our four-legged friends. Send your questions to petquestions@globeandmail.com (All questions will be published anonymously.)

The question: I admit it: I like to dress my dog in adorable, tiny outfits on the regular. My pug, Roxanne, gets a real kick out of it, and honestly it’s about making her happy. I get a lot of flak from friends, family, and absolute strangers about what I’m doing – they say it’s cruel and embarrassing. I love my girl – and honestly, I don’t think I’m hurting anyone. Am I wrong?

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The answer: Roxanne, you don’t have to wear that dress tonight.

My initial reaction is much like Sting’s message: Roxanne must stop dressing up. She’s better than that.

Sure, my boxer Ruby has her own section of the hall closet dedicated to doggie rain wear, booties, hoodies and winter jackets – but this, I swear, is because she gets cold easily. None of it is for my own enjoyment. Certainly, dog-dressing is acceptable for practical, Canadian weather-fighting situations only. Anything else is intolerable.

And then, the Internet gave me something that would forever transform me: dogs in panty hose. Sounds ridiculous, tacky, humiliating, right? It is, all of that, but I laughed and laughed and laughed at these photos of dogs, happily lying there, adorned with women’s stockings on their hind legs, their innocent expressions now somehow hilariously seductive.

And this story – about a service dog dressed in graduation garb – made me teary-eyed. My cold, cynical heart was melting – and I felt deeply conflicted about my new-found love of dressed-up dogs.

To make myself feel less alone, and to get a sense of why we love costumed dogs, I chat with my friend’s new girlfriend, Mandi – I know two things about her: she has an affinity for all things Disney and owns a toy poodle named Fonz, whom she likes to dress in velour tracksuits.

“That might make me crazy, but I am who I am,” she says.

A quick search through her Facebook profile reveals albums galore, starring the little curly fellow who also makes an “awesome lobster” and “excellent Jack Sparrow.”

“For people like me,” she explains, “they are little persons,” adding that Fonz’s outfits aren’t hurting him, “and all it means is that the dog is well loved.”

She insist Fonz is proud – “he walks differently!” – and when he’s “nude,” he can’t look at himself in the mirror.

Can dogs really feel humiliation or pride, depending on their wardrobe?

“No no no no, dogs cannot feel shame,” Dr. Stanley Coren tells me. The professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia has written many books about canine psychology, outlining exactly what our pooches can feel.

Dogs have the emotional maturity of a two to three-year-old human, Dr. Coren explains. They can feel basic emotions such as joy, fear, affection, anger, but will never progress into feelings of shame, guilt, or pride.

When you’re reading “pride” into the tail-wagging at outfit, Dr. Coren – who admits to dressing his own dog in reindeer antlers every Dec. 25 – says that excitement is simply anticipation of affection.

“The dog knows that when they’re in that tracksuit, they’re likely to go outside, they like that, and everyone who meets them is going to give affection – so they’re happy about that.”

And the doctor raises an excellent point: “dogs are not four-footed people in fur coats,” so it’s important to recognize this behaviour is for human enjoyment only. “Some people are perfectly willing to spend $75 for two hours at a rock concert – that’s no different than my $20 antlers, which make me laugh and make my family laugh for the same two hours.”

So, there it is: put Roxanne in that dress, let her strut her tiny flat-faced self down the sidewalk – but it’s for your enjoyment, not hers.

Roxanne, you don’t care if it’s wrong or if it’s right.

Send your questions to petquestions@globeandmail.com (All questions will be published anonymously.)

Follow on Twitter: @amberlym

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