The practice of dressing our dogs in ears, hats, booties, and whatever else that might make us laugh, is a tradition for most celebrations these days. Doting dog owners spend more than $350 million a year on costumes for their Halloween hounds alone. The season is barely underway, and we've already seen some pretty impressive costumes, including dogs dressed as the pope and a Shar-Pei dressed as an old woman

To some human eyes, the spectacle of dogs in clothes is appalling. “Let them be dogs,” is the common refrain. “They’re not substitute children.”

But proponents say their dogs love it, and some dogs appear to really enjoy dressing up and going out with their owners to Halloween parades and other holiday pageants. Some trainers add that teaching your dogs to wear costumes is a smart idea. A dog who is comfortable in elf shoes, hats, and big fluffy collars will be more accepting of medical wraps and therapeutic devices, such as booties to protect a wounded paw or the dreaded Elizabethan collar.

Also, therapy dogs sometimes dress in costumes to amp up their natural mood-boosting talents.

Like everything else, preparing a dog to wear a costume takes some training and sensitivity. AKC’s Canine Good Citizen director Mary Burch offers these thoughts on canine couture:

* In addition to the sailor suit or ruffled dress, keep in mind that your dog is already wearing a fur coat and can easily become overheated when running around with extra layers.

* Dogs naturally need to move around in order to make sense of their world by sniffing, exploring, or digging.  Some canine couture can restrict your pet’s movement, or become a safety risk by getting caught on various objects or affecting your dog’s ability to see clearly.

* Just like humans, dogs communicate with each other using subtle signals and body language.  While you may love your dog’s outfit, it may actually mask these signals and hinder your dog’s communication with other dogs. Unless outfitted in a coat for harsh weather, forget the doggy wear when your dog is interacting with other dogs.

What do you think about pets wearing costumes? Share your thoughts below.