Times have changed since I was a kid and went "trick-or-treating" on Halloween.

In the "old days," if your dog got to come along on the trek from one neighbor's door to the other, he was held in the background by a parent who used the outing in lieu of the dog's routine nightly walk.

The dogs weren't dressed up in costumes and weren't active participants in the celebration.

But fast-forward to 2012 and it is impossible to turn on the TV without seeing an advertisement for pet apparel during any of the major holidays,

And Halloween has become the most popular holiday of the year for dogs to dress up, with competitions seeking the funniest, most original or creative costumes held at retail pet stores across the nation.

With that in mind, a recent ASPCA article outlines helpful safety hints if you decide to have your pet wear a costume this Halloween:

* Your pet's Halloween garb should not constrict his movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe, bark or meow. Be sure to try on costumes in advance, and if your furry friend seems distressed, you'll want to ditch the mini-pirate hat and vest.

* Examine your pet's costume and make sure it doesn't have any small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that he could choke on. Also, ill-fitting outfits can get caught on external objects or your pet, leading to injury.

* Make sure your dog or cat has proper identification on underneath the cute costume. If for any reason your pet escapes and becomes lost during Halloween festivities, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can be a lifesaver.

Although there are prizes to be won at costume contests, the fact is most dog owners simply compete in them for bragging rights, and those who attend parties or take the dog along trick-or-treating are doing it just for fun.

But that fun doesn't come without controversy.

Many of the comments I noted following the ASPCA article attack dressing pets up in costumes as cruel, demeaning and insulting. They urge people to "please, spare their (pet's) dignity, they are perfectly beautiful and happy in the coats they were born in."

I personally don't agree with extremists on either side of this issue. The animal rights proponents won't be happy until none of us train, work with or even own a dog. From their point of view it's not natural, and their idea of a happy dog is one that lives free, not owned by human beings. (How's that working out for the countless starving and abandoned dogs across the country?)

On the other hand, the other extreme of dressing a dog up and treating it like a surrogate child is mentally unhealthy and fraught with problems.

But if I owned an old dog that suffered from the cold or arthritis I wouldn't hesitate to put a coat or sweater on him, and if I owned a short-haired toy breed, or one whose health was compromised, I would certainly make sure it was protected from drafts or becoming chilled. That's just good common sense.

I also recently recommended that a client purchase a Thundershirt as an aid in their dog's separation anxiety. Is that cruel and demeaning?

I don't put costumes on my dogs, but Frank has humored me on more than one occasion by posing in hats on San Joaquin Community Hospital's Facebook page without any emotional side effects, and he prances down the halls when wearing his jingle bells at Christmas to entertain the patients. If that's exploitation, he's loving every minute of it!

Plan on dressing your dog up as Frankenweenie this Halloween? Follow the ASPCA's tips to keep it safe, have fun and your dog should survive with his doggy identity, and dignity, intact.

Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter @csi4K9s. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.