Beau lives in Michigan, which has had some very cold and snowy weather this winter. He’s a boxer, with very short fur and no thick undercoat. So his mom bought him a winter coat.
Beau wasn’t impressed.
Many years ago, I had a small dog, Timo, and lived in a cold and damp climate. My friend made him a beautiful coat—tweed, lined with fleece. He didn’t like it at first, so I let him get used to it gradually. I knew little about dogs at the time, so I didn’t know about conditioning and rewarding and all the means that trainers use to create positive associations. But what happened was that Timo realized that the coat was warm and cozy. He liked it! He ended up wearing it inside sometimes, when the weather (and house) was especially chilly. I’ve seen other dogs with sparse fur coats wearing jackets and sweaters, and some of them also seem to be comfortable in their clothing.
So I suggested that Beau might decide that he liked the coat once he realized that it kept him warm. His initial reaction was to walk very stiffly and refuse to do his business while wearing the coat.
Over several days, he did, indeed, begin to enjoy wearing the coat. He’s willing to go for longer walks, and his gait is less stiff. But he’s still not taking care of business.
His mom writes, “He walks totally differently when he’s wearing it. Instead of sniffing the ground and peeing on everything, he walks down the street with his head up, sniffing the air, and keeps stopping to look at things I can’t see and listen to things I can’t hear. And won’t pee or poop at all.”
She wonders whether he thinks it is a superdog cape and he just doesn’t want to get the coat dirty… or he might believe that it gives him a special power. We both wish we could get inside the dogs’ minds and know what they thought about their clothes—and whether the other dogs are envious or laugh at their clothed buddies. I especially wonder about all the dogs who wear holiday sweaters!
Dogs have varying reactions to clothing. Some take to it right away: Cali took to her raincoat pretty quickly. She doesn’t really like the hood, but she’s perfectly happy to wear the coat on walks, and it doesn’t interfere with her her activities, whether sniffing or eliminating. Other dogs freeze in place when dressed, while many don’t even seem to notice the clothing.
Lest anyone think that I am one of those silly people who dresses her dogs in clothing all the time, I’m not. I got raincoats for the girls, plus a spare for Koala’s visits (and Dora’s) because I was tired of having wet dogs lying around all the time. Jana’s coat took hours to dry completely, and both girls were cold and uncomfortable when they were wet after a walk. Now, Koala’s gone home after a no-rain visit, so Cali has three raincoats to choose from.
I do think that people need to be sensible about dressing their dogs. No clothing should interfere with the dog’s ability to move freely, lie down comfortably, or see. A dog with a thick fur coat should not be dressed in clothing that could make him overheat, but a thin-coated dog in a cold climate should have clothing for warmth. A whippet who had the misfortune to spend a winter in the NEADS puppy nursery while I worked there had a large wardrobe of warm jackets and sweaters, which she definitely needed. But, aside from raincoats and the occasional festive bandanna (and Jana’s beloved feather boa), I don’t dress my dogs.