Do dogs need clothes? While this may at first appear to be a light concern to those who would scoff at the idea of dressing a dog, there are still many dog owners who have seen their dogs shiver violently after exposure to winter temperatures but hesitate to put clothing on their dogs for fear of appearing odd. Well, have no fear. If you are concerned about your dog being cold, there is certainly no harm in putting clothing on him.
If you are still on the fence, consider this: Sure, dogs come equipped with their own external layering system, but some dogs have lighter layers of fur than others, and some are not genetically suited to the environments in which they find themselves transplanted. So your dog may in fact be extremely uncomfortable with the winter temperatures — as uncomfortable as you would be if you went outside without clothing.
Does Your Dog Need Clothes?
A sweater or jacket can be helpful during the cold seasons, especially if your dog is reluctant to go outside in the snow to relieve himself, but also if you tend to keep your home’s internal heating system set low, depending instead on blankets and sweaters for your human occupants.
How warm your dog is able to physically keep himself may depend on his breed, size and even age, but if he just doesn’t have a heavy hair coat, there is only so much curling up he can do to conserve heat. Smaller, light bodied breeds, toy breeds, and breeds that naturally have very short or thin hair coats benefit from a warm dog sweater for when they need to go outside, or for just hanging around the house. A sweater can make a significant difference in your dog’s feeling of well-being.
Of course, short, thin hair is not the only prerequisite for outer clothing. Dogs that tend to have short-cropped hair — like poodles, which may grow thick hair but which owners tend to keep short to avoid matting — should also be given a sweater to protect them from very low temperatures. Also, older dogs with weaker immune systems and dogs with diseases that impair hair growth (i.e., Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism) typically need an extra source for warmth, and this can be easily provided by a sweater or jacket, even indoors.
Conversely, larger dogs with dense hair coats do not have a need for additional insulation, and would be very uncomfortable if they were forced to wear outer clothing, possibly to the point of physically overheating. Their fur is already genetically designed to protect them from extreme winter temperatures. The Siberian Husky, Malamute, and Saint Bernard breeds are all excellent examples of dogs that are perfectly suited to cold temperatures, while the Chihuahua, Greyhound, and many terrier and pinscher breeds are good examples of dogs that would do well with a little extra outer insulation.
Finding a Good Sweater
Once you have decided to get a sweater for your dog, you will need to begin by considering material. While wool is very warm and one of the best insulating materials, take into account how often it will need to be washed, and whether it will make your dog more uncomfortable due to itching. A good blend of washable wool and cotton or acrylic may be the best bet.
Second, just as you would measure your own neck, chest and waist before buying a piece of clothing, measuring your dog is the best way of assuring the best fit. Why do you want it to fit? So that your dog cannot easily pull the piece off, so it doesn’t drag on the ground, and so it doesn’t get caught on anything during normal movement. You want the piece to be snug without being tight.
The most important areas to measure are around the neck, around the largest part of the chest, and the distance from the neck to the waist. The sweater’s length should end around the waist, leaving the lower bellow free. Knowing your dog’s actual weight will also help you to determine the correct size. If possible, take your dog along to the store with you try the clothes before buying them, as returns are very difficult when it comes to clothing for animals.
It almost goes without saying, but we will mention it anyway, dogs cannot, or should not, wear pants — only sweaters and jackets.
Check especially around the arms (in the "armpit" area) and around the neck to be sure there is freedom of movement, but not too much excess fabric. Also, choose pieces that are easy to put on and take off, nothing you have to pull too tightly over your dog’s head or that cause you or the dog to struggle.
Another important consideration is checking for any additional parts — like zippers, hooks, buttons or tags. The best pieces will have nothing that can be chewed off and swallowed. Some outside jackets are made with hooks to attach a leash to, but they are meant to be worn only under direct supervision and should be removed once the dog is left to her own devices. That is, when you are not directly observing her, such as during sleep/work/other hours.
This may also be the prefect time to take up knitting or crocheting, or to ask Aunt Suzie for an extra gift of her time and talent. And believe us when we tell you that dogs really do not care about the color or style you dress him in either, so go ahead and get (or make) the matching owner-pet-sweater-combos. Your dog will love the attention you show him while putting the clothes on, so just have fun while you stay warm!
Image source: Emery_Way / via Flickr