Q. I just bought my dog her first winter coat and boots, but when I put them on her, she won’t move. How do I get her to love her new gear?
A. Ah yes, the dog clothing drama. Although wearing the newest Canada Goose coat, or Ugg boots is thrilling to you, your dog is, well, a dog. Sorry. They’ve gotten on just fine with the coat they arrived in, and the same goes for their footwear. However, like it or not, there is a need for some dogs to have foot protection and added warmth, so in an effort to reduce the stress of your dog (and the number of videos of dogs on YouTube trying to dislodge themselves from their new boots), you need to do some training to teach your dog how much fun it can be to wear clothes. You’ve heard of leash breaking and housebreaking (although I detest the word “breaking”), so it makes sense that there needs to be some type of training associated with a concept as foreign to a dog as wearing clothes. My suggestion is to start teaching your dog to tolerate basic body handling – a MUST for every dog, whether they’re destined for clothes or not. They’ll need to be handled by at least their veterinarian, and if she’s upset or fearful, the visit is likely to go on far longer, and with more upsetting results. And besides, you’ll be happy you did this when your vet hands you ear drops for your dog that you have to administer “twice a day for a week”. Imagine the drama if you hadn’t done the work beforehand!
After she’s cool with being handled, start her “clothes” training with an oversized t-shirt (use a child’s size for small dogs), which will be easier and less upsetting for her to put her head and legs through than a tight sweater. Once your dog is comfortable, then practice using the coat you’ve bought her, worn in short intervals if she’s particularly nervous. Fit and comfort is everything, so be sure you’ve bought her something that doesn’t rub or chafe her. Initially, boots should be put on your dog not at the beginning of the walk, but on the way back, which will capitalize on their desire to go home.
Of course, fabulous food rewards (my dogs will do anything for a jar of chicken baby food!) must be used to motivate your dog to play these games.
And for those of you shaking your heads at the idea of doggie dress-ups, let me assure you that there is a payoff (beyond comfort) in this exercise. All the handling, attention, and rewards will ultimately make the dogs more accepting of contact that they may not be so fond of initially, such as the vet holding his head still to look into her ear or picking up a foot to check her pads. Dressing your dog, whether for comfort or just for “dress up”, when taught correctly, strengthens the relationship between you and your best (dressed) friend.