Ask Kathy About Dogs And Winter Gear

By Kathy Santo | Updated: April 11 2019

Student’s Question:

“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?

Kathy’s Answer:

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 by first teaching your dog to tolerate basic body handling – a MUST for every dog, whether they’re destined for clothes or not.

Your dog will need to be handled by at least their veterinarian, and if he’s upset or fearful, the visit is likely to go on far longer, and with more upsetting results. 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 he’s cool with being handled, start his “clothes” training with an oversized t-shirt (use a child’s size for small dogs), which will be easier and less upsetting for him to put his head and legs through than a tight sweater. Once your dog is comfortable, then practice using the coat you’ve bought him, worn in short intervals if he’s particularly nervous.

Fit and comfort is everything (just as with people), so be sure you’ve bought him something that doesn’t rub or chafe him. 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 his ear, or picking up a foot to check his 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.

Kathy Santo has spent her entire career as a dog trainer and handler, training dogs and winning over 500 obedience, agility and Canine Good Citizenship titles. Working with her own dogs, she has achieved every competitive obedience title the American Kennel Club (AKC) has offered and earned the prestigious AKC “Obedience Trial Champion” title (OTCh) multiple times.

In Waldwick, Kathy teaches classes, private lessons, and oversees the training of her student’s dogs using her extensive knowledge, experience and intuition to handle problems from the benign to the serious. Her engaging personality has won her the respect and friendship of her many students, who now consider themselves part of her extended family.


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