Let me start out by saying that when I adopt a rescue dog—and I have five of them—I write directly on the adoption papers: “Must enjoy wearing clothes.” Does that always get me a dog that likes to wear clothes? No! But, since I’m in the business of designing and manufacturing dog clothing, my dogs have to wear clothes—as fit models when we’re creating new designs, for website photos, for marketing, and for fashion shows. Some dogs love clothes right from the beginning. You put an outfit on them, and they walk around showing off and looking pleased with themselves. Some are fine and comfortable and others … well, you know the ones. They act like you’re punishing them when you try to dress them up.
But fashion isn’t the only reason some owners dress their dogs—certain breeds need to wear clothes to protect them from the elements, extreme temperatures, and to help them adapt to the environment they find themselves being raised in. 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. Dogs with thin coats can only curl up so tight to conserve heat. Smaller, light-bodied breeds, toy breeds, and breeds that naturally have very short or thin coats are more comfortable wearing a sweater when they go outside or even just hanging out in a cool house.
Of course, short, thin hair is not the only reason your dog might need to wear clothing. Dogs that have short-cropped hair—like poodles, which are often shaved close to avoid matting—may also need to wear clothing. And older dogs with weak immune systems and dogs with diseases that impair hair growth (i.e., Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism) probably need a sweater or shirt for warmth, too.
So, what do I do when I fall in love with a dog who doesn’t think he likes wearing clothes? I use my 10-step plan for training him to love it! Here are my top ten tips.
1 Put the item in your laundry hamper for a day or two. Not when it’s empty—when it’s full of dirty clothes. I hear you saying “yuck” right now, but it will make the item smell like you and be more appealing and familiar to your dog.
2 I like to try clothes, or anything new on my my dog before dinner so the dog is hungry and food motivated.
3 Put your dog on a table or counter. It’s harder for them to run away, and you won’t hurt your back. It also tells them that something important is going to happen.
4 Let them smell the item before you do anything.
5 Take a deep breath and speak gently to them in a relaxed tone. Dogs feel our energy, and if you’re tense, they get tense.
6 Put the garment on the dog and put them back on the floor. Give them lots of praise.
7 If they freeze or act out, walk away. Don’t stop now. It’s important that you don’t give up and especially that you don’t give them attention for the bad behavior.
8 Take them for a walk as soon as they’re dressed, so they begin to associate a harness or clothes with going for a rewarding walk. Yippee!
9 If you are doing this before dinner, another good option is to put dinner in the bowl. Most hungry dogs will forget about what they’re wearing and run to their food bowl. Or, if it’s during the day, I walk away from the “frozen dog” and walk to the treat canister. When they hear the canister open, they “defrost” quickly. Treats or dinner are both great distracting rewards.
10 If they wiggle out of the clothes, put them back on and get them to walk to the treat jar and receive a treat. Give them lots of praise when the garment is on. If they wiggle out again, put it back on again. Praise them, give them a treat. They will begin to associate clothes with treats—a good thing.
After a while, if you’re persistent, your dog will associate their harness or clothing with a walk, dinner, treat, outing, company coming, or any number of good things. And he’ll be excited to see you pulling out something for him to wear!
Patt Savastano, MA, owner of Spoiled Dog Designs, designs and manufactures pet harnesses, clothing, and carriers. 760-482-1877, spoileddogdesigns.com.