January 14th is National Dress Up Your Pet Day! A fun concept – but is it really something you should take part in?
Susi Colclough walks us through the pros and cons of dressing up our dogs…
When we consider clothing for our dogs, it may have different functions – from keeping them warm to mud-free, safe post-operations, or just to look cute! A quick internet search for “dog coats” brings up literally millions of options. And that is only one type of clothing! Jumpers, T-shirts, ties, bandanas… the possibilities are endless. However, many dogs find wearing clothes an uncomfortable experience.
Think about putting on a jumper. You’ve got to get your head through a hole, past your ears, and in a comfortable place around your neck. Then there are arms to contend with! For us humans, this is fairly easy.
Now think about how you would put a jumper on your dog. You have to get their muzzle, eyes, and ears through the head hole. This can cause the dog to be concerned, as they will be temporarily blind with their ears being manipulated to get through the opening. For dogs with pricked or sticky-out ears, the movement can cause the dog to be very uncomfortable.
Once the head is in, you might think you’ve got success… but now we’re onto the legs. Sadly, most dogs are not as co-operative with getting their legs through the correct places. So now you have to pick up their leg and manhandle it to get into a small leg hole. Repeat up to 3 times depending on the jumper and dog. Altogether, this will take a good few minutes. And your dog may be getting more and more stressed by the experience.
Oh well, you think, at least they are warm now. But alongside being warm, they’re also stressed and perhaps their movement is hindered. The shape of the jumper may mean your dog can’t stride freely. Is it worth it? Ask yourself if your dog would be more comfortable snuggling down with an extra blanket or with a heated dog pad. For very short-coated and hairless breeds, you may feel it is necessary for your beloved pet to wear a jumper or similar item in the colder months. This may be true when you are out in the wintery world, but due to modern central heating, it may not be required in the home.
On particularly inclement days (we so often experience in the UK), popping a coat on your dog can be a good idea. These items tend to be designed with the dog’s comfort in mind instead of fashion. That’s not to say they are all frumpy looking – there are some truly beautiful options out there! On snowy, hail ridden or rain-drenched walks, wearing a proper coat can be a blessing.
My dogs wear Hurrta coats on very bad days. The style they wear has a large head hole to avoid squashing their ears and no leg hole. It covers most of their belly with a fastening strip that does up over their back. One clip and the majority of the dog is covered with minimal fuss. It is important to note that they have been allowed to get used to wearing the coat at home, the experience of it being put on and taken off, before going out in it. This meant a few missed walks but it was worth it for their comfort and mine.
If you are considering getting a coat, look at the structure of your dog. Make note of how the coat will sit on the dog, how is fastens, how easy or difficult it would be to put on and take off. Ask others about their experiences with the same or similar types and how it affects their dog’s movement and mood. Most importantly, if you do purchase one, allow your dog time to get used to it. Introduce the coat or jumper in the same way you would a harness. They may never like it and you should respect them if that is the case. By just putting it on them and expecting them to cope, you may be removing a lot of the trust and confidence your dog has placed in you.
Outside of functional clothing – some novelty items can drastically change the shape of your dog. For example, have you seen a dog wearing a spider costume? It can be scary to humans, never mind other dogs! Even placing a fairly snug jumper on a fluffy dog changes their outline. Now the dog has to contend with not only the way the costume makes them feel but also the reaction of other dogs to their strange appearance. Even something simple like a hat can be a lot for dogs to process. The elastic required to hold it in place tends to be tight and another dog may try to play with it and end up hurting your dog. It also hinders the movement of their ears – which is so important for their ability to communicate effectively with other dogs.
The question you need to ask yourself, is who is the clothing for?
Is it for function or aesthetic? Who is benefiting from it? If the answer isn’t 100% the dog, then think twice before dressing them up.