There are clothes for dogs of all sizes and a variety of reasons you might want to dress your dog. Sweaters, shirts, and coats are especially useful for keeping hairless and short-coated dogs warm and comfortable during cold weather. Raincoats can help keep dogs clean and dry while walking in the rain and reduce the need for significant grooming when they get back inside. For dogs of all sizes, shoes or boots can help protect their feet from being burned by hot pavement or injured by deicer or sharp ice in cold weather. Regardless of why you’re putting your dog’s clothes on, it’s important to introduce clothing intentionally to your dog to make sure they are comfortable.
Ensuring Clothing Fit and Safety
Proper fit is essential when introducing clothing items to your dog. Regardless of what kind of clothing your dog is wearing, it should fit well and not be too tight. Dog clothes that are tight will be uncomfortable when you try to put them on your dog. This will make getting dressed and undressed challenging for your dog. Additionally, too tight clothes can restrict your dog’s movement, preventing them from comfortably walking or playing, and potentially leading to injuries.
It’s equally important to ensure that the clothing you select for your dog isn’t too big, as it won’t stay on your dog properly. Overly baggy clothing can cause dogs to trip or get caught somewhere, which can be frightening or painful. When dogs are wearing clothes, they should always be supervised for safety. Don’t leave clothes on your dog if they’re crated or left unattended, as the clothes could snag or catch and be a choking hazard for your dog.
Allow Your Dog to Sniff and Explore
It’s important to start introducing your dog to their outfits in a place without a lot of distractions where your dog feels comfortable. A quiet area of your home is best. When exposing your dog to clothing, you want to allow them to become comfortable with the clothing at their own pace. This helps our dogs to build confidence with the presence of the clothes and be happy wearing them.
Step 1: Put the clothing item down in an area where your dog is comfortable and just let your dog explore. Praise and reward your dog for approaching the clothing item or any other interest or engagement with it. This will help your dog build positive associations with clothing.
Step 2: When your dog is comfortable approaching the clothing item, hold the clothes in your hand. Again, praise or reward your dog for approaching, sniffing, or nudging the clothing item while it’s in your hands.
Step 3: Now, it’s time to begin putting the clothes on your dog. Start slowly by first bringing the clothing item up to your dog’s body. Praise and give your dog a treat. We want to make sure our dogs are comfortable with the clothing item being brought up to them before we try to put it on.
Step 4: When your dog is comfortable with you bringing the clothing up to their body, it’s time to gently put the clothing on your dog. If it’s a shirt or other clothing item, put the clothes on your dog and praise and treat your dog when you have it on. If you’re getting your dog used to wearing boots, put one boot on and praise your dog, and then slowly build up to your dog wearing all four.
Step 5: As your dog is wearing the clothing, continue to offer praise and give them treats. If at any point your dog seems stressed or frustrated by the clothing, remove it immediately and try again later, going back to the earlier steps and working back up to your dog wearing the clothing item.
Step 6: Build up your dog’s comfort and duration with wearing the clothes around the house, and then venture out on a walk. Keep up the rate of reinforcement with treats and praise when your dog is dressed.
Playing in Dog Clothes
Once your dog is okay with having clothing put onto them, you want them to understand that the clothes aren’t going to restrict their movement. When your dog has their clothes on, toss treats for your dog to chase and eat. You can also practice tricks or obedience skills while your dog is wearing clothes while praising and treating your dog. If your dog is toy-motivated, you can engage them in fetch, tug, or other games with their clothes on. This helps your dog focus less on their clothes and more on the play, training, and activities.
When your dog can comfortably wear their clothes and engage in normal play at home, it’s time to add in more distractions, like bringing your dog outside for a walk in cold weather with their sweater on. Just be sure to keep your rate of reinforcement with treats and toys high.
Keep Your Dog Involved
Another strategy for helping dogs be more comfortable wearing clothes is to give them the chance to help dress themselves. To do this, you can use trick training skills your dog might already know, like shaking hands on cue. To use this cue for getting dressed, ask for your dog’s paw to put a boot on and then praise and treat your dog. Many dogs find this more enjoyable than you grabbing their legs to put their shoes on. You can also teach your dog to help dress themselves by putting their head through the neck hole of a shirt or sweater on cue:
Step 1: Bunch up the shirt until just the opening for your dog’s head is visible. Then, hold a treat on one side, and, when your dog pushes their head through the hole, praise and give your dog the treat.
Step 2: Repeat this several times without putting the sweater on, just rewarding your dog for putting their head through the shirt or sweater. Holding out the shirt to your dog will become a visual cue that you want your dog to put their head into the shirt hole. You can also introduce a verbal cue of choice like “get dressed” as your dog puts their head through the shirt’s head hole. Just remember to treat your dog when they put their head through.
Step 3: Soon, your dog will realize that putting their head into the shirt is going to be rewarded and will begin to offer the behavior anytime you hold out the shirt. At this point, you can phase out the lure and just treat your dog after they put their head through. As you’re practicing, sometimes just reward your dog for putting their head through the shirt, and other times put the shirt on and then praise and reward your dog.