Admit it — most of us have done it. An adorable sweater, a stylish jacket, or even a silly costume, the majority of pet parents have tried to play dress up with their four-legged friends.
Sure, most dogs don’t need to wear clothes. There are exceptions, of course – in the winter, small and short-haired breeds will often require a sweater or jacket (at minimum) to protect them from the elements during walks and while playing outside. Even snow-loving long-haired dogs should wear protective footwear in extreme cold or heat or for protection from the elements. The hairless breeds regularly wear clothes to stay warm. And, a dog that’s recently had surgery may need to wear clothing to protect an incision site.
Whatever your reason for playing dress up with your dog, it’s important to proceed with caution and use some positive reinforcement so you don’t upset your dog.
Keep it Simple
Unless your dog is accustomed to wearing elaborate outfits, keep it simple, realizing that dog clothes might feel strange, make funny noises, and rub them in ways they aren’t used to. If your dog isn’t used to being dolled up, ditch the elaborate dresses and opt for something easy like a bow-tie, hat, or simple t-shirt instead.
Get the Right Size
Always make sure anything you put on your dog is properly sized to fit! This is true of both collars and clothes. Make sure the outfit your dog wears isn’t too tight (or too loose!) and doesn’t impede his ability to jump, move, or breathe.
Get your dog used to the idea of wearing a costume early by leaving it out where he can see and smell it. After a while, lay the clothing across your dog’s back for a few moments to get him used to it. Be sure to reward your dog with treats or playtime so he associates the outfit with positive things!
Use Positive Reinforcement
After your dog has had time to get used to an article of clothing or a costume, now you can try dressing him in it. Immediately after you put something on him, let him play with a favorite toy or chase after some high-value treats. He’ll soon realize the outfit isn’t going to paralyze him and he can move around freely in it. Provide plenty of praise, letting him know how happy seeing him in his new sweater makes you!
Never Leave a Dressed Dog Unattended
If you’ve got clothes on your dog, never, ever leave him unattended. Dogs should only wear clothes under your supervision to make sure nothing happens. A dog left alone in clothes might try to get out of them and end up wearing a shirt around his waist or pulling his leg out of an arm-hole. Neither of these scenarios are any fun for your best friend!
Watch for Signs of Stress
Some dogs will tolerate wearing clothes with no problems at all (in fact, some seem to like it!), while others will tuck their tail, try to hide, or even bite and paw at their duds. If it’s clear that your pup is uncomfortable, take the clothes off and start again with something simpler. Don’t stress your dog by doing too much, too soon. Remember, slow and steady wins the race!