A client called me over the weekend concerned about his little Chihuahua mix. She's 10 months old and has a very short coat. He was worried that she might be getting cold on their early morning and evening walks. Given that this is a confident, happy-go-lucky little dog, I asked him if she was shivering on their walks, hesitant to leave the house, etc. He said she had started shivering in the mornings on their walks and seemed to like it if he picked her up and tucked her inside his coat. I told him that if we combined that behavior with her burrowing under the covers on his bed at night not wanting to get up, I'd think it is safe to say she's chilly! Dogs with very short coats and those with hair rather than fur, particularly small dogs, can get cold in cooler weather. Older dogs also don't thermoregulate as well, and puppies will get colder faster than adult dogs. And walking in snow or ice presents other complications for most dogs. So what can you do?
Some dogs will let you put a sweater or coat on them to keep in the heat on their walks. Most will resist at first, but then be resigned to wearing the garment (and even perk up) once they realize that the coat/sweater keeps them toasty warm. There are also dogs who will resist putting on a sweater or coat with gusto, trying to escape, roll or rub the coat off, and even growl or snap at the person trying to put the coat on them. Even if your dog gets chilly, if they resist your help, back off. You can try taking the garment with you on the walk, waiting until they are cold, and then seeing if they will let you put it on them at that time. As with anything new, pairing the coat or sweater with yummy treats can help. It is also important to ensure that the garment fits them properly. Coats and sweaters should fit, not slide all over. They shouldn't cover the tail or block them from toileting properly. Most dogs hate hats or anything over their faces, so go for coats and sweaters without hoods if that is the case. Their comfort should be your first priority; function before fashion!
My rough coat collies most certainly do not get cold in the winter; they love cooler weather and perk up as the weather turns chilly, much preferring that to the triple digit summer heat. I do put raincoats on my collies, however, as I hate trying to get them dry after we walk in the rain. They don't mind the raincoats at all and have gotten so much positive attention for them that they now strut around the neighborhood in them rather proudly. My daughter's smooth coat collie does get cold in the winter, but he loves sweaters and coats and will actually nose his coats on the rack by the door if he feels the cool air as we are heading out for a walk and haven't put one on him yet.
So, back to the client. I suggested trying a coat or sweater on her to see if she would allow it. Turns out she hates clothing. As soon as he put the sweater on her, she ran off, hopped up on the bed, snarled at his other dog and bit him on the ear! So, no sweaters or coats for her. For now, my client will need to adjust his walking times to when it is a bit warmer, and then spend some time desensitizing this little dog to wearing something to keep her warmer. He must do so, however, away from the other dog so redirected aggression doesn't happen again.
Just as with costumes at Halloween, dogs need to have the ability to choose NOT to wear the garments we've selected for them. If they don't like getting dressed up, please don't make them do it. Same goes for booties on their feet. You have to train a dog to wear something on their feet, otherwise those booties can cause more discomfort than they are worth. While booties could help your dog in the snow, you might just as easily be able to get by with musher's wax on their feet which is more easily tolerated.
As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.