It’s time to walk the dog, but it’s cold outside! You don a heavy coat, insulated boots, gloves and a scarf. You snap on the leash to his collar, and you’re out the door. Everything is fine for a block or two — and then your dog starts to shiver.
“Regardless of size or perceived ‘toughness,’ many dogs have fur or hair that simply isn’t equipped for chilly temperatures,” says Sarah Fraser, certified dog behavior consultant and co-founder of New York City’s Instinct Dog Behavior & Training.
How do you know if your dog needs a sweater or coat? Chances are if you’re cold and your teeth are chattering, your dog is cold too, even if he seems just fine. “Just because your dog can cope with cold temperatures doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be made more comfortable by a coat or sweater,” counsels Fraser.
Some dogs can be stubborn about wearing any clothing. I’ve seen dogs shivering in the streets, and their owners confess they’ve just given up. Their dog won’t accept wearing that cute sweater or insulated coat, no matter how low the temperature drops.
The problem is that dogs, like kids, don’t always know what’s best for them. Just like humans, when exposed to cold temperatures, dogs can get hypothermia and even frostbite. And that’s dangerous. So how do you deal with a dog who refuses to let you put on his winter coat?
“Our goal in these situations is to change the dog’s perception of the coat by pairing it with pleasant things the dog enjoys,” says Fraser. “With a little practice, the coat predicts treats, petting, praise or the opportunity to chase a ball.”
The easiest solution is to introduce your dog to a sweater or coat when he’s a puppy. Even if he’s older, all you may have to do is show him the coat and let him sniff it. “Most dogs are very adaptable — they have to be, to successfully live with humans — so even if they’ve never worn a coat before, many dogs will simply take it in stride,” says Fraser.
If your dog has an extreme reaction, and you’re in danger of getting bit, Fraser recommends working with a certified, positive reinforcement-based trainer. But if your dog is just uncomfortable or hesitant, or he’s never worn a coat before, there’s an easy training plan to help your dog adjust.
It starts with a coat that’s easy to put on and take off (try one with a Velcro closing at the neck and under the belly) — and, of course, a lot of treats.
Put the coat on the floor and let your dog smell it. Then sprinkle some delicious treats on or near the coat, and let your dog eat them. Move the coat to another spot and repeat, says Fraser, sprinkling more treats. “Move to the next step when your dog is happily following you when you pick up the coat and is eagerly approaching the coat when you set it down.”
With the coat and a bag of treats, sit down (on the floor for small breeds and in a chair for big dogs). Put the coat down on the floor and call your dog to you. Then pick up the coat, say “yes,” set the coat back down on the floor, and feed him a couple of treats. Wait a few seconds, and repeat.
When your dog’s body language is relaxed, you can proceed to actually placing the coat on his back. Drape it over his back, say “yes,” take it off and give treats. Repeat this until your dog is calm. The next step is to follow this routine, but press the straps closed. Say “yes,” and give your dog a “treat party” says Fraser. Do this every time you put on his coat until he’s totally chill with the coat routine.
All you’ll need then is to put on the coat, give him one treat and some praise, and off you both go on an outdoor adventure.