How Do I Get My Dog to Wear a Freakin’ Winter Coat?
Chilly pup refusing to layer? Here’s how to train them to love their winter wardrobe.
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OK. So, you found them the coziest (and most Instagrammable) winter accessory, but your pup seems to have different taste. If your dog runs in the other direction of their new winter coat or goes berserk when you try to pull their fuzzy little arms through the sleeves, you aren’t alone; lots of dogs are resistant to dressing up. But don’t stress — there are ways to train your dog to appreciate their wardrobe.
Before you start training, though, you should also consider whether or not your pup really needs a winter coat. If your dog naturally has a long, thick coat — think Husky or Pomeranian — they probably do not need to wear a coat or jacket. But if your dog is slick-coated, very young, elderly, or suffering from a medical condition, such as arthritis, a coat can help keep them comfortable when temperatures drop. Also, if your dog is small, you may want to consider a coat; it’s harder for little guys to retain body heat. Dog breeds that might require a coat include Chihuahuas, Boston Terriers, Greyhounds, Whippets, and Pit Bulls.
Also, consider how long you’re going to be outside. Your dog may be fine going coatless on a brief, 10-minute walk to do their business. But if you’re planning to take a hike on a cold winter’s day, they’ll probably appreciate some help staying warm.
How to Train a Dog to Wear a Coat
You can actually train your dog to like (OK, tolerate!) wearing a coat by changing how they feel about it. In other words, instead of the being scared of the coat, they can learn to at least accept it.
First of all, arm yourself with some delicious, high-value treats. (Note: When training a new behavior, especially when you’re trying to change your dog’s emotional response to something, it’s best to use treats they absolutely love but don’t typically get.) Then, choose a time when your dog is relatively relaxed, such as after a long walk or playing ball.
Just show them the coat.
Put the coat on the floor several feet away from them and observe their reaction. If they run away or show any signs of stress — yawning, flicking their tongue, closing their mouth tightly, turning their body away — you’ll need to put even more distance between your dog and the coat.
Reward your dog for being coat-friendly.
Once your dog shows no reaction to the coat, praise them and give them a treat. Still, keeping a good distance between your dog and the coat, put the coat down and wait for your dog to look at it. They don’t have to sniff it or even walk near it; a quick glance will do. Praise and treat! Do this several more times.
Bring the coat closer as you continue to reward them.
Continue with this exercise as you move the coat closer and closer to your dog. Remember, you’re still not actually touching them with it. You’re just decreasing the distance between the two of them, and giving them a treat when they look at it.
Make contact between the coat and your dog.
Once your dog understands that simply looking at the coat results in a treat, try gently touching the coat to one of their front legs for a second. Don’t put it on them; just touch them briefly with it. Try the front legs at first; you want to make sure your dog can see what you’re doing. No one likes surprises, especially when it’s something they may think is scary.
Don’t rush the process.
If they stand there and do nothing, give them a treat and lots of praise. If they seem only mildly stressed, take the coat away and then, holding a treat near their nose, try touching them again very gently with it. If they seem very stressed, go back to the previous step, where they get rewarded just for looking at the coat.
Pet your dog with the coat in hand.
Once you can touch your dog with the coat, try petting them with the coat in your hand. If they don’t move or show any sign of stress, treat them.
You get the idea. The key is baby steps. Take your time and don’t rush moving on to the next step. Soon, your dog will connect the dots and realize everything to do with the coat results in treats.
It’s coat time.
When you’re finally ready to put the coat on them, just lay it over their back for a second, then remove it and treat them. Only when they’re comfortable at this stage (again, eight out of 10 times) should you try putting it on and fastening it. Just like any other behavioral training, this is a process. Be patient and go slowly.
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Carin Ford, CPDT-KA
Carin Ford, CPDT-KA, is co-founder and president of DogsHome in Paoli, Penn.