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Picture of a Black Brussels Griffon dog wearing a red plaid harness to illustrate Get your dog to like wearing stuff.

How to get your dog to like wearing stuff

Small dogs, especially ones with short fur, need protection from severe weather and, whether we like it, love it, or hate it, winter’s coming up. If your dog hates clothes, there’s time before the weather hits to change their mind. You can get your dog to like wearing stuff.

First step

The biggest mistake most people make is assuming, since it’s no big deal to you, it’s not a big deal to your dog. Generally speaking, most dogs don’t like surprises. They like knowing what’s happening, when it’s happening, and that the world is a familiar place.

And that’s the key to getting your dog to like that new harness, coat, sweater, even boots or a post-surgery cone. Make them familiar objects – and welcome ones. It can be as simple as holding the item, letting your dog sniff it and check it out, and giving them praise and treats. Just hold the harness in one hand, and give treats with the other. Just a few, maybe five tiny treats, and that’s it. 

The best way to get your dog to absolutely hate something is to grab them, and force it on. Sometimes there isn’t time to let them accept the new thing – especially if there’s an emergency and the “cone of shame” is required. But short of that, a little advance dog training can make everyone’s life easier.

A day at a time

Picture of a Black Brussels Griffon dog wearing a red plaid harness to illustrate Get your dog to like wearing stuff.

If your dog gets treats and praise every time they see that new harness, they’re going to love it. Dogs are great at transferring the value of the treat to the object or behavior you pair it with. That’s why clicker training works. When introducing the clicker, all you do is click then treat, many times in a row. Dogs quickly learn that every single “click!” means they get a cookie. You can bet they’re trying their best to get you to click!

After a few sessions, just a couple minutes at a time, of introducing your dog to the new harness, it’s time to ask for more. Rather than the object just being there, you’ll wait for your dog to interact with it in some way – sniff it, paw it, move it. Anything they do is okay and should be praised and rewarded. That’s all for that session.

What’s next

After a few sessions where the dog is choosing to interact with the harness (coat/sweater/boot), it’s time to start trying it on. This gets much more specific to the actual garment you’re working with. If it’s a harness that goes over the dog’s head, hold it open even with the dog’s face and hold a treat on the other side. If the dog touches the harness with their face, praise and reward. This is the time when all your patience comes into play. Your dog wants the treat, but it hesitant about putting his/her face into the neck hole, just wait. If the dog is still reluctant after 20-30 seconds, reach through the neck hole and give your dog the treat. Try again another time. You want your dog to associate good things going through the harness, so be patient.

If it’s boots you want your dog to wear, don’t try for all four at once. And start with one back boot. When your dog is accustomed to the look, and smell of the boot, try just touching a back foot with it. Bit by bit, you’ll get there.

No surprises

As we said, dogs really don’t like surprises. They will accept things they’re not crazy about as long as they know what’s going on. Your dog may never love wearing boots, but he or she will adjust to them given time and patience. 

Dogs truly are adaptable beings as long as we take it at their speed and level of comfort. Be patient. It looks like it’s going to be a long winter. 

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Get your dog to like wearing clothes

Have you heard the old adage about the cobbler’s children having no shoes? It’s kind of like that with our dogs. None of our dogs is crazy about wearing anything. Living in a cold climate, it was crucial to teach the dogs to like wearing clothes.

Not playing dress-up

When we say clothes, for us it’s pretty limited to necessities. Warm coats in the winter, boots so their paws don’t freeze or get salt burns. The only time we have them wear other “stuff” is just for the time it takes to snap a cute picture, and a “stay” command works for those. They don’t like it, but they’ll do it because they know a treat is coming.

French Bulldog Teddy didn't like wearing clothes

It’s a different story when you expect your dog to actually move around wearing a coat. Not to mention doing his/her “business” while dressed. Teddy (Hope’s French Bulldog) was infamous for hating wearing his coat. He’d stand still to put it on. Walk around, bark, look cute, etc. But if you wanted him to actually get down to “business,” you were in for a long wait. When we were in a hurry, we have to admit he “won” the battles – we took off the coat just to get him going, so to speak.

Key to success

We’d recommend that all small dogs have at least one “go-to” coat. Where we have seasonal changes, the need is obvious. In warmer climates, dogs, like people, become acclimated to their surroundings. A sudden change in temperature that a Chicagoan may not notice, say down to 50 degrees, would make a Miamian shiver. We know, because that’s when our grandmother would pull out her ancient and venerated fur coat. Dogs feel the same way. If you’re used to 80 degrees, 50 is pretty darn cold.

The first step to getting your dog to like wearing clothes is to “add value” to the garment. If your dog really hates clothes, take your time with this step. Just take out the coat and when your dog shows any interest in it, give him/her a treat. Pretty soon your dog will associate the coat with good things. 

If the coat has Velcro, open and close it while giving treats to the dog. Some dogs are unfamiliar with the sound and it can be startling. We know the aversion can be overcome. At one point we had treat pouches that had Velcro. It didn’t take long for all of our dogs to recognize the sound and come running – they knew it meant “COOKIES!”

Step by step

Once your dog is used to the sight of the coat and finds it interesting or even good, it’s time to touch it. If, like the Highline Fleece, it’s a step-in style, try putting one leg in a sleeve. Give a treat, and take off the coat. When your dog is okay with one leg, move on to the other. The whole idea is allowing your dog to become familiar with something that’s new and different. When he/she realizes there’s no threat, that it’s actually a good thing, you’re, quite literally, good to go.

Dogs who like wearing clothes

If you’re one of the lucky ones whose dog just adores playing “dress up,” that’s terrific. For those of us who struggle with it, knowing our dogs need the warmth, but that the clothes make them miserable, it’s more difficult. It’s worth taking the time to teach your dog to like wearing clothes. Fortunately, it’s also like riding a bike, you only have to learn once. Your dog will remember next winter that the coat is a good thing. 

Dog Tip Tuesday – It’s better from behind!

Dogs are adaptable, amazing animals who love us and want to please us. Unfortunately, they don’t speak the same language we do, and communication is sometimes a bit dicey.

We see this often when people bring their dogs into the shop for a fitting – for harnesses, sweaters/coats, carriers, or even boots. We know we’re not going to harm the dog, the people know we’re not going to harm their dog, but all the dog knows is that a stranger with weird things hanging (usually a tape measure) is approaching and it’s scary.

We try to introduce ourselves first, talk to the dog, offer a hand from underneath, offer a treat if the owner says it’s okay. And we try never to hover over the dog from the front, or even approach from the front if possible.

Instead, we’ll approach from the side. If the dog cooperates, we’ll move on to a measurement and gather some options to try.

And when we’re trying any item on a dog, or even “dressing” our own dogs for the weather, we always do it from behind. If you and your dog are both facing the same direction, there’s no hesitation about which is left or right, no doubt about front and back.

The easiest way to put on any harness is to be behind the dog, grasp the harness the way it’s supposed to go on, then (for step-in harnesses) lift each front paw into position and clasp in the back.

Same thing for standard harnesses. Figure out the harness first, pop it over the dog’s head, clasp the tummy strap, and it’s done.

My Roc (Brussels Griffon) was unable to keep up on walks as he aged, so he came along in a Pooch Pack, a carrier that allows you to carry the dog in front. Again, from behind, I’d get the carrier ready to go, zip Roc in, then place him on my lap, his back to my front, while I fastened the shoulder straps on me.

Same idea for Pawz boots. The dog sits in my lap, his/her back to my front, while I put on each bootie.

Also coats. From behind is the way to go.

The longer it takes to “dress” your dog, the less you’ll both enjoy the process. Speed things up by going at it from the rear!