The Beginner's Guide To Dog Clothes

It’d be great if we could just ask our pets if they’re cold. Unless they show obvious signs, such as shivering or refusing to walk, it’s hard for us to know whether they need extra clothing. So how do we determine this for ourselves?

March 25th, 2019

Though it’s starting to warm up here in Seattle, there are plenty of places in the world where your dog may need extra help staying warm!

Part of owning a dog means taking them out for regular exercise, no matter what the weather or how cold it gets outside.

A common question dog owners ask is whether their fur kids need coats and shoes during the winter.

To sweater or not to sweater?

Also, with the spring rainy season approaching, many owners also wonder whether a raincoat is necessary.

What’s the final verdict? How do you tell if your dog needs clothing? In this article, we’ll fully explore this question.

Your Dog Already Has A Coat

First of all, recall that your dog has his own coat already!

A common piece of advice I see floating around on the Internet is “If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pets.”

While it certainly makes sense that you should begin paying more attention to your dog if it gets too chilly for you, they are built differently than we humans are. Many dogs are naturally equipped to combat the cold with their fur alone.

In fact, in many cases your dog probably will not need a sweater. However, this ultimately boils down to your dog’s breed and other health conditions, as well as where you and your dog live.

Let’s get into some of those factors to consider.

Does Your Dog Need Extra Winter Clothing?

It’d be great if we could just ask our pets if they’re cold. Unless they show obvious signs, such as shivering or refusing to walk, it’s hard for us to know whether they need extra clothing. So how do we determine this for ourselves?

In general, sources suggest you look at these three factors: your dog’s size, your dog’s breed, and the outside temperature. Let’s walk through each one.

How big is your dog? In general, smaller dogs have a harder time generating and retaining body heat. This doesn’t mean that all large dogs are immediately protected though!

What is your dog’s breed? Knowing and understanding your dog’s breed is a good way to determine if your dog gets cold during the winter. Is your dog a breed with short hair such as the Chihuahua? Or maybe your dog has a very thin coat and build such as a Greyhound. Or perhaps your dog has short legs and thus hovers really close to the icy ground, such as the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. In all these cases, consider a sweater.

On the other hand, knowing about your breed’s history can also come in handy. The Chinese Crested, for example, was bred in warmer climates and are terrible at dealing with the cold–of course, this is also indicative in its size. The Labrador, for example, was bred to handle colder temperatures and to swim in potentially icy water. Its short, double coat helps shield it against piercing winds–though Labs definitely do still get cold as the temperature drops under about -7C.

Lab Report about Labs 🙂

We just mentioned temperature, and this is a crucial element to arriving at a final decision. How cold it is in your area matters a great deal as to whether you pick up a sweater.

As there are so many different dog breeds, it would be impossible to come up with thresholds for each one, so keep in mind that the following numbers should be treated as general guidelines. Always monitor your dog’s activities to see if he may require a sweater.

Special Cases

There are a number of other considerations you should make. For example, if you have a senior dog, or a dog recuperating from injuries, getting him in that sweater before heading out can make his walk more comfortable.

Ultimately, you need to listen to your dog. Your dog may already be giving you hints.

The first obvious sign is shivering. If you notice your dog shivering, get back inside and don’t get back out there until you’ve got a sweater on him.

On the other end of the spectrum, notice excessive panting. Your dog may look happiest with his tongue out all the way, but he may just be overheating.

Other signs of overheating include trying to get the sweater off, trying to bite the sweater, or refusing to walk in the sweater altogether.

Finally, the color of your dog’s coat can also play a role. Just like a black t-shirt soaks in all the heat on a hot summer day, a black coated dog naturally absorbs the sun’s warmth.

Whether your dog wears a coat also depends on the length of time spent outside. Unless it’s extremely cold, a short 10 minute walk doesn’t really justify a coat. But if you’re embarking on an 8 mile snowy hike, you best pack a sweater just in case.

Not All Coats Are Made Equal

Just because a dog sweater is there on the shelf doesn’t mean it will do a good enough job to keep your dog warm. Remember that dog sweaters, just like human clothes, can come in all sorts of materials.

Ideally, you always have your dog try on the sweater before making the purchase, just as you would step into the fitting room for your new clothes. It helps you nail down sizing and also evaluate how well the sweater covers your dog’s back and stomach.

Oops... did I say cover the stomach? Yuna needs a diet...

A great winter coat will cover your dog’s stomach but leave room for them to relieve themselves. Also, the coat should cover your dog’s entire back, from the neck to around the base of the tail.

It’s very important to make sure the lengths of the coat suit your dog, and not just the snugness of it. You do not want to restrict your dog’s limbs and general movement with the coat.

Speaking of dog’s limbs, they come in all shapes and lengths as well. Be sure that the sleeves on the coat are not too long or your dog will trip himself. When worn, the sleeves should be well out of the way of the paws.

And speaking of snugness, the ideal coat for your dog is snug but not tight. If you’re struggling at any point to close a velcro strap or your dog goes into the “frozen in place” pose after wearing the coat, look for another one (or maybe your dog just hates coats!).

As for materials, dog sweaters will most commonly come in wool or fleece. Both are excellent options for keeping your dog warm, but remember they can get wet during a snowy outing. Moreover, some dogs find wool itchy and more difficult to wash.

(Yes, you need to wash your dog’s clothes as they’re sure to pick up dirt.)

Finally, get a sweater that isn’t a hassle for you to deal with! There are a variety of different styles of sweaters and sometimes the simplest ones that you just slip over your dog’s head works the best in keeping them warm and is most convenient. Finding one that is machine-washable can also save you lots of trouble.

What About Raincoats?

Dog raincoats are really just waterproof sweaters. These also vary greatly in terms of thickness and overall effectiveness, but are great for keeping your dog’s body warm and dry.

Many waterproof sweaters also feature a fleece lining to further keep your dog warm.

Definitely consider a waterproof sweater if you plan to take many snowy hikes or live in a wet area where you anticipate a lot of rain.

For a casual walk, your dog may not need a raincoat. In fact, most dogs are okay with walking in the rain–Yuna actually felt more uncomfortable walking in a raincoat and booties during a rainstorm as opposed to without.

If it’s rainy but not cold outside, the choice of raincoat is up to you. It can save you drying time later when you return home, because a wet dog running rampant in the house is never fun.

However, if your dog generally isn’t a fan of coats, you don’t have to force one on him just because of the rain. Rain is generally harmless–pay more attention to snow (or hail/sleet). Temperature matters more.

What About Booties?

Yes, dog shoes have a funny name…

You should always be paying attention to your dog’s paws–periodically check for anything that gets stuck between the pads, or any cracks or injuries on the pads themselves.

Yuna let's check your paws!

This is even more important during the snowy winter months.

It’s not really because your dog’s paws can’t handle the snow–it’s unlikely that your dog’s feet will ever get cold actuallyThe problem is with the salt or antifreeze people spread on the sidewalks–these can really irritate your dog’s paws.

Also, if your dog has long fur around the paws or between the paw pads, snow could get inadvertently lodged in there.

However, some dogs just hate the booties. More than likely the first time your dog puts them on they’ll walk extremely awkwardly. Some dogs can get used to it after a while, and some dogs can’t.

First, determine if the problem is with sizing. I’ve found that it can be hard to find booties that fit all four paws properly–either there is something off with the shoe size itself or the sleeve is too large.

I would not recommend buying booties online since they can be so annoying for your dog if the size isn’t just right. Head to a local store and actually try them on.

Once you’ve got the booties on, you need to make sure they stay on. Take a couple laps around the aisle in the store to make sure.

If it’s obvious that your dog can’t get used to the booties (they constantly try to get them off or they refuse to walk in them), don’t force the issue.

There are other ways to winter-proof your dog’s paws. Most importantly, be sure to clean them after a long walk in the snow to remove any ice or other objects that get stuck between the pads. Dip the paws in warm water and dry them thoroughly immediately after returning inside.

Ultimately, I think the decision to buy booties depends heavily on the owner and the dog. If your dog is okay with it, and you want your dog’s paws to stay clean in rainy or snowy weather, go for it.


So we’ve covered the basics of sweaters and booties.

Be sure to go over the general guidelines we provided to see whether or not your dog should be layering up!

In addition to providing warmth and comfort, also note that many dog owners choose to get clothes for their dog to attach style and personality to them.

You’ll have the most stylish dog in town. It also makes for some great photos! Just make sure your dog doesn’t overheat–that’s always priority number one.

And speaking of photos… follow Yuna’s Instagram for more daily pics!

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