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Does My Dog Actually Like Wearing Clothes?

Theories from a maker of dog denim, a dog trainer, a dog behaviorist and the creative director for a pet fashion show

Parenting a pet, no matter what kind, can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Animals can’t tell you what they want and need (directly, at least), so we’re here to help you answer any questions you have about your favorite companion — whether they be furry, slimy, feathered, scaly or anything in between — with insight from the experts. This is “Basic Bitch,” an advice column for pet parents who just want the best for their best friend.

The Very Basic Concern

There are a whole bunch of dogs in my apartment complex, and some of them are more fashionable than I am. Their owners walk them around in strollers and dress them up in extravagant little outfits, consisting of coats, hats and bows. My dog, meanwhile, will have an existential crisis if you put a grain of rice on his head. I find it all a bit strange, because the other dogs I see around here really seem to be chilling in their clothes.

Basically: Do dogs actually like wearing clothes, and does it depend on the individual dog?

The Expert Advice

Mel Westwood, cofounder of PetHaus denim for dogs: It depends on the dog. Both of our English Toy Terriers wear clothes, and are more than happy to pop on a hoodie and some denim on cold days. They really feel the weather and love to be warm. 

Doing our dog clothing business, we often get positive feedback from owners, saying clothes make their anxious dogs feel more secure, much like a ThunderShirt. Some other feedback we get is that dogs seem to love the attention they get while all dressed up in their denim vests.

Having said that, not every dog enjoys or needs to wear clothing. It’s very important to make dressing your dog a positive experience, perhaps using treats while you dress them, and lots of praise. Most important is your dog’s comfort. Always make sure that the fit allows your dog to move, and that the garment is appropriate for the weather, ensuring your dog doesn’t overheat.

Janine Allen, professional dog trainer and behavior specialist: Some dogs might enjoy clothes if they need them for warmth, or if that means they get some special attention from the owner. A few others things:

  1. Tight clothes, like a ThunderShirt, can work with some, but not all dogs.
  2. Little dogs being carried aren’t as affected by their clothes as dogs required to walk around in them. I’ve been to three fashion shows for dogs, and most of the dog handlers picked up their dogs on the runway, as the dogs wouldn’t walk in the dresses they were required to wear.
  3. Dogs wearing clothes will increase the chance of another dog reacting to it differently. Body language, such as ear position, tail position and piloerection may be difficult for the visiting dog to detect, and the clothes-wearing dog may not be able to convey proper signals, such as “stay away” or “let’s play.”
  4. Dogs with thin hair coats, no hair coats or in very cold climates can really benefit from a warm sweater or jacket.
  5. Dogs who like to shred beds, textiles and soft toys should be supervised while wearing clothes.
  6. Clothes can, at times, be used to cover surgery sites, wounds or skin conditions, and a dog can get relief from wearing a cone or other non-chew device on its neck.

Harrison Forbes, dog behaviorist and emcee of the New York Pet Fashion Show: The short answer is that it normally comes down to the association and conditioning of the individual dog. By that I mean, what does the dog associate (feel) when he or she is getting the outfits put on? In these cases [of fashion shows], the owners are obviously very excited and happy about the process, and the dogs feed off of that, associating it with tons of loving attention and good vibes. So they naturally get conditioned to have a great, positive association when the costumes come out — same as a dog that loves to go on a walk and gets excited when he hears the leash being picked up, because he or she associates that with a fun activity.

Ada Nieves, co-chair and creative director for the New York Pet Fashion Show: Most people dress their pets to take photos, go out or celebrate an event or a special day. The pets learn to relate getting dressed to these — and yes, they enjoy the attention it brings, and going out.

In terms of breeds or species, you could say that smooth coats show outfits better than  long coats. This obviously makes them stand out, since they can better show off their outfits or accessories. It was dogs that started the trends, but nowadays any pet can do it, from cats to bearded dragons to guinea pigs to turtles — the list goes on. It’s really a reflection of its owner. 

A dressed pet will bring smiles along the way, help you make new friends and help advocate for important things, like spaying, neutering, nutrition and health — the New York Pet Fashion Show is the number-one event where designers come from all around the world to participate. It’s been happening for 17 years, and these types of events serve as fundraisers to help animals in need.

When dressing up your pet, you should start simple: A few minutes every day, extending the time as the pet gets used to being dressed, and always while supervised. Basics, such as simple winter coats, can evolve into fully-closed garments, like T-shirts, once the pet feels comfortable. As you evolve the dressing, add accessories, like sunglasses, shoes and jewelry.