When most people think of clothing for dogs, the first thing that comes into mind are those t-shirts with the funny sayings or the ever popular bandanna that every dog at the park seems to wear. While there certainly are these fun types of dog clothing items, there are also some very practical items that even the most winterized type of dog breed may benefit from having, at least for those extremely cold and damp winter days.
Many people argue that dogs, as descendants from wolves, don't need any type of protective wear as they wouldn't have access to these items if they were living in the wild. This is true, especially for the ancient breeds of dogs, also known as the primitive dogs. In general these dogs encompass the husky types, the spitz types and many of the heavy coated flock guardian or working types of dogs. Some other types of very hardy dogs for winter would include the Bernese Mountain Dog, St. Bernard, German Shepherd, Collies, Great Pyrenees, some of the Mastiff types and breeds along with many of the hunting dogs, particularly the retrievers.
However, there are many breeds that have been created by man specifically because of a physical appearance that is very different than the wolf ancestor type. This also includes the breeds of dogs that were developed in the southern parts of the world specifically to be heat tolerant and well adapted to living in temperatures of over 100 degrees on a daily basis. These dogs simply aren't capable of tolerating the same extreme cold temperatures as the primitive wolf types. This isn't a fault of the dog, rather it is a matter of humans both developing these dogs as well as moving them all over the world to a variety of different climates.
Winter clothing and protective gear for dogs can be fun and a definite fashion statement, but it also serves a real protective purpose for the dog. Some breeds are incredibly sensitive to cold weather and need to have some type of artificial means to keep warm. These breeds include the Chihuahua, Whippet, Miniature Pinscher, Greyhound, Basenji, Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, Rat Terriers and the hairless breeds. These dogs may enjoy a quick trip outside or a brief amount of time playing in the snow, but they cannot tolerate getting cold or wet and being outside.
Even some of the longer haired breeds that have been developed as companion dogs are not good at being outside without some extra protection. These include the Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Maltese, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel and the Shetland Sheepdog. Double coated breeds are still at risk as well since when constantly kept in a heated house they tend to develop less of an inner coat, not providing the same level of insulation in the cold as the same dog would have if always kept outdoors. This can sometimes be misleading for owners as they assume a long, double coat always equals outstanding protection from the weather. Clipping a dog will also change the coat insulation factor and will require some type of additional warmth for the dog, particularly for a month or two after the clip.
One of the most universal items of protective gear that a dog of any size or breed can benefit from is protective footwear. Dog booties are great to prevent ice and snow from packing into the toes between the pads and forming irritating and painful ice balls under the foot. Protective footwear for dogs can also prevent slipping on icy roads and sidewalks and provide additional security for animals that have movement problems or senior dogs.
Dog boots or booties can be made of leather, nylon, canvas or fabric but they do need to a have durable surface, ideally that provides grip on icy or slippery surfaces. They should tighten around the dog's legs but not be so tight as to cut of circulation. Some dog boots are elasticized to help them stay on, but always check to ensure they are not too tight or circulation problems can occur.
Another essential item of winter gear for any breed is a type of coat or jacket that is water repellent or resistant. This is essential as a wet dog is a cold dog, regardless of the breed or how hardy and used to the cold they may be. Water repellent or resistant jackets that have a nylon or rubberized type of surface are generally very durable and will usually last a lifetime if properly cared for. Be sure that the coat covers the entire body from the shoulders or back of the neck and chest right down and over the hips. It isn't as much of a concern if the legs or head gets damp or wet, but additional options for protecting your dog with a hood or rain hat is also possible.
If the dog has a double coat that hasn't been clipped, often just keeping off the rain and snow is all that is required. The material that resists the rain also holds in the heat, with the areas around the legs, belly and head open for ventilation. For dogs with very short coats, single coats or dogs that have been clipped, adding additional insulation can also be essential to retain body heat. Fleece jackets, coats and even pull over the head shirts can be a great way to provide this under the water repellent overcoat.
For dry snow or clear weather conditions, the fleece jacket may be all that is required. Ensure that the dog is comfortable in the item and that it is not restrictive around the neck, legs or body. It is also equally important that your dog isn't restricted in his or her ability to go to the bathroom in the clothing. If the clothing is around the tail or genital areas you may need to adjust the fit or have the clothing item modified for the dog's comfort and convenience.