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When I was home for Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law gave me a holiday gift for my dog: an adorable Christmas hoodie. But unfortunately, my dog hates dressing up. Still, I’d love to train her to enjoy wearing the sweatshirt at least long enough to take a cute picture.
Of course, you should never force your dog to do something they find scary or uncomfortable. The fact is, most dogs don’t naturally love clothes. But plenty of dogs can learn to like (or at least tolerate) wearing coats, sweaters, and holiday outfits.
It’s easier to dress your dog for the holidays if they’re already used to wearing clothing. Training your puppy to wear clothes has the same benefit as other types of training in puppyhood: it sets positive associations and behavioral patterns.
It’s particularly helpful to expose puppies to dog clothing during the socialization period (7 to 14 weeks) when they’re learning all about new things. Puppies at this stage are forming positive associations nonstop, and clothes can become one of their favorite things!
If you got your dog as an adult, or didn’t teach them to wear clothing as a puppy, don’t worry. Your cute holiday photo shoot is still possible. Read on for tips on how to teach your dog to dress up for the holidays.
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Some dogs will take to clothing right away. But for nervous dogs, or dogs who have already had a bad experience with clothing, it’s important to move slow and never force it. Your dog’s comfort and well-being take priority over a cute outfit.
Start with simple clothes that are easy to put on, like jackets with velcro straps. Then, follow these steps to teach your dog to wear clothing:
- Start by taking out an item of clothing and giving your dog a treat just for looking at it
- After your dog is comfortable around the clothing, drape it over their back for a few seconds. Give them a treat for standing there.
- Once your dog tolerates the clothing draped over their back, you can fasten the straps. Give your dog treats after every step, rewarding them for staying calm
- Over the course of several training sessions, have your dog wear the clothes for short increments (15-60 seconds). While your dog is wearing the clothes, reward them with something like a toy or treats.
Once your dog is comfortable with simple garments, you can move on to more complex clothing. With a little time and patience, your pup will be rocking that holiday hoodie in no time.
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Choosing the right holiday outfit for your dog is about more than a cute look. Some dogs are fine with a coat on their back, but hate wearing antlers on their head. Some dogs love jingle bells, but others will be startled by the noise. Always consider your pet’s likes and dislikes when choosing dog clothes.
Other things to remember when choosing a holiday outfit for your pet:
- Take measurements. If it’s too tight, your dog will feel constrained. Too loose, they may get tangled or trip. And remember to choose clothes that let your dog go potty freely!
- Consider materials. Heavy fabric like wool or other knits may be too hot for dogs to wear indoors. Lightweight cotton is nice indoors, but may get wet and cold outside.
- Read reviews (or ask for advice). If you’re shopping online, pay attention to what other pet parents have to say. If you go to a brick and mortar store, ask a sales person for recommendations.
Your dog might not be able to tell you what they want to wear, but you should keep their comfort in mind when shopping.
Bottom line: you know your dog best. You know if they’ll tolerate clothes, or if they’re too anxious to wear a sweater. If your dog is physically sensitive or generally anxious, holiday outfits may not be the right choice. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on a cute holiday look!
Here are different ideas to make the holidays special even if they don’t dress up:
- Put a festive scarf, bandana, or bow on their collar
- Take a family photo with Santa Claus
- Pose your dog in front of the Christmas tree, or in a snowy winter scene
- There’s always Photoshop!
Dogs can learn to tolerate clothing, but they should never be forced. After all, the holidays are about spending time with the ones you love.
You and your dog can have a wonderful holiday together, no matter what you wear.