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Does My Dog Need A Winter Coat?

happy black lab running through the snow

If you've always considered dog coats and sweaters silly accessories for overindulged pets, there's something you should know. Many breeds actually need winter coats or sweaters to brave the winter weather. Here's how to determine whether your dog is a candidate for outerwear.

Who really needs a coat?

Not surprising, little dogs are the most likely to need extra insulation. Chihuahuas, toy terriers, miniature pinchers and other small breeds are simply less equipped to deal with cold winter temperatures. Short-haired dogs and those that are very lean, such as Whippets and Greyhounds, tend to shiver quite easily, and will enjoy their daily walks much more when wearing a coat or sweater.

Dog coats are also recommended if you live in an area where the mercury drops below zero or if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors in the winter. This applies even to large breeds that are accustomed to the cold: remember their bellies have no fur and are exposed to the elements. Likewise, dogs recuperating from an illness or injury may also be more sensitive to frigid temperatures, as are older dogs and puppies.

Veterinarians recommend against dog sweaters for long-haired larger breeds because these dogs are naturally predisposed to survive cold temperatures.

What to look for in a dog coat

Dog coats and sweaters come in a variety of materials, although wool and fleece are most common. Water-resistant fabrics, such as those used for people parkas, may be better if you live in a snowy area. Whatever fabric you choose, make sure it is easy to care for.

To adequately protect your dog from the cold, a sweater should fit snugly and completely cover your dog's stomach (except with a male dog) and end at the base of the tail, keeping his legs free so he can walk, run, and relieve himself. Coats with full-length ""sleeves"" for the legs may be harder for your dog to adapt to and may inhibit his ability to move normally. If possible, try the sweater on your dog to make sure it fits him comfortably and is easy to get on and off.

Most sweaters come in small, medium, large and extra-large sizes. If you are unsure which size your dog should wear, here's a general guide: Toy breeds usually wear extra small, Beagle-size breeds wear small, Retriever-size dogs wear large, and larger dogs wear extra-large. (Note: Actual garment size may vary by manufacturer.)

Remember, dog coats are not just a novelty—for many dogs they're a necessity. So don't feel embarrassed buying your dog one. With the right cold-weather gear, winter can really be a wonderland for your dog.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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