Dog wearing polo

The more dogs are integrated into our families, the more we humanize them, often treating them like hairy children rather than descendants of wolves. In fact, it’s no longer unusual to see dogs in shirts, dresses, hats — even jewelry.

There are several reasons you might want to put your dog in clothes. Perhaps your pet is a functional Fido who needs clothes to protect him from bad weather. Or maybe your dog is a pampered pooch who sports designer fashions because, well, you like dressing your pooch up. Whatever the case, you can teach your pet to be comfortable in his new clothes by the combined use of patience and positive reinforcement training. Here's how to teach your pet to be the best-dressed dog on the block.

Start Early and Simple

Dogs are more likely to tolerate clothes if they are taught from puppyhood that it’s simply a part of life. Even if you don’t plan on regularly dressing up your dog, it’s best to teach your puppy to comfortably wear clothes while he's little, in case a change of outfit is needed at some point in his life, either for a special occasion or for maintaining proper body temperature.

But if your dog missed early puppyhood training, it’s not too late to train him to be accustomed to moving around with some clothes on.

Whether you’re working with a puppy or an adult dog, it’s best to begin with easy-to-wear clothing that’s comfortable and doesn’t cover the back legs, feet or head. Start with something that has an open stomach and can be fastened both on the chest and underneath the stomach. This eliminates the need to put the outfit on over your dog’s head, which can be frightening to some pups. 

Teach your dog to have a positive association with the clothes before he wears them by pulling out the clothes and treating your pet just for looking at the outfit. If he sniffs it, mark this moment with a “good” and reward. Next, move the outfit toward your dog and reward him for standing in place as you gently touch his side with the clothes. Drape the clothing over his back for a couple of seconds and reward him for standing there. Then, fasten the stomach and chest straps and reward your dog for staying calm. 

Start out with your pet wearing the clothes for only 10 to 60 seconds. Focus your dog’s attention on something productive that will distract him from the clothes, such as eating kibble out of a food puzzle, doing tricks or playing.

As soon as the outfit is off, the treats, praise and fun times should be lessened so your dog realizes that clothes mean fun and games. Eventually, your dog will not only tolerate wearing clothes, but will actually enjoy it. 

Expand His Wardrobe

The next step is to put your dog in a T-shirt or sweater, which will require putting his head through a neck hole. Begin by treating your dog for staying still while you reach the shirt toward him. Use one hand to pull the neck hole over the dog’s nose and head while you continue to treat out of your other hand. After a few seconds, remove the shirt and try again. Eventually, work on putting the paws through the shirt, rewarding and praising your dog with each step.

To get your pet used to a hat, start with something easy, such as a barrette or hair clip. Place the item on his fur and reward him for remaining calm. You can also reward your pet for staying still as you drape the hat on his head without fastening it. As long as your pet remains comfortable, fasten the hat and focus his attention on something else, such as being rewarded for heeling at your side or doing a down. Keep the hat on for only short periods to begin with and remove before there are any signs of struggle.

Do What's Best for Your Dog

Laid-back pooches may adjust with very little persuasion, while more sensitive dogs may take a longer time to adjust to wearing clothing. The experience should be enjoyable for your dog and should never cause him to be afraid or uncomfortable. If you ever sense your dog becoming stressed or afraid, take a break and come back and start your training at an easier level, such as rewarding simply for sniffing the outfit when it's lying on the floor. The dog’s well-being should always be your first concern. For some dogs, the cost of wearing a sweater or hat may be greater than the benefit, which means clothes may not be the best option for that particular pet.

Would you ever put clothes on your pet? Tell us in the comments below.