Loki resized coat.jpg

You might have seen my recent FaceBook rant about how I hate seeing dogs dressed up in costumes. Apart from the fact that I’m not a fan of people getting cheap laughs at the expense of animals, what really upsets me is seeing pictures of dogs who are clearly stressed by the sunglasses and silly hat or reindeer antlers, and that stress (distress) going unnoticed and definitely not addressed. (You can read that rant here!)

So it’s slightly ironic that I’m celebrating a win this week, that I finally trained the kelpie to wear his coat. I say finally, because this work has been going on behind the scenes for ages. All summer in fact. Follow the steps we took below.

(Incidentally, I know the one in the picture is too big - it just showed up better for the ironic photo opportunity 😉 )

Having moved North last winter, we certainly experience days when a little bit of extra warmth is not a bad thing for the dogs, and while they don’t wear coats every day in winter, I sometimes put them on after a walk if they are going to be sitting in the van for a little while, or if it’s extremely windy.

Loki’s response to a coat was to freeze in mid-step. The dog coat literally removed his power of independent mobility, and every part of his body while ‘not doing anything’ was telling me how uncomfortable he was. (This is why we need to be really careful thinking a dog is coping with ‘scary’ things, because one of the stress responses is to freeze and not perform any behaviour at all).

It’s not surprising some dogs get stressed, wearing coats does not come naturally to them. The majority have fur coats after all. The same is true of the ‘control devices’ we use – harnesses, leads etc. Most dogs only tolerate a collar because it was introduced during the formative few weeks as puppies when they are hard-wired to accept as ‘normal’ whatever comes their way.

But even I acknowledge there are times when we need to compensate for messing with the natural order of things and having central heating that makes our furry friends a bit soft to the great outdoors. (Actually, I’m currently dreaming of being in my own home with decent heating, but that’s a story for another day!)

The kindest, safest way to ensure dogs are happy wearing human adornments such as coats and harnesses is to condition and train the dog to be comfortable wearing them. If that’s something your dog needs help with, the basic steps are outlined below.

Remember to work in short sessions, 5-10 minutes at a time; and work at the dog’s pace. Only move on a step when he is really happy in the current one.

1. Build a Positive Association

  • Make sure the dog has good feelings about the coat before it ever goes near his body.
  • Have the coat behind your back, then bring it out for the dog to see.
  • Drop amazing treats (chicken, cheese, roast beef) on the floor while the coat is visible.
  • Hide the coat again and stop all treats.

Coat out = amazingness         Coat away = No amazingness

 Look out for a happy, waggy response from the dog when he sees the coat. That’s a good sign he’s made that positive association.

2. Have the dog interact with the coat

This is an extra step I like to put in, so the dog can gain information about the coat for himself. He can’t do that when it is behind his head/over his back.

  • Let him sniff at the coat, and then reward.

I got Loki to target it with his nose, because that’s a behaviour he already knows and has lots of positive associations with.

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To teach your own dog to target, have a look at this article from Dogs Trust.

3. Let the coat touch the dog

  • Very briefly touch his back, then treat
  • Repeat several times
  • Gradually increase the length of time you are touching, giving a high value payment after each repetition
  • Only increase the time when the dog is comfortable with the previous step

4. Let the coat touch more of the dog

  •  Increase the area being touched. E.g. to begin with you might just touch below his collar, but gradually open out the coat so it covers more of the back. Not fastened up yet
  • Touch and feed
  • Then remove the coat and repeat
  • Reach the point where you can lay the coat over the dog, and let the weight rest on his back

5. Fasten the coat

  • Put the coat over the dog’s back & fasten the front fastener
  • Feed several pieces of deliciousness before removing the coat
  • Repeat until your dog is waggy and relaxed
  • Then repeat with the front and belly fastener together
  • Keep the duration short to begin with, and gradually increase duration, while keep feeding yummy treats.

6. Add some movement

Again, keep it short in the beginning. Use whatever activities your dog finds enjoyable while he is wearing the coat. It might be favourite tricks, or just eating his dinner. For Loki, I scatter fed so he could get used to how the coat felt with different movements. We then played ball in the field, and chasing with Millie.

7. Don't forget to prepare for 'Real Life'

If your dog is normally going to be wearing a coat when on lead, for example, practice that with some yummy treats in the house before you go out!

Good Luck and here’s to warm, happy dogs all winter!

N.B. If you have the sort of coat that goes over the dog’s head, you will need to add an additional step of getting him comfy putting his head through the gap. Shoot me a message to talk you through that bit!

❤️  🐾🐾


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