Doggy style – a guide to canine couture

Rover really cut a dash in his new jumper
"If wearing clothes helps them be healthy and happy then great. But if it doesn't then you've lost sight of their quality of life" Sean Wensley, PDSA
  • | by Dave Jenkins

We love our dogs, but let's be honest: walks do become a little more of a challenge as we brave the elements throughout the colder months. It's all right for us, though, we can wrap ourselves up in as many layers as we see fit. Poor old Rover can't.

So how can you tell if your dog needs a little extra help in the heat department? And how do you make sure you're getting them the right threads that do the job, fit them properly and don't cause them any stress?

To add complications, the options are a minefield. Market research company MTW have forecast that the pet clothing industry will hit £30 million in the UK this year, and last month saw the UK's first doggy designer fashion show take place at London Fashion Week. With the catwalk becoming much more of a dogwalk, the seemingly recession-proof pet clothing market is mind-boggling, so it's important to understand your dog's needs before you plunge into its savings account.

Does my dog even need a coat anyway?

The answer is a cautious ‘perhaps’. Many breeds will indeed benefit from an extra layer. But it's not as simple as slapping on a trendy tweed and heading out of the door – assisting your dog's temperature control is a full commitment throughout the walk. There's also a very fine line between necessity and frivolity.

“It HAS to be functional,” states Sean Wensley, a senior vet for the PDSA. “When it starts to merge into accessory or costume then you lose sight of your dog as a dog. We get so much enjoyment and companionship, our side of the bargain is that we keep them healthy and happy. If wearing clothes helps them be healthy and happy then great. But if it doesn't then you've lost sight of their quality of life. That is always the prime focus.”

Different strokes for different coats

Traditionally coats have always been common place for short-haired dogs with low body fat such as greyhounds and whippets. Other breeds that will benefit from extra heat are small or 'teacup' dogs, such as chihuahuas and mini terriers.

If your dog is particularly old, thin, under the weather or is about to endure a longer-than-usual walk in the cold then a coat would be essential.

Bottom line: any dog can benefit from a coat, regardless of size. Sean's given us a dead easy way of working out whether it's appropriate. Is your dog shivering? Simple!

These are the guidelines established by the RSPCA: 

Any clothing item should not compromise the welfare of the animal. If you decide to buy a piece of clothing for your dog you should make sure that...

  • It will not cause injury as a result of the way it fits
  • It will not compromise your dog’s ability to behave normally

This includes:

  • Exercising, toileting, eating, drinking
  • Hearing and sight
  • Body language when socialising with other dogs (It shouldn't obscure facial expressions, ear position, body postures or tail position)
  • It will not compromise your dog’s ability to control its body temperature

The last point is especially crucial and something to be aware of at all times during the walk.

“The main risk is overheating,” says Wensley. “They need to regulate their temperature. If they run around and start getting hot then take the coat off them! If they're panting then they're far too hot for their coat. It's common sense, just like when we wear coats. We might set off in cold weather and it's beneficial but if we get warmer we'd take it off straight away. The same goes for dog coats.”

The right materials and fit

Naturally the coat needs to made of appropriate materials, fit your dog perfectly and allow them to behave as they usually would. All reputable pet shops will allow you to bring your hairy friend along to ensure you've made the right investment. If you're ordering online then measure your dog from the base of the neck, where it joins the body, to the base of the tail, where you want the coat to end. Look for the fit that best suits that measurement. All pet attire manufacturers will have slightly different size specifications, so always check the dimensions before you order.

Material-wise, it's all about natural or non-toxic fibres. If you're getting waterproof attire then look for breathable materials. They'll cost more but will last longer and will allow your dog to maintain their temperature more successfully. Avoid any clothes that have tassels or dangly accessories.

If possible try to invest in lighter coloured materials. Your dog should be able to urinate freely but if they do stain the coat you need to see it and wash it immediately... You wouldn't wear a coat you've peed on. The same goes for Rover.

The right look

Dapper dachshunds, swanky shih tzus, trendy terriers... Now we've got the essential advice out of the way, here are the essentials for the most fashion conscious of dog lovers.

“It fits in human fashion more than you'd think,” says Anna Hart, marketing manager at online doggy fashion outlet Pet's Pyjamas. “Dog trends that are popular right now are tweed and tartan which is a trend in human clothing, too. Colours like blue, purple and red are very popular. There's more of a connection there than you'd assume.”

From herringbone to Balmoral to Harris; there's a whole world of sharp looking canine suits. And if tweed isn't your dog's bag then other 'in' looks include camouflage jackets, wax jackets and even a classic sheepskin. And if you're concerned about your best friend getting too cold indoors (and with fuel costs rising, this could actually be an option), this season's woolwear range is remarkably cute.

Looks aside, suiting up your dog should be done with its safety, warmth and health in mind and nothing else. If you're concerned about keeping your dog warm and clothes affecting it physically consult your vet without haste.

Search for a pet insurance quote on Gocompare.com - it could help you find your dog fantastic cover at a great price.