How to Fit a Dog for a Winter Coat, According to the Experts
Jackets are useful for keeping pets warm, dry, and protected from the cold—when properly fitted. Here’s how to measure a dog for a coat and what to consider when shopping.
Some dogs appreciate a coat for the extra layer of protection from winter snow, wind, and rain. A coat is practically mandatory in the winter if your pet is low to the ground (a corgi), a toy breed (chihuahua), has been clipped (like a poodle cut), has a wiry build and thin coat (greyhound), or is a senior. If you have a husky or lab, they might not need a coat. But you will appreciate them wearing at least a shell because of how it reduces how wet they get. (Less wet-dog smell.)
Pet clothing should be weatherproof yet flexible enough to accommodate the curves of their bodies and movements during exercise. Two pet experts share tips for how to measure a dog for a coat, choose the best fabric and design for its needs, and make it last season to season.
How Do I Measure a Dog for a Coat?
Before heading to the store, you’ll need to take three measurements:
- Body length: Measure from the base of the collar to the base of the tail. (This is the most important measurement because coat length can't be modified by straps.)
- Girth: Measure the width of your dog’s chest behind the front legs.
- Neck: Measure around the neck where a collar would normally sit.
Tip: Record them in the notes section of your phone or jot them down on a piece of paper to reference while shopping.
What Different Styles of Dog Coats Exist?
There are two types of coats: jacket style and blanket style, says Jennifer Freeman, DVM, PetSmart’s resident veterinarian and pet-care expert. Jacket-style coats offer the most protection from winter elements and cover the dog's chest, back, stomach, and thighs. Blanket-style coats rest on the dog's back and secure around the shoulders but leave most of the stomach exposed. "A blanket-style design is encouraged when temperatures are cold but not frigid and the pet is outside for only a few minutes," Freeman says.
How Can I Tell If a Dog Coat Fits Correctly?
Do a quick test. Freeman says you should be able to run your flat hand under each opening, such as the neck or along the straps. If you aren't able to do this, size up. One fit mistake she sees many pet parents make is looking at sizing by weight versus taking actual measurements. "No two dogs are built the same, so it’s important to look at jackets, and apparel in general, that fit their specific measurements."
If your pooch is accustomed to wearing a harness on walks, it can be combined with a coat. The harness should fit over the jacket where you can see it, not under it, where it could become twisted and uncomfortable for your pet. "A harness can be a great visibility aid as well," says Angela Hook, researcher and product developer at Stunt Puppy and D-Fa Dogs. "A good harness with a powerful reflective not only makes your dog more visible it also makes you more visible too, effectively turning your dog into a beacon on a leash."
Which Dog Coat Materials Are Best?
Look for shell-type fabrics, which are multiple fabric layers condensed into a single layer and weather-treated, Hook says. These fabrics are popular in activewear because they are lightweight, stretchy, warm, and wind and water-resistant but not stiff or heavy. Hook also recommends merino wool for warmth without bulk. (Bonus: It's also odor-resistant and easy to launder.)
Another consideration? The coat your dog was born with. Hook says a reflective rain shell will keep double-coated dogs visible and dry without extra insulation. A soft-shell fabric will block weather and keep fine-coated dogs' natural body temperature stable while exercising outdoors. "If the fabric feels rough to your own skin or if the fabric is stiff and not supple, watch for signs of matting on your longer coated dog," she says. "Just as in human clothing, the better the fabric choice, the better the garment."
How Can I Help My Dog Get Used to Wearing a Coat?
Some dogs instantly love that extra layer; others need encouragement. Freeman recommends "creating a positive association with the new coat, especially if they’re not used to wearing clothing. This can be done by providing lots of treats when showing them the coat, putting the coat on, and wearing it and moving around." Move through these stages over a few days. It's important that the dog is comfortable and able to move around in the new coat. If he or she doesn't warm up to it, try a new one.
How Do I Care for a Pet Coat?
Frequent laundering can reduce the effectiveness of fabrics with weatherproofing treatments, Hook says. To prolong the life of your dog's coat and freshen it up between washings, let it air out whenever possible, and avoid storing it for extended periods of time while wet and dirty. Dog coats need to dry out between walks and activity.
When it is time to wash, use a lint brush or sticky packing tape to remove as much hair from the jacket as you can. "You’d be amazed at how much fur you can remove with tape, and it’s much easier on fabrics than brushing," Hook says. "This for the benefit of your washing machine but also helps to get a better cleaning result."
5 Tips for Washing Pet Coats
Hook recommends following these steps when laundering pet clothing and coats.
- Fasten all straps and buckles to prevent twisting.
- Choose a hand/wool wash cycle if you can to slow the spin speed and minimize shrinkage and warping.
- Use a mild detergent that won't irritate the dog's skin or harm the fabric.
- Avoid fabric softeners because they can damage fabric with performance features like waterproofing.
- Skip tumble drying unless you are trying to shrink or puff up a jacket. (Always check the manufacturer instructions before tumble-drying pet apparel.)