Canine couture: When dog clothes make sense

Doggy sweaters have a practical use beyond keeping them on trend. Photo: File photo Doggy sweaters have a practical use beyond keeping them on trend. Photo: File photo

Another year, another Internet controversy. Although it hasn’t reached the fever pitch of last year’s ambiguously colored dress, I understand that people are now very concerned about whether a dog’s pants should cover all four legs or just the hind two.

There isn’t much sense to the question, of course. It’s hard to imagine any good reason for any dog to wear pants regardless of how many legs they’ll cover. Now that’s not to say that dogs should never wear clothes. Sure, it’s easy to snicker at your neighbor’s lapdog adorned with pointless pink frills, but sometimes dogs need to brave elements they simply weren’t bred to endure, and a garment or two may put function squarely above fashion.

Although there’s been a delay, winter is finally getting around to being cold. Big arctic breeds such as huskies and samoyeds have little need for concern. But if your skinny whippet steps out for longer than necessary to check the mail, you’ll likely find him shivering in a hurry. Not only do smaller and lighter-framed dogs lose body heat quickly, but dogs with short or sparse fur (whether by their nature or because of illness) can struggle when temperatures fall. And puppies or elderly dogs are inherently more vulnerable. A pet coat is an entirely practical way to keep them warm.

Winter weather can also be a particular challenge for dogs’ feet. Not only are they in direct contact with cold surfaces, but they have to deal with snow, ice and whatever humans have sprinkled on the ground to melt it. Pads become chapped and cracked, and can take a long time to heal. Dogs with longer fur often get painful balls of ice jammed up between their toes, and road salt (even the “pet-safe” kinds) can be terribly caustic. There’s nothing wrong with fitting your dog with a good set of boots to help keep their feet protected. It’s still wise, however, to clean and dry their feet once the boots come off at home.

Regardless of how you might decide to outfit them, no dog is completely impervious to severe cold. Extremities such as ears and tails are vulnerable to frostbite even in the most densely insulated breeds. And if there’s precipitation in the air, wet fur will quickly lose its ability to provide warmth. No dog should ever be left in the cold unattended or without appropriate shelter, and if you start to see your dog shivering or slowing down during an extended winter walk, it’s time to get back inside to warm up again.

Dog clothes can serve a perfectly valid purpose under the right circumstances, and don’t have to be embarrassing. Except for those pants. Those are plainly absurd. But for the record, anybody with any sense can see that dog pants would only cover the hind legs.