Today I’m going to talk about a topic that every dog owner has an opinion on. In fact, the opinions of this topic tend to be very polarized. The question at hand is, should you dress your dog? When this first comes to mind, we tend to think towards the two extreme ends of the spectrum.

There are those out there who love to play dress up with their dogs. Whether it’s full-on costumes, painting their nails, or something else that may seem a little excessive, these are the people who are all about primping up their dogs.

Then there are the people in the exact opposite camp. They say that dogs should never, under any circumstances, be subjected to wearing any article of clothing. Dogs are meant to be naked and natural, so we should leave them that way.

I’ve thought about this topic for a considerable amount of time now, and I don’t understand why we have to take up one of the extremes on this. So today, I’m offering up a middle ground. Sure, I believe that there are some excessive practices taking place in the world of dog clothing, but I’m also a bit skeptical of the idea that dogs shouldn’t wear anything at all.

How to Dress Your Dog and Avoid Embarrassment

As with most things, I believe there’s a time and place for everything, doggie dress up included. I think the key is to dress them, but do so while keeping in mind that they’re a dog. So today I’m going to tell you how to dress your dog without embarrassing them.

What do I mean by dressing them like a dog?

When I say that you should dress a dog like a dog, I’m trying to say that you should cater to their feelings and needs as a canine. That begs the question, what do dogs like? Well, most dogs are naturally active, so we should think in terms of that.

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When I see a dog that I would consider to be overdressed, they’re usually stepping around awkwardly and they don’t seem to know how to carry themselves. This is because overdressing a dog inherently restricts their range of motion. They aren’t comfortable when they cannot move in the way that they’re used to. Dogs like to be unrestricted, with a full range of motion.

How to Dress Your Dog and Avoid EmbarrassmentDogs hate complicated costumes that make them feel restricted. If a dog cannot walk around freely, and instead has to move a bit awkwardly to maintain his daily routine, it is likely to frustrate him a little bit. Not to mention that he will be uncomfortable all the while.

It’s important that whatever you decide to dress your dog in, that you do so in something that won’t interfere with his natural range of motion. This ensures that your dog can be fashionable and comfortable.

Likewise, dogs don’t like to be unnecessarily covered up. Dogs typically enjoy being in control over their own body temperature. If they’re hot, they will find a shady place to lie down. If they’re cold, they’ll burrow into a blanket or snuggle up next to you, like my dog Ellie does with me. Covering a dog up in an elaborate costume can make him hot and uncomfortable.

Especially in the summer heat, many breeds already battle against their fur. Even shedding a winter coat often times does not provide enough relief from the heat. So, blanketing your dog in a full-body costume will only make matters worse. An exception may be made in the winter, especially if you live in an area that is known for freezing temperatures, snow, and ice.

I have no problem with doggie jackets, as some dogs need them to keep warm enough. However, make sure you know how to dress your dog and follow the rule mentioned above; try not to outfit your dog with anything that’s restrictive. Also, please do so tastefully. An ugly Christmas sweater may be acceptable for a human. However, as much as we can treat our dogs like they are, they’re simply not humans.

Let’s not dress our dogs up like people.

That brings about my next point. Dogs are not human. I'm thinking of a Hollywood starlet toting her miniature pup around in her purse, dressed to the nines. Dressing your dog up in a shirt and pants (or even shoes) may seem cute at first, but one look at a dog typically can tell you that it’s generally uncomfortable. Dogs should wear clothes that make sense for them.

How to Dress Your Dog and Avoid EmbarrassmentMost human clothes directly violate the golden rule of non-restrictive clothing. Shirts can pass for the most part. Ellie actually has a favorite shirt. She’s wearing her Batman t-shirt in the picture to the right.

However, doggy pants and especially doggy shoes can be quite restrictive. Dogs already have pads on their feet. Nature has taken care of their walking comfort for the most part. Putting them in clunky shoes does not provide any additional benefit to the dog, and can actually cause discomfort.

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Now I know dog boots are appropriate for some occasions, but they really shouldn't be used unless they are protecting your dog's paws. Dog boots are great for hiking, walking on hot asphalt in the summer, or gripping cold, slippery ice and snow in the winter.

I'm not saying that these circumstances do not require doggy footwear, I'm talking about the ruby slippers that match your pups Dorothy costume or the high heels that you strap on your Chihuahua when you bring her to the grocery store. These types of dog shoes are simply unnecessary.

Additionally, some items are notably impractical for dogs. Most head accessories, like hats and sunglasses, are not shaped for dogs. This is, unless you buy items specially made for canines, like Doggles. However, it has been my observation that dogs don’t like things on their faces or heads.

Sure, there are always exceptions, but I know that Ellie always tries to paw things away that we’ve tried. So, we respect her wishes as a dog and leave her head free. Speaking of headpieces on dogs, I also need to touch on doggy costumes.

Dogs shouldn’t have candy. So why are they trick-or-treating?

The bottom line is, ridiculous costumes make your dog feel ridiculous. For the most part, even the costumes that are specifically made for dogs are uncomfortable and restrictive. So, while it may be cute to dress your dog up like Superman, I can assure you that he most likely doesn’t feel super.

How to Dress Your Dog and Avoid EmbarrassmentThis next point may be a little more philosophical, but it’s worth mentioning. There is this reoccurring idea of avoiding restriction for your dog’s movements. In a way, restricting the motions of a dog and outfitting them with foreign objects could work to diminish their identity as a dog. Dogs feel most like themselves when they can run around freely and feel natural.

The more elaborately we dress them up, the more potential we have to confuse our dogs on how they’re supposed to act or feel. While we can’t get directly into their heads, we can make some guided assumptions. Say, for instance, you outfit your dog with some shoes. They’re clunky and don’t quite feel like paws to a dog.

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This can throw off their balance to the point that they can’t run, and walking becomes somewhat of a chore. The dog may interpret this as an attempt to keep them from moving around too much, thinking that you’ve placed these shoes on them as some sort of a punishment. So, it’s my contention that whatever we do dress our dogs in, it shouldn't have a high possibility of causing this confliction.

Dogs can be clothed

So far it seems like I’ve been pretty anti-dog clothing. But here’s the distinction for the middle ground that I’m trying to shoot for. I think that it can be perfectly appropriate, as long as you know how to dress your dog in a way that makes him happy and keeps him safe.

If done correctly, it can be a way to enhance his identity or give him even more of a personality. It can even be an avenue for bonding with your dog. The important thing is to make sure that, whatever you dress your dog in, he can still be a dog.

Specifically, don’t dress your dog at his expense. Ultimately, this can be achieved through simplicity. Throw out the hats, boots, and Elvis costumes and exchange them for a simple shirt or bandana.

One of my favorite things to see is a dog dressed in is a breathable jersey of the owner’s favorite sports team. It can be fun, and it allows your dog to root for your team alongside you. Just make sure that the jersey leaves plenty of wiggle room.

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Another item of clothing that works is the ol’ trusty bandana. Most groomers give your dog back with one of these around their neck. As long as it’s not tied too tight, it can be fun. Ellie loves her bandana, to the point that sometimes she sleeps with it when it’s not on. If you have multiple dogs that look similar, a bandana can be a great way to distinguish them.

And, a simple t-shirt can be a good way to mix up your dog’s look every now and then. Again, just be sure that it’s not too tight and it doesn't make your dog too hot. The right t-shirt can let everyone else know what your dog is about.

So here's the deal…

What do all of these acceptable articles of clothing have in common? They’re simple. They don’t overdo it and they give your dog plenty of breathability and maneuverability. These items prove that you can still dress your dog without taking away their identity. They let your dog say, “Yes, I’m a dog, but I still know how to accessorize.”

It’s perfectly fine to clothe your dog, just be mindful that they are a dog, which means they have different feelings and needs than humans do. So long as you don’t infringe on that, your dog will most likely enjoy their clothes just as much as you enjoy dressing them.

Chad met his miniature long-haired dachshund, Ellie, through his girlfriend Jess. Over time, they became the best of friends, doing everything together. From taking trips to the soccer field, car rides to Ellie’s favorite drive thru restaurants, visits to the local Bark Park, to playing cards together, Ellie is always right by Chad’s side.