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How To Protect Your Dog From The Cold

By Kayla Fratt

The shortest day of the year is already behind us, but that doesn’t mean that the coldest days of winter are gone. In fact, winter is just getting started! This may leave dog lovers wondering how to protect their dogs from the cold. This is especially pertinent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we may be spending more time outdoors for distanced socializing versus gathering indoors.

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Things to Consider When Protecting Your Dog from the Cold

I want to say this right at the start: protecting your dog from the cold does not have a one-size-fits-all solution. An active, young samoyed will have different needs from an elderly whippet or a chihuahua puppy. That being said, here are some overall factors to consider when dressing your dog for the cold.

  • Actual temperature. This is the most obvious factor to consider: your dog is likely to need more protection if it’s colder.

  • Exposure time. You might not need to put a jacket on your dog for a quick potty break, but will want to put one on her for a longer walk. Just like you, she’ll get colder if she’s out longer.

  • Wind. Wind can really cut through short fur and make your dog colder.

  • Humidity. Most humans report feeling colder if it’s humid out, versus a dry cold. It stands to reason that your dog may agree and feel colder in humid weather versus dry weather.

  • Precipitation. Rain, sleet or snow can all make your dog colder thanks to evaporative cooling. 

  • Activity. Staying still in the cold is different from engaging in heavy activity! Even my long-haired active border collie’s temperature-needs fluctuate day to day based on our activity. He may wear a jacket while sleeping in the tent while camping in 40°F weather but not need a jacket while running a skijoring race in -2°F.

  • Your dog’s coat type. Long-coated dogs or dogs with thick double coats (like labs) will stay warmer than short-coated dogs or dogs with single coats that are cut short (like a Maltese with a puppy cut).

  • Your dog’s age. Very young and very old dogs will be less resilient to cold than healthy dogs in the prime of their life.

  • Your dog’s general physique and personality. Ultra-skinny dogs (like sighthounds), dogs unaccustomed to the cold and sickly dogs are likely in need of extra help staying warm. Like people, some dogs just have different tolerances for temperatures than others!

Remember that this will all change day to day, so it’s best to evaluate based on observing your dog and comparing that with how you feel in the weather! Odds are, if you’re colder than normal your dog is as well.

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What Options Do I Have to Protect My Dog from the Cold?

Given the ever-changing nature of warming your dog, it’s best to have a few options at your disposal if you live in a cold climate. Here are some of the things I keep in my closet for Montana winters:

  • Booties. I personally use Ruffwear booties for most outdoor pursuits. They take a bit to get your dog used to, but they’re rugged enough for regular use. Softer sock-like booties often rip too easily. 

  • Jackets. There is an extremely wide range of jackets available. Try to select jackets based on your needs rather than just looks. For example, a cute sweater or fleece won’t do your dog much good in snow or rain, but will cut the chill a bit. A rain jacket is perfect for precipitation and will often cut out wind, but won’t insulate your dog at night. I personally keep around a windproof, waterproof insulated jacket as well as a lighter rain shell for my dog.

  • Blankets and sleeping bags. If you’re camping or planning on spending a while out in the cold, you’ll want to get your pup something cozy and warm to snuggle up in. When I’m out with small dogs or puppies, I even carry a blanket to warm up my dog when we stop for lunch or a snack. You can also cover your dog’s crate for extra warmth if you have a crate with you.

  • Common sense. Finally, it’s important to remember that there’s a limit to what your dog can withstand. There are times when what’s really best is to shorten your outing or leave your dog at home.

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You want to give your dog some extra warmth and layers before they start to shiver. It can be hard to tell with some dogs if they’re cold until they’re really, really cold. My border collie falls into this category. For him, I generally err on the side of offering him clothing if it’s wet and under 50°F unless he’s going to be very active. He will also get a jacket if it’s dry but under 20°F, again, unless he’s going to be very active. You’ll find your own general rules for your dogs to protect them from the cold — make sure you enforce them regularly!


Kayla Fratt is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and the owner of Journey Dog Training. She’s passionate about helping owners prevent and treat behavior problems in their pets. She also works as a conservation detection dog trainer with her border collies in Missoula, Montana. She’s an avid runner, cross-country skier and a budding agility competitor.

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