What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Autumn’? The reds and oranges of the season? Or perhaps the sound of leaves crunching under your feet? Maybe it’s the smell of hot soup and crackling fires? Or snuggling into a cosy jumper, freshly laundered after months of sitting at the back of your wardrobe?
I love a jumper, pullover, sweater, sweatshirt. The very names conjure warmth. (Having written that I wondered where ‘jumper’ comes from. Apparently it derives from the 19th century French word ‘jupe’ meaning ‘short coat’. Don’t say you never learn anything form me!) Even more than being warm, jumpers evoke a feeling of being safe and secure. Of keeping out the wind. Of giving protection against the cold. I enjoy the sensation of pulling on my zip fronted Talking Dogs Scentwork® hoodie as I prepare to go to Railworld for an end of year Scent 4. Or disappearing inside an oversized arran cardie as I drink hot coffee after a winter dog walk.
Unlike my sweater collection, I never pack away my dogs’ jumpers. They are always in the van ready to be used on any given adventure. When Ettie first arrived, Amie gave her a petrol blue pullover. Being an August baby, she came home in October. She was tiny, not even 2kgs, so when she went out into the world, she wore this thoughtful gift. Small with a thin coat and a gentle covering of body fat, her cosy jumper was enough to stop her from becoming chilled during our short sojourns to the end of the lane or when exploring on her first walks.
I know that to some the idea of our dogs wearing clothes is an anathema. To be honest, I’m not a fan of frivolous finery. I don’t want my dog to look like a spider or a hotdog or a fairy princess. I don’t want to dress them up so that they look less like dogs, more like small children. But I do recognise that while these style choices are not for me, the occasional Halloween party at dog club or charity photo shoot does present some useful handling opportunities.
If I can teach the dog to accept or, even better enjoy being handled, or if I can enhance her natural pleasure at being handled, those are super useful skills. For us, learning how to bend each little leg properly in order to insert it into a sleeve is akin to putting on some harnesses. Pulling outfits over the dog’s head teaches her to be calm when she can’t see what’s happening. And accepting that the sensation of wearing a coat doesn’t have to be frightening or restrictive can be life saving should they need help in not licking wounds or removing stitches post-op.
Function and fit
When it comes to less flamboyant clothing, the key for me is that it is functional and fits well without restricting movement. A bonus is if it comes in nice colours – and that’s entirely for my aesthetic pleasure not the dog’s. Though colour can be useful. I have different coloured coats for each of my dogs so that I can clearly identify each one. My Jack Russell Terrier Ella has a bright orange jumper that allows me to see her no matter the weather (she’s nigh on invisible in snow.) Or how far she is away from me on the long Fenland droves.
On a recent trip to Scotland, Ettie had her first experience of swimming in a loch. Even on the hottest days, Scottish lochs are not known for their balmy temperature. I didn’t have much time to wonder if Ettie would be put off by these cold waters before she plunged in, swimming out after Labrador Cherry. Cherry is a 23kg Labrador with a coat made for swimming and paws designed to power through the water. Ettie is a 5kg terrier with a wiry coat and the smallest paws of any dog who has even lived with me. But she matched Cherry stroke for stroke. Aware of the temperature in the water I kept her moving, never letting her settle on the sunny bank for long before tossing the toy back into the deep blue loch.
We only stayed at this swimming spot for about 15 minutes before I called it a day and ushered them all back to the van. After a short scramble up the path, each dog was towelled off with vigorous rubs to keep their circulation moving as soaked up as much excess water as I could. Within seconds Ettie began to shiver uncontrollably, startling me with the ferocity of the shakes. But I was ready, and as soon as I’d finished towelling her, I snuggled her into her Equafleece tankie.
I’ll admit, I was a little worried that she’d become too cold. So we then drove along the track for a minute or so before pulling over into a very sunny spot. My intention was to bring her into the cab with me, so that she could be in front of the van heater while the sun streamed through the windscreen. But I had no need to worry. She was cosy in her tankie and rather than being shivering and miserable, she was ready for more action! I had been swithering about getting her a wetsuit for our Scottish trips. This little adventure tipped the balance and now I’m on the search for the tiniest of wetsuits for my water loving terrier.
Ettie wasn’t the only dog who go to wear her Equafleece that day. Even though she decided not to swim, Ella had been paddling around and had received several showers courtesy of Cherry. Once dried she too was popped into her (bright orange) tankie. And then came Cherry. As an older lady (she does not like me saying that!) of nearly 10, injury prevention is the order of the day. Her joins are increasing clicky so in addition to regular exercise, weight management and joint supplements, keeping her warm after exercise is more important than ever. To this end, she wears an Equafleece jumper which has sleeves for her front legs.
Working dogs need to stay warm
Post-work recovery routines are important for all dogs. Whether they’re a scentwork dog who has just completed an outdoor search, a gundog who has just worked a drive, a patrol dog who has just taken down a criminal or a companion dog who has been out for a run on a frosty day, each needs help to stay warm while they cool down from their exertions. This stops the body from cooling down too quickly and helps prevent muscle pain and damage. In cold weather, my girls also wear their coats when waiting between searches or activities. This keeps them warm, ready to start work without suddenly expecting cold bodies to immediately jump into action. Ideally warming up and cooling down exercises should be also be done. Choose them according to the environmental conditions, dog’s level of fitness and the activity involved.
At this point I will highlight that I’m not endorsed or paid to promote Equafleece. But for as long as I can remember, they have been my coats of choice for all my dogs. They are excellent quality – I’ve never had one that wore out. Amie regularly buys and sells used Equafleeces as puppies grow out of one size and into the next. Once they are fully grown, each dog has been treated to a brand new one that they can wear for their whole life.
I love too that there are multiple designs, ensuring that all shapes, sizes and ages of dog can find one to suit them. With the option of zips and buckles, arthritic or older dogs can comfortably slip on their cosy jumper too. And the colours! Ettie’s ‘big girl’ tankie is a super cute pale heather purple which cranks up the adorability factor to a hot 11/10!
So bring on the frosty mornings and the chilly nights. We have our cosy jumpers and we’re not afraid to use them!