Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Warm clothes might look a tad silly, but your dog will likely appreciate the gesture

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Petwear always sparks a pawsitively tempestuous debate, with many believing their furry companion's dignity is worth more than a quick fix of cuteness.

Polka-dot coats and waterproof boots for our precious pooches may seem ridiculous and superficial. But for some, those frivolous garments are less about vanity and more about keeping warm during winter months.

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Jocelyn Biggs of the Edmonton location of Tail Blazers pet store chain agrees that winters can get mighty cold. Some dogs just can't handle the elements and, despite the common disdain for pet clothing, our best friends just might need the extra layers.

"Of course, there are people who are (dressing up their pets) as a fashion statement, but just like people, dogs need to be kept warm," Biggs says. "My dog, if he gets too cold, he'll lie down and not get up, so you're carrying him home. (Boots and sweaters) protect against water, protect against wind and against extreme weather."

Aaron Bisson, a store manager at Petsmart, says many customers are hesitant about purchasing pet clothing. But once winter rolls around and Fluffy stands outside shivering instead of doing her business, they usually change their minds.

"Clothing isn't just for the female dogs now. It's for every dog, every size," Bisson says. "There are certainly people who are like, 'This is a dog and it should be acclimatized to winter,' but that's just not the case. There are certain breeds that just wouldn't live here unless we brought them here."

Both small dogs and large dogs are susceptible to the cold, especially those with short hair. Smaller dogs such as Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas and other dogs under 30 pounds usually need some extra warmth in winter due to their size. Large dogs such as Boxers and Great Danes might need to throw on some winter gear because of their short hair.

However, even four-legged friends with thick fur can be sensitive to the elements, especially their paws. This is where boots come in handy.

"Really, booties are keeping the ice and the salt out of the pads of the dog," Bisson says. "Not all of the (sidewalk) salt is pet-friendly. If they don't have a bootie on, you should clean your dog's feet off at the end of the walk. It can dry out their skin and cause problems for the pads."

Biggs says a dog might waddle around like a penguin the first time it puts on a pair of boots. She suggests walking them around the house to get them acquainted before heading out into blizzardy weather.

For those pets who simply won't do boots, there are other non-boot options like paw protectants. They are soy-based balms that coat the pads of their feet.

In addition to being practical, a lot of pet clothing has upped its fashion game. Dog hoodies, down-filled jackets, parkas, pyjamas and even -- gasp -- yoga sweaters can be found in many stores.

"Some of the dog coats we have are nicer than my own," Biggs says, laughing. "They're looking a lot more like human wear. They've modernized a lot."

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2013 C5

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