The one thing I admire about dogs is the way that they are always ready to go. Go anywhere. At any time, any place anywhere. All we have to do is tell them where we’re going and they immediately stand up and start wagging their tails profusely, ready for the off.
But what about us? We’re the ones who seem to have several decisions to make. What’s the weather like? Will I need my coat? What happens if I bump into X? Should I put any make up on? And that’s just the men!
What not to wear on the cat walk – sorry – dog walk, is clothing that is impractical. But that doesn’t mean to say that practical clothing can’t be fashionable or stylish. With some careful shopping you can be perfectly clothed for the hills, yet stylish enough for an evening out with friends and family. But to understand practical clothing, you need to understand what your dog is wearing.
With the exception of one or two breeds, all dogs are covered in fur. The fur differs between breeds, depending on what the breed was originally bred for, but the basics of fur is to trap air, warm it up with body heat and keep it trapped. Some breeds have a thicker coat in the winter and moult it out for a thinner summer coat, reversing the process in time for the following winter. But it isn’t as simple as that.
Labradors for example, have a double coat. Closest to the skin is a soft and fluffy undercoat, whilst on top lays a heavier, thicker, coarser coat. It’s the undercoat that keeps them warm and traps all the air close to the body, whilst the top coat protects the undercoat from mud and other outdoor substances! It even helps to keep the undercoat dry even when the dog is swimming in the nearest pond. That’s why so much water goes flying as soon as a Labrador shakes – it’s a design feature.
So as the human race isn’t covered in fur (usually), we wear clothing to keep warm, and sweat to keep cool. Dogs have to pant to keep cool because they can’t just through their fur off. So think layers of fur and you’ll always be prepared for that walk with the dog whatever the weather.
With our layering system of clothing though, we need to be able to get rid of excess moisture. Have you ever worn a cotton T-Shirt when climbing a hill? It doesn’t matter whether it’s summer or winter, you still work up a sweat. Stop at the summit to admire the view and the cotton’s excellent moisture absorbing ability comes into its own. But that’s also its weakness. All that moisture is retained by the cotton, and kept next to your skin, slowly cooling you down, making you feel cold and wet. Meanwhile, your dog is busy panting away cooling down, but still covered in fur keeping him warm.
Modern materials are excellent at wicking moisture away from your body. Clothes that can breath allow the cold wet air to escape but keep the dry warm air trapped next to your skin. A good base layer works well throughout the year, either as a first layer of defence in the winter, or the only layer required in the summer. Look for synthetic materials such as polyester, that have been modified to be “high wicking” and “quick drying”.
In the cooler months, you’ll probably need another layer over the top of your base layer. Think of this as your version of the Labrador’s soft fluffy coat. A fleece jacket or jumper is the perfect choice. Made from synthetic materials they are usually lightweight, durable, water repellent for those October showers, but quick drying. And they also continue to ‘breathe’ allowing all that moisture escaping from your base layer to escape through your fleece too. This mid layer helps keep those cool breezes at bay, whilst still allowing you to be active and throwing those sticks!
For those harsh weather conditions, (you know those autumnal gales we sometimes have), you need a third outer layer. Working on the same principle as the Labrador’s outer coat, it repels water with ease, keeping your fleece underneath warm and dry. Manufacturers understand this layering system perfectly, and are designing complete 3-in-1 systems, which will cope with just about every situation that the British weather can throw at us – usually on a Bank Holiday Monday too.
It’s not just our top halves we need to think about, there are our legs too. Now it’s possible to get away with just one pair of trousers or one skirt. The wonder of zips mean that trousers can either be full length, knee length breeches, or with one final zip, a pair of shorts. This simple idea transfers well to skirts too. Whatever the season, these garments can adjust quickly to the weather conditions. How many times have you taken the dog to the beach only to find the weather improve, and wish you could go for a paddle in the sea too? These multi-length trousers and skirts mean you’ll be in and out of the water in no time, with none of that fiddly rolling up of trouser legs that fall back down when you’re in the sea, or those embarrassing moments fumbling behind a beach towel trying to change into something more shorter.
A better understanding of how your dog copes with the different outdoor conditions means that you too can be ready for anything, at any time too. Outdoor clothing manufacturers have spent millions developing products to be hard wearing, durable and practical. But they’ve also made them fashionable too. The colours may change each year, but the quality doesn’t and investing in well-made products will serve you well if you look after them. Even dogs look after their fur and need our help in grooming them from time to time.
So next time you step outside to take the dog for a walk, make sure you’re prepared for whatever our British weather will throw at you. You know your dog is always prepared. And now you know, it’s all just a question of layers.
© Simon Whaley