I was raised by a Labrador. I did not see the point of coats for dogs. Then my previous pooch got old and suddenly I was That Person whose dog and horse had matching fleece blankets. I thought that I was making a perfectly reasonable exception to my no-clothes rule for an old dog…
Lilo gets cold. It’s fair, really. She has a short single coat — no insulating undercoat like a Lab or many of the other outdoorsy breeds — and while she generates plenty of body heat, the dog converts hot dogs and string cheese straight into muscle. I wish I had her abs, but she’s just not designed to stay warm in winter at 4,000 feet without some help. This is problem #1.
She inherited Casey’s horse-blanket-style coats years ago and those worked fine for barn chores and walks around town. She wasn’t a huge fan — to this day, she seems to find fleece itchy — but they did the job. Still do the job, actually: the Weatherbeeta is still in the regular rotation for local strolls and shoulder-season weather. Not bad for a relatively cheap coat acquired 6+ years ago!
But it pretty quickly became clear that we needed a bigger gun for mountain hikes. I first tried layering, as in the haybale picture above, but with her pack on top…
…it was just too much bulk. Pack + Weatherbeeta worked fine, but with the third layer, she ended up with rubs on her elbows and under the chestpiece. I don’t blame the jackets; they were never designed to be used this way. But clearly we needed to try something different.
We’d also picked up a Fido Fleece along the way, because I wanted her belly covered, but for this dog the theory was better than the execution. As above, she thinks the fleece is itchy and also we have problem #2: that massive pit bull front end.
The pup is wide across the chest and through the shoulders and neck, and her front legs have what horse people refer to as “lots of bone.” This is fine and dandy in general, but most technical dog clothes are designed for sporting and herding breeds, not for my happy little monster truck. The Fido Fleece is a relatively mild offender and works well on many, many bully breed dogs — but on Lilo over miles, it rubbed the tops of her front legs pretty raw.
I toned down my ambitions to let her heal and let me think about what to try next. The weather was still quite pleasant at lower elevations, especially closer to home, so we did some local hikes and I swapped out her pack for her old tracking harness (really a S&R vest), which has a different chest strap and puts the belly strap farther back. Lilo doesn’t carry weight in her pack (although it’s a convenient place to stash raingear or hats and gloves) and mostly wears it because I like having a handle on her in case she needs an assist with a scramble. The vest met that requirement handily (see what I did there?) and the more we used it, the more I liked having it close to her body instead of over top of the coat — it seemed less likely to rub or bind that way.
After much research and careful comparison of Lilo’s measurements to the sizing charts, I bit the bullet and ordered her a Hurtta Ultimate Warmer. I’d heard great things about the quality of Hurtta gear in general, wasn’t sure it was quite as warm as I wanted, but liked the ability to cover her haunches and neck and loved that it was literally the only coat out there that seemed like it might be a little too big in the neck and girth measurements. I figured that meant it would actually fit her just right.
She wears the vest under this one and I can grab the handle through one of the leash openings if need be. Of course this also means that warm air can escape through the same opening — but it seems to close pretty well when not in use and I figure it’s an acceptable tradeoff for such a good fit. I also don’t love that the back of the coat is designed to snap under the tail; this covers her thighs nicely, but is, uh, questionable design for a female dog who likes to mark her trail. I tend to leave it either snapped to the sides (functioning like a blanket coat) or snapped together but over her tail (kind of a funny look, but a compromise between warmth and tidiness).
I’ve been really happy with the Ultimate Warmer and am forever in Hurtta’s debt for making a coat that actually! fits! my dog! but have wondered if it’s going to be quuuiiiite warm enough since we seem likely to keep hiking the Whites right on through the winter. Luckily(?), I’ve also ended up with a second technical winter coat through my own boneheadedness; I left the Hurtta somewhere the day before we were supposed to group-hike Waumbek and wasn’t going to be able to get it back until after. So I crossed my fingers and picked up a Ruffwear Powder Hound jacket from a local shop.
My assessment at this point — after one mountain use and one flatland hike — is what I’d expected based on the measurements (and this is a large; the size chart would have put her at the high end of medium but there was no way). This is a great coat designed for a differently-shaped dog. It’s super warm, covers her belly and haunches very nicely, and stays in place well, but is tighter across the chest than I’d like and the sleeved design (while contributing to the warmth) did cause a little broken hair after the Waumbek hike. No damage to the skin and she didn’t seem to mind the fit at all, but I wouldn’t want this to be her only coat. I also hadn’t fully appreciated how well the Hurrta stays in place longitudinally; while it rolls a bit from side-to-side on my barrel-shaped pup, I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t pulling it forward until I found myself having to do so with the Powder Hound.
At this point, we’re sticking with the Ultimate Warmer for Lilo’s go-to winter coat and we’ll see if my concerns about it not being quite enough for really frigid weather are founded. I’m glad to have the Powder Hound and am curious about its potential as a layering piece under the Hurtta to keep her toasty on the winter higher summits; I’ll report back if and when we give it a try. And I can’t say enough good things about the Weatherbeeta for a basic affordable coat. I’m curious whether we’ll ever manage to destroy the thing!