As someone who wears shoes everyday and doesn’t need to walk around barefoot, I never paid special attention to my dogs’ paws. That is, until I got my sixth dog (yes you read that right), Sage. While I have always known paw care was important and I always made sure my dogs weren’t walking on hot pavement, I never gave it a second thought until I got Sage. A working sheepdog, fresh off the farm at two years old, Sage spent most of her life outside on the farm. I never thought that she’d have sensitive feet. Boy, I was wrong.
Within the first week of coming home, Sage had torn up her feet playing fetch in the yard. Her feet were so tattered that they more like a pirate flag, than paws. It was at this point I knew I had to seek paw care help from my vet. While I’m happy to say that Sage is doing much better now, it was certainly a lesson learned the hard way. Whether it is hot or cold, there is so much more to paw care than you think!
Here are a few things that may irritate your dog’s paws:
- Snow. Did you know that dogs can get snowballs stuck between their toes? This happens when snow sticks to the fur on the underside of their paws and can be extremely uncomfortable.
- Salty streets and sidewalks. In cold climates it is not uncommon to find salt on the roads or on the sidewalk. While salt is great for preventing ice buildup, it can lead to mild irritation to, in some cases, chemical burns on paws.
- Rough stuff. Hazards in the environment that could potentially harm your dog. Ice, rough rocks and glass all have the potential to cut paw pads.
- Extreme temperatures. While their feet are a little more rugged than ours, dogs are still susceptible to burns from hot asphalt, as well as frostbite in the winter.
How to incorporate paw care into your routine
Luckily, there are some things you can do to help your dog with paw care. The first and most important step in paw care is ensuring your dog is comfortable having her paws handled. If you are able to examine her paws after an outing, you’ll be much more likely to identify a potential problem before it becomes an issue. You’ll also be in a much better position to provide paw care for your dog in the event that something goes wrong. This will be easiest if your dog associates having her paws touched with something fun. That’s why in my training videos for this month I’ve focused on tricks involving your pup’s paws. She can get comfortable with you touching her paws, eat some treats, and learn some fun party tricks to boot! It’s a paw care win-win.
Let’s start with one of the basics. I feel like every dog I met as a kid knew how to give me a good handshake. This is an easy trick to teach, and a crowd pleaser.
- Start by deciding which hand you’d like your dog to shake. Hold one of his favorite treats in that hand, in a fist.
- Present the fist to your dog and let her sniff it. Her natural curiosity will kick in and she will try to figure out how to get the treat. Your dog may sniff, nose, or lick your hand, but hold it steady.
- The moment she paws at the your hand to get the treat, say “yes,” open your hand and give her the treat. Repeat this process a few times until she gets the knack of it.
- From here, position your shaking hand like you’re counting to four. Once your dog has the hang of things, try it without a treat under your thumb.
Shake really is that simple!
When your dog has a solid handshake, you can move on to more complicated tricks like high five, wave, or ring a bell. They all build off of the foundation you’ve established teaching shake!
Watch the videos
Paw care musts
In addition to getting your dog comfortable with her feet being handled, there are a few other things you can incorporate into your pup’s paw care routine:
- Check your dog’s paws. No matter the weather, all sorts of small things can get stuck between the pads on your dog’s feet. From pebbles to small twigs and foxtails, debris can make walking uncomfortable.
- Try a paw wax. Every dog owner should have some paw wax. I can’t live without mine in the winter. Putting on a thick layer before heading outdoors prevents those pesky snowballs from forming between their toes and has the added benefit of providing some protection against the salty streets. You can use paw wax as a moisturizer too, if your dog’s pads are rough, or cracked. Just like humans, dogs can get dry skin in the winter too! You can find paw wax at your local pet store—just ask!
- Wipe down their paws. After you and your pup return home from an outing, grab a wet paper towel or washcloth and gently wipe down her paws. This will help to remove debris as well as to wash away irritants she may have stepped in outside (i.e. ice melt residue).
Another good way to invest in your pup’s paw care is to get a good pair of dog boots. Dog boots are extremely versatile and are made in a variety of styles to fit your life. From fabric-only boots for snowy playdates to heavy duty footwear for rocky hikes, there are many options for your pooch. In addition to daily protection, boots are great if your dog is recovering from an injury. Here are a few favorite dog boots:
- PAWks. These dog boots are as simple and comfortable as they get. PAWks are just socks with a rubberized sole. Best for light duty around the house or yard.
- Ruffwear Grip Trex. Featuring a rugged Vibram sole and breathable mesh top, these dog boots are some of the best for hiking in the dog world.
- Muttluks. Modeled after traditional human mukluksthese dog boots have a warm fleece lliner with a tough leather sole and will surely keep your pup’s feet toasty and warm in the coldest of weather.
- Pawz. Designed to keep paws clean and dry, these lightweight dog boots have the added bonus of being disposible!
Not all pups will take to wearing dog boots right away. It’s best to take things slow. Build a positive association with his dog boots by always doing something fun when he has them on. This could be as simple as giving your dog some tasty treats or breaking out his favorite toy. My dogs all know that putting on their dog boots means we’re about to play frisbee! To start, only ask your dog to wear boots for a few minutes at a time, and slowly build up the time he spends wearing them. It will take him some time to get used to the feeling of wearing something on his feet, but trust me, it will be worth it!
We may not always think about paw care until it is too late. By getting your dog comfortable with her feet being handled you can take steps to prevent injury or irritation to keep your dog active and happy.