We all can agree that dogs, in general, are animals who often seek human touch. Many of these adorable pets willingly roll over to ask for belly rubs and crave scratches behind their ears. Some dogs even persist in pushing their bodies against other people’s hands just to convince them to pet them. But try to pick up their doggy paws and you will receive those evil eyes. What gives? Why don’t they want their paws touched?
If your Fido is a “paw-phobic” pooch, do not fret, you are not alone. Many dog parents struggle with their dogs who dislike having their doggy paws touched, making every nail trimming session a dreaded event. So why do dogs hate having their paws touched? And most of all, what can be done about this behavior? A better understanding of dogs and being aware of the ways they use their feet uncover intriguing findings.
Dogs’ Paws Are Packed With Nerve Endings
A dog’s anatomy is indeed fascinating. In the article: How many toes does a dog have, you will learn how dogs’ toe count varies by breed–and did you know that some dogs can have an extra toe? If we look at it, a dog’s feet may seem so strong compared to human feet, considering that we wear footwear for most of our lives. After all, dog’s paw pads are like thick leather that is purposely designed to hold against rugged use. However, these pads are also filled with nerve endings.
Therefore, your pooch might be irritable when you touch his paws due to all the sensory components that are contained within them. Their pads are made up of nerves that communicate with oscillations. These are very useful for allowing canines to figure out the ground’s toughness for running and traveling over. The tiny spots in the middle of their digital pads present uber-delicate nerve tips that also might play a part in your dog’s deep dislike of his paw being handled by others. In other words, dogs often feel awkward, ticklish, sensitive, and uncomfortable when humans go near their feet, either front or back.
It’s Essential For A Dog’s Survival
Dog paws play a significant role in a canine’s survival. It is as if they are aware of this but at a level that is instinctual and adaptive. This instinct, therefore, helps them preserve a body part that they particularly depend on to perform many functions. For example, dogs use their paws for animal locomotion. In the wild, loss of body functionality would translate into the limited ability to escape any predators and hunt. A canine with an injured foot would hence become defenseless and vulnerable. Along with locomotion, dog feet are used for various tasks such as scratching an itchy area, digging dirt, and removing debris from the eyes.
Canines also use their feet for communication. While in plain sight, many dog owners are not familiar with the fact that canines kick dirt because their feet have special glands that secrete pheromones. Just a couple of backward scratches into the dirt release those chemicals detected by other dogs who happen to stand by in that location. This information is helpful, especially if you’re fond of bringing your dog out to public places. With all these purposes, it is quite understandable why dog paws are essential and why canine pets may be explicitly nervous when people (owners, groomers, or veterinarians) start touching them.
Your Dog Feels Intimidated
By getting agitated when you pick up his front doggy feet, your pooch might interpret your behavior as the “alpha” one. Whether you are attempting just to trim his too-long nails or to pet his paws, Fido might perceive your paw-touching effort as a display of social status, and in turn, might manifest a habit of expressing to you that he won’t stand for it and objects to it. He might even recognize it as an attack when it is certainly not your intention.
It’s A Matter of Negative Associations
A dog may be naturally predisposed to being wary about having its feet handled, but things can get quite worse when negative associations establish its natural suspicions. All it takes is to injure the dog while clipping nails or to handle those paws a bit rough, and things may begin to really deteriorate. One main problem is the fact that puppies have very thick claws that are tough to cut through. Many canines have black nails that make things extra challenging, making visualizing the “quick” quite strenuous.
The “quick” is basically the soft cuticle rich in nerves and blood vessels located under the dog’s nail, which can lead to pain and bleeding when the nail is trimmed too short. Nicking this part might seem simple. Sadly, dogs tend to easily reserve bad memories revolving around painful approaches. It shouldn’t, therefore, come as a surprise why your dog hates having its paws touched. His instincts, together with the localized sensitivity, and the possibility for negative experiences, can easily turn a pedicure routine into a feared activity. It’s also not surprising to understand why vets and groomers charge a premium for pet nail services, especially when sedation is required.
It’s An Instinctive Canine Characteristic
Canines tend to be highly palpable in their interactions with fellow dogs, whether they’re simply greeting one another or playing together. Although dogs might do plenty of touching, you might also notice that they often keep away from the feet. Not only do they generally withhold from touching others’ feet, but they also commonly abstain from smelling them. Thus, your dog disliking its paws touched might just be an instinctive canine characteristic. Don’t take your mutt’s hate of it personally.
What Can You Do to Condition Your Dog?
Now that you are aware of why your dog dislikes having his paws touched, you might also be interested in understanding what you can do to make touching those paws less uncomfortable.
This is vital considering that a time may come when you may need to inspect your pet’s feet for cuts, thorns, or burrs, and you will require your pooch to be collaborative. The following are some helpful tips:
- Prevention is better than a pound of cure! Initiate paw-handling exercises with young pups by creating positive experiences. Make it a habit of rubbing/touching each paw and between the toes while delivering tasty doggy snacks.
- Use care and caution with defensive pets. If Fido has ever shown any signs of aggression like growling, please consult with a professional animal behaviorist, using gentle, positive-based behavior modification.
- Make the nail clipper your pet’s best friend. Let Fido get used to seeing the nail clipper around. Don’t just expose it when your pet needs a nail cut.
- Keep the clipper behind your back, and then show it to Fido. Every time he sniffs it or sees the trimmer, offer Fido a treat. Then put the trimmer behind your back again and repeat this process several times.
- Go slow. Don’t make that nail trims a tedious task during which Fido is pulling a face every time a nail is cut. Try cutting just one or two nails a day and make his experience a fun, upbeat, and rewarding activity!
- Build positive associations with nail trims. Every time you cut a nail, praise and offer a high-value treat to Fido.
- Some canine pets do best with nail-grinding tools but require getting used to its feel and sounds on the nails.
- For desperate occasions, consider that long, fast-paced day-to-day walks on concrete can help naturally clip Fido’s nails. Ask your veterinarian if your pet is a pup, as exercising on hard surfaces can cause damage to growth plates.
Now that you’ve looked at the reasons behind Fido’s “paw-phobic” behavior and considered some ways to how you can work on this issue, you can now attempt to handle his feet. By now, you have been making an effort to touch Fido’s paws more. You are now even able to offer him a short paw-massage. You also have acquainted him with the trimmers, and although he remains somewhat twitchy, you are taking baby steps to get him comfortable. You have been delivering him tasty snacks when he shakes your hand, and you feel all these techniques have reduced his anxiety around paw handling. Fido no longer is so “paw-thetic” when you attempt to touch those doggy paws.
Featured Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash