Wrestling to Wipe Your Dog’s Paws After Being Out? Train This Trick.

Image source: @RyanCarr via Flickr
Image source: @RyanCarr via Flickr

For many, spring is the wettest time of the year, which means muddy paws every time you go outside. If you have a dog that is sensitive to being handled, or hates being toweled off, this can quickly become a dreaded chore that has to be down several times a day.

The answer? Train a trick!

I have a Shetland sheepdog that, ever since he was a puppy, did not like to be held, restrained, or even really petted. He used to scream whenever I would try to hold him – that’s just his personality. He was never abused or even corrected, he just doesn’t want to be told what to do (I think he was a terrier in another life). So, when it came to doing things like nail trims, or trimming his paw hair for shows, forget it.

I also happen to live in Oregon, on a farm, which means lots of rain and lots of mud. I know what a pain it can be to have to wipe a struggling dog’s paws several times a day after potty breaks and walks.

Something had to be done.

Related: Why Are My Dog’s Paws Hairy? All About Paw Pad Hyperkeratosis

Why a trick?

Basically, if your dog is doing something you don’t like – in this case struggling, crying, etc., when you handle his paws – the easiest way to remedy the situation is to teach him a behavior that is more rewarding than the unwanted one.

Often, tricks can be just that. They are fun, easy to train, and dogs seem to know they are supposed to be fun and enjoy doing them.

Here is a video of the finished behavior. This is the dog I mentioned above – used to scream like you were killing him. Now, he helps me by licking his paws while I rub. (and sometimes my own hands and even my face.)

Shake Paws

So, in this case, all you have to do is teach your dog shake! You will need to teach him to shake with both fronts paws, of course, but start with whichever paw your dog offers first (this will be his “dominate” paw, for my dog, it’s his right).

(No, we didn’t forget your dog has four paws – we will get to those rear feet next!)

From Shake to Wiping the Paws

Once your dog knows shake and has been rewarded enough that he just LOVES that trick, it’s time to change it up and add in that towel.

Duration of Holding

Step 1. Prolong how long you shake your dog’s paw. You can slowly build it up so he isn’t trying to yank his paw away by delaying when you mark/reward the shake. At first, just see if he will let you do it for 1 second, than 2 seconds, than 3, etc.

TIP: Do not always make the time longer. You want to vary it. If the game always gets harder, your dog will quit.

If your dog show signs of stress, like the whit's of his eyes, you are a bit past his comfort zone. Take it back a step and try again. Ideally, you want no signs of stress.
If your dog show signs of stress, like the whit’s of his eyes, you are a bit past his comfort zone. Take it back a step and try again. Ideally, you want no signs of stress.

While holding his paw, start to lightly rub his paws, like you would to dry them with a towel to get him used to the feeling.

Step 2. If you have a dog that is used to offering behaviors (has done a lot of shaping or just naturally tries to problem solve), you may not have to do anything more than hold the towel in your hand and use your cue for shake.


If not, start by having the towel under one hand with your other hand under that. Ask your dog to shake and then move your hand so he touches the towel and the hand underneath can then wrap your dog’s paw for the shake. Don’t try to wipe yet! You just want him to get used to the fact that the towel touching him instead of your hand.

Step 3. When he is comfortable with this, now you can start lightly rubbing the towel for a second or two, before releasing with lots of cookies and praise.


Rear Feet

You have a few options with the rear feet. Some dogs are fine with the back feet and you won’t have any issue transitioning to toweling them off as well. Merlin (my sheltie), just started offering to lift his back legs after we had done his front enough times. Sometimes, he even turns around for me!

If your dog is not offering those back feet, however, you can teach him to lift them in the same way you did shake. Or, by using a foot target (Paw Pods by FitPAWS are perfect for this).

Once your dog is targeting the pod (which they have to lift their leg up to reach, start putting your hand between the pod and the paw so your dog touches your hand. You can put this on cue like, “up,” “paw,” etc.

Then, repeat the steps above to add the towel once your dog is comfortable giving you his back feet.

About the Author

Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and a member of the Dog Writers Association of America. She is the founder of A Fairytail House. In her spare time, she trains and competes in a variety of performance events with her Shetland Sheepdogs and caters to her two rescue kitties. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.

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