Updated: Jan 8
It's muddy paws that get our attention, our thoughts are on saving furniture, floors, and carpets.
But, there is an even more important reason why you should be checking and cleaning your puppy’s paws after every walk and, why you should start to get your puppy used to this from day one. Their health!
We share tips for stress-free paw cleaning and 5 risks to paw health that means you should after every walk
The best way to introduce your puppy to an action that you will be performing on a regular basis is to use shaping. Shaping is the process of gradually teaching your puppy a new action or behaviour, by rewarding them during each step of the process.
‘Trust me it is far easier to teach a puppy how to have their paws checked and cleaned when that puppy is not excited and muddy after a walk’
Before you start the shaping process think about how you will be entering and exiting your home for walks. Will this be different in the summer and winter? Where are you planning on washing or cleaning your pup?
Right now, you might be able to carry your pup from the front door to the area you are going to clean them up in but will that be practical when they are fully grown?
Think about the variations and start shaping all of these areas too.
The next step is to think about the kit you will need.
Flannels/ washcloths or even microfibre dishcloths are the perfect size for paws and are more environmentally friendly than the grooming wipes that you can purchase. They are useful to have in the car for emergency cleanups but make sure the ones you choose are alcohol-free and do not contain harsh chemicals.
A shallow tray filled with warm soapy water works well as an effective footbath and can be placed outside your door for an initial clean off. Take a look at the Ikea shoe mat for an easy solution.
There are many paw cleaning devices on the market but check bristles are not too coarse as they can damage sensitive paw pads and create injury between the toes as the foot is pushed into it.
Whatever method you decide to use be sure to dry paws or have an absorbent mat for your dog to step onto as wet paws can slip on smooth/tiled surfaces.
Microfibre towels are a great alternative to a regular hand towel. They are highly absorbable dry your pup quicker than a cotton towel and importantly dry quickly once they have been washed.
Once you have decided on your cleaning locations and equipment it is time to get your puppy used to being in that space, seeing and experiencing the equipment you are going to be using.
To start with that might be getting them used to standing on the towel and being rewarded for being on a new surface, or stepping into the foot bath without any water in. Make it a game and something fun and get them used to it before you need it! Try it at different access points into the house and if you regularly travel in the car to your walking locations practice at the side of your car in your driveway.
‘Wet flannels in a zip lock bag are handy to have in the car for a quick clean-up before the ride home’
Start small, it's a good idea from the day they come home for your puppy to get used to you touching them. When they are with you on the floor gently touch feet, inspect their toes, pads, and nails/claws.
Teaching a puppy to offer a paw or high five is often one of the first things we teach our pups along with a sit and a down.
So whilst you are teaching your puppy these actions consider, adding in a little paw inspection as you do it, building up to the flannel introduction then the paw wipe/ clean and dry
The easiest way to train your puppy to offer a paw is to take a treat to the side of their mouth and their paw will raise you will then need to pair this action with a command such as ‘ paw’. The dog’s trust has a great video- on how to train a high 5 or give paw. https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/training/high-five-training
So apart from saving our carpets and floors why is it so important to clean our puppy’s paws
1. Mud often contains grit and other debris. If it is not cleaned and allowed to dry this can cause irritation between the toes and lead to painful infections and split paws. If your dog has a lot of fur or hair between its toes this can be more prone to mud being trapped. keep fur and hair trimmed to make cleaning easier and your dog's paws more comfortable.
TOP TIP - from Dog First Aid Merseyside - When walking your puppy on snow or ice a thin layer of Vaseline on the pads will help protect them and gives a bit of traction too!
2. Anti-freeze, can cause irritation to paws if not washed away.
Look out for puddles of anti-freeze that could have leaked from a car or maybe on the ground as a result of someone topping up their car. This also applies to screen wash with antifreeze additives. If your dog’s paws are irritated then they will chew and lick at their paws. Antifreeze is extremely dangerous to puppies and dogs it can damage their kidneys and cause death even after a small amount has been licked. You should seek advice from your vet if this happens or you suspect that it has happened.
3. Salt and road grit is another hazard of winter walks. Avoid walking your dog where you can actively see salt on the ground. Grit can get stuck in the paws, causing soreness and cracking. Road salt often contains other chemicals that can cause additional irritation.
4. Thorns, brambles, seeds, insects, ticks, etc can all get trapped in paws. Paw checks after walks are a good idea at any time of the year, which is another reason why it is important for your pup to get used to having them checked from before they are even heading out on their first walk.
5. Finally, Alabama Rot, researchers believe that there may be a link with walking dogs in muddy areas so owners could either keep their dogs away from these areas or make sure they wash their feet after they get wet or muddy. However, t is not known what causes this so there is currently no way of preventing your dog from becoming infected. The Kennel Club has some more information on this and you could also discuss with your vet if they have seen cases in your area. Alabama Rot
Now that you have a puppy, come rain or shine, walking is going to be part of your daily routine.
Being prepared makes life easier for you and your pup. Getting them used to their paws being cleaned (even if you are reading this in the height of the summer months) will make life easier and less stressful for you both in the future.
Clean paws lead to a healthier pup/dog and cleaner carpets and floors and a happy owner and happy dog!
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