Let's face it: dogs in general are animals who seek human touch. Many dogs crave scratches behind their ears and willingly roll over asking for belly rubs. Some dogs go on to push their bodies against peoples' hands just to persuade them to pet them. But touch those doggy paws and you'll get the evil eye. What gives?
If you own a "paw-phobic" dog, rest assured you are not alone. Many dog owners struggle with dogs who hate having their paws touched making those nail trims dreaded events. So why do dogs hate having their paws touched? And most of all, what can be done about it? A better understanding of dogs and a closer insight to the ways they use of their feet, reveals interesting findings.
Loaded with Nerve Endings
Dog feet may seem very tough compared to our feet, considering that we are destined to wear footwear for most our lives, while dog feet are purposely designed to withstand rugged use. However, appearances are deceiving.
Sure, those doggy paw pads are like thick leather and meant to allow dogs to walk comfortably on surfaces humans can only dream of, but they are also loaded with nerve endings.
This is not surprising considering that dogs need to feel what's under their feet. For those dog nerds out there, it may be interesting learning that a dog's paw pads are lined up with super sensitive sensory receptors known as "pacinian corpuscles." Pacinian corpuscles allow dogs to detect minimal mechanical and vibratory pressure.
On top of having sensitive paw pads, the top of a dog's paws are also highly sensitive and loaded with nerve endings that fire off sending a warning to the brain upon sensing pressure.
With so much going on at a sensory level, it's therefore not surprising why dogs seem to have a universal dislike to having their paws handled.
Essential for a Dog's Survival
Dog feet play an essential role for a dog's survival and it's as if dogs are aware of this, but at an instinctive, adaptive level. This instinct therefore helps dogs preserve a body part that they so highly depend on to carry out so many functions.
For instance, dogs use their feet for locomotion. In the wild, loss of functionality would translate into the inability to hunt and escape any predators. A dog with an injured foot would therefore become very vulnerable.
On top of locomotion, dog feet are used for a variety of tasks such as digging, scratching an itchy spot and removing debris from the eyes.
Dogs use their feet also for communication. In the article: why do dogs kick dirt after pooping, we have seen how dogs put their legs and feet to good use after eliminating.
While a common sight, many dog owners are not aware of the fact that dogs kick dirt because they have special glands in their feet that secrete pheromones. Just a few backward scratches into dirt releases those chemicals which are ready to be detected by other dogs who happen to visit the area.
With all this wealth of purposes, it's quite understandable why dog feet are important and why dogs may be particularly nervous when their owners (or veterinarians or groomers) happen to start touching them.
A Matter of Negative Associations
Dogs may be naturally inclined to being leery about having their paws handled, but things can get much, much worse when their natural suspicions are confirmed by negative associations.
All it takes is to handle those paws a bit roughly or injure the dog while trimming nails, and things may start really deteriorating.
One main issue is the fact that dogs have very thick nails that are difficult to cut through. To make things even more challenging, many dogs have black nails which makes visualizing the "quick" quite difficult.
The "quick" is simply the soft cuticle rich in blood vessels and nerves that's found under the nail and that can lead to bleeding and pain when the nail is cut too short. Nicking this area is quite easy and unfortunately dogs tend to easily store bad memories revolving around painful procedures.
By now, it's shouldn't therefore come as a surprise why dogs hate having their paws touched. Their instincts, coupled with the localized sensitivity, and the potential for negative associations, can easily turn a routine pedicure into a dreaded activity.
It's not surprising therefore understanding why groomers and vets charge a premium for nail services, with nail trims often costing more than a regular human manicure (especially in those instances where sedation is needed!).
Now That You Know...
Now that you are aware of why dogs hate having their feet handled, you may be interested in knowing what you can do to make handling those feet less uncomfortable.
This is important considering that a day may come when you may need to inspect your dog's feet for thorns, cuts or burrs and you will need your dog to be collaborative. Following are several tips.
- Prevention is worth a pound of cure! Start paw-handling exercises with puppies from a young age by creating positive associations. Make it a habit of touching/rubbing each paw (don't forget in between the toes!) and delivering tasty treats.
- Use caution with defensive dogs. If your dog has ever growled or shown any signs of aggression, please consult with a dog behavior professional, using kind, positive-based behavior modification.
- Make the nail trimmer your dog's best friend. Let your dog get used to seeing the nail trimmer around. Don't just get it out when your dog needs a nail trim.
- Keep the trimmer behind your back and then show it to your dog. Every time he sees it or sniffs it, give a treat. Then put it behind your back again and repeat several times.
- Go slow. Don't make those nail trims a tedious job during which your dog is wincing every time a nail is trimmed. Try doing just one or two nails a day and make it a fun, rewarding and upbeat activity!
- Create positive associations with nail trims. Every time you clip a nail, praise and give a high-value treat.
- Some dogs do better with dremel nail-grinding tools, but require getting used to its sound and feel on the nails.
- For desperate cases, consider that long, fast-paced daily walks on concrete can help naturally trim a dog's nails. Ask your vet if your dog is a puppy as exercising on hard surfaces can cause damage to growth plates.