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We love our dogs, but no one loves the dirt they track into the house. Wiping muddy paws can be back-breaking work and is especially hard if your dog dislikes his paws being handled. Check out these clever ways to keep your dog happy and your house clean!
1. Teach your dog to wipe his own paws
Yes, you heard that right! You are essentially teaching your dog to dig on cue, but he just happens to be digging into a towel or mat.
Here’s how to teach it: Let your dog watch you as you hide a treat or other favorite reward in a towel or mat on the floor. I recommend practicing by whichever door your dog typically uses.
Your dog might sniff the towel or walk onto the towel in an effort to find the hidden treat. When he does either behavior, immediately mark the behavior with a “yes!” Repeat this several times.
As your dog starts to make the association between the towel and the reward, stop rewarding for every interaction with the towel, and wait for your dog to figure out what you want. He will likely use his paws to dig into the towel in a new effort to get the reward. Reward him when he digs on the towel.
You should notice your dog offering the digging behavior more quickly as he starts to understand what you’re asking. You can add a cue of your choice at this time. You can use “wipe,” “paw,” or “dig” — or whatever word you want.
Now, when your dog is ready to come in with muddy paws, you can ask him to dig into the towel, and he’ll wipe his own paws!
2. Try a specially designed mat for wiping muddy paws
Several doormats are designed for dog-friendly homes. These mats are specially designed to absorb water, dirt, and mud so that the majority of your dog’s muddy mess stays in the mat and is not transferred onto your floor or carpet. These products are a relatively inexpensive and easy option if you’re looking for a simple solution that does not require any training.
3. Desensitize your dog to having his paws touched
Some dogs naturally dislike having their paws handled. If your dog is sensitive to handling, it often takes a little while to change the way he feels about having his paws touched.
Boost your dog’s confidence by allowing him to walk away from you at any time, and do not force him to have his paws wiped, as this will only slow down your progress.
Start by putting a towel on your lap (or on the ground in front of your lap if you have a larger dog), and hold a treat above the towel. When the dog steps onto the towel, you can mark with a “yes!” and reward immediately.
Start by rewarding for one paw on the towel, and gradually increase the challenge to only rewarding when two paws are on the towel. When your dog is comfortable stepping onto the towel, fold it on top of his paw so he experiences the sensation of having his paw enclosed in the towel. Reward for even a split second of tolerating the paw inside the towel, and release.
If your dog is comfortable with the towel around his paw, it’s time to try a gentle wiping motion. Praise your dog if he tolerates even one wipe of his paw. You will notice that your dog might start to volunteer these behaviors to get his treat!
4. Check out products that clean muddy paws
Some good products on the market aim to make muddy paws less of a problem for pet parents. Specially designed booties will keep your dog’s paws warm and dry, and these are also helpful for keeping his paws free of frost or ice when he needs to take a quick break outside in winter weather. Some dogs take to them right away; others will need to be slowly conditioned to the booties by pairing them with a positive reward like a favorite treat or toy. You can also try paw wipes that contain dog-friendly ingredients like aloe and lanolin. If you don’t like having to use a towel or cloth to wipe your dog’s paws, these wipes are a good alternative.
5. Teach your dog to wait before coming in
Regardless of how you decide to prevent muddy paw prints in the house, all your efforts will be in vain if your dog comes barreling in from outside without giving you a chance to wipe his paws. I recommend teaching your dog a “wait” cue so he learns to pause at the door before being given the “OK” to come inside.
Here are the teaching techniques: Start the training when there are no muddy paws to worry about! Put your hand up with your palm facing your dog, and ask him to “wait.” You might need to use your body to calmly block him from charging through the door. At no time should you physically correct or raise your voice at him if he gets it wrong.
Start with very short increments of time. If your dog does not charge inside after a second or two, mark the behavior with a “yes!” and reward with a favorite treat or toy immediately. When your dog is able to consistently wait for several seconds, you can gradually increase the amount of time you ask him to wait. Once he is extremely consistent, you can start to use the reward intermittently.
Read more by Victoria Stilwell on Dogster:
- Tips for Teaching Your Dog to Greet Other Pets Politely
- How to Teach Your Overeager Eater to Wait for Food
- Does Your Dog Have Horrible Table Manners?
About the author: Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer, TV personality, author, and public speaker best known as the star of the international hit TV series It’s Me or the Dog, through which she reaches audiences in more than 100 countries. Appearing frequently in the worldwide media, Stilwell is widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior, and is the editor-in-chief of Positively.com and the CEO of Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training, the world’s premier global network of positive reinforcement dog trainers. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter.