If you have taught your dog the “shake” command, then you have felt the tough, leathery underside of your dog’s paws plenty of times. It is hard not to be fascinated by these built-in shoes, and it doesn’t seem to bother most dogs if you lightly touch the padded bottoms. They are in contact with the ground almost all the time, after all. Yet inevitably, when it comes to nail trimming, your dog’s paws suddenly become off-limits. Most owners will notice that this paw sensitivity extends to the tops of a dog’s paws too. Even touching your dog’s feet might make them uncomfortable. If you are wondering why your dog is so sensitive about its feet, here are some reasons why your dog might want you to keep your paws to yourself.
The Root of the Behavior
A dog’s paws are responsible for delivering a wide range of sensory information to the dog about its environment. Some dogs might resist you touching their paws simply because it makes them feel awkward or vulnerable. While the leathery bottoms are padded to withstand changing terrain and temperatures, the tops are among the most sensitive parts of a dog’s body. The spaces in between the paw pads are even more sensitive than the tops, and trying to get in-between your dog’s paw pads might provoke a serious reaction. Paw sensitivity seems to be universal among dogs, although some dogs have stronger adverse reactions than others.
Paw sensitivity is widely thought to be caused by a dog’s natural or instinctive desire to protect its crucial body parts from harm. Digging, hunting, self-defense, and moving around in general are all dependent in part or wholly upon the health of the dog’s paws. Although few dogs find themselves in survival situations—hopefully yours never do—the instinctual protection of the paws seems to be a universally inherited trait. When your dog pulls its paws away from you or suddenly becomes defensive after you try to grab onto its paws, it could be that you have triggered a primal sense of fear or danger. Rest assured, this behavior is normal, and is the result of discomfort or fear.
In some cases, a dog may have negative associations with having its paws handled. This is especially true if your dog has ever experienced injury during nail trimming, or if your dog has a problem with its paws or nails that causes it pain. The circumstances of trimming a dog’s nails are unpleasant for dogs. Oftentimes, you have to restrain them and apply pressure to one of the most sensitive regions of their body, and a lot could go wrong. Nicking a dog’s paw even a little bit can cause them immense pain. Once they experience that pain, your dog may forever resist having its paws handled. This can be problematic, since letting a dog’s nails get too long can also cause them pain. It is up to you to be aware of the condition of your dog’s paws and nails, and determine what course of action is best.
Encouraging the Behavior
It is entirely normal for a dog to resist having its paws touched, and in most cases, it is an instinctual reaction. If you want your dog to trust you to handle its paws, then you should plan on training your dog to accept the handling at an early age. Practice over time, and reward your dog frequently as you slowly handle its paws for longer periods of time. This trust could be useful when it comes time to trim your dog’s nails, or if you routinely check your dog’s paws. While you do have the option to take your dog to the vet to gets its nails trimmed, most people prefer to cut their dog’s nails themselves.
If your dog seems to suddenly become more sensitive than usual about its paws, it is possible that something has happened to your dog’s paws. In this case, they may favor certain paws over others, avoid you, or panic when you try to check their paws. Even if your dog is resisting, you should still check for cuts, scrapes, sores, or obvious signs that your dog is injured. If you are unable to find something, the problem could be a bone or joint problem, in which case you should take your dog to the vet. Even if something tiny is stuck between their paws, or caught underneath the nail sheath, your dog might be in a considerable amount of pain.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs are unique creatures, and different breeds have developed their feet and paws differently over the ages. Some dogs, especially sighthounds like Greyhounds, are at risk of developing foot corns, which are extremely hard and painful areas of skin. Other dogs may have allergies or skin conditions that make their paws extra sensitive. These problems may gradually develop, and you may only realize that there is a problem after watching your dog lick its feet compulsively. Learning your own dog’s boundaries with its feet is important in understanding what may or may not be going on with your dog. After all, like humans, some dogs are just ticklish on their feet!
Your little buddy may not be facing survival in the wilderness, but they carry the same instincts to protect and use their paws as they interact with the slightly less wild world around them. If something is starting to go wrong, your dog may let you know by being even more sensitive about its paws being handled than usual. Though they may resist at first, try to always be aware of injuries and sensitivities, and let them know that you are there to hold their paw through it all.