Why Don’t Dogs Like Us Messing with Their Feet?

June 5, 2014

By Linda Cole

All dogs need to have their nails trimmed from time to time, even if they don’t like it. Some breeds also need to have the hair between their toes and paw pads trimmed to give them traction and prevent slipping. My dogs love to shake hands and are used to me handling their feet. Yet the minute nail clippers or scissors appear, it’s obvious this isn’t an activity they agree with. Although, a couple CANIDAE Pure Heaven treats can make the process a bit more acceptable. So why will a dog bug you to shake hands, but then pull his paw away when you hold on to it so you can cut nails or trim hair?

Consider the importance we place on our feet and hands. Feet give us mobility when we want to move around or need to flee from danger. Hands are communication tools – how many of you can talk without using your hands? It’s much easier to take care of ourselves, stay clean, eat, protect ourselves and perform other tasks that would be difficult to do without hands.

To dogs, their feet are every bit as important to their survival. Feet are used to chase down prey, run away from danger, protect themselves, dig holes to flush out prey, find cooler soil in the summer or stay warmer in the winter, bury food to prevent other animals from stealing it and investigate things. Dogs also use their feet to communicate.

Glands on their paw pads leave a scent trail they can follow home, and scratching the ground with their back feet after elimination spreads their scent over a larger area. The scratch marks leave a visual sign to other canines passing by. It’s natural for dogs to instinctively protect their paws because if one or more were injured, it puts them at a disadvantage. Today, most dogs don’t have to worry about surviving in the wild, but their ancestors did and being apprehensive about having their feet messed with is in their DNA.

The paw pad is thick and consists of fat and tissue, acting like shock absorbers to protect joints and bones. It provides insulation against harsh weather conditions, helps with endurance and is rough to provide traction when walking, making quick turns and sprinting. Dogs that spend more time on rough surfaces have tougher and less sensitive paw pads than those that spend more time on smoother surfaces. However, even dogs with tough pads can burn their paw pads in the summertime when walking on hot surfaces like pavement and metal.

Toenails give the feet stability and maneuverability when running and walking. The top of the foot is made up of sensitive nerve endings, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue. If you watch your dog’s feet when he’s walking, you can see how the toenails seem to grip as he walks.

When you consider the importance dogs place on their feet, you can understand why they are protective of them and uncomfortable when we try to clip their nails or trim hair between the pads. Trying to force a dog to sit still during a pedicure can send the wrong message to your pet, and make it feel like you are attacking them.

It’s necessary, though, to handle a dog’s feet to inspect them after a walk or hike to remove burrs, small rocks or twigs that may have become lodged between the pads or toes. A dog’s feet need to be cleaned during the winter months to remove ice melt and deicers used on sidewalks and streets. Sometimes you need to check them for dryness that can cause the pads to crack, and small cuts that can cause discomfort or become infected if left untreated. And then there’s the ritual of trimming the toenails. It can be frustrating when your touchy dog jerks his paw back just as you get the nail lined up in the clipper.

When you’re losing the battle, take a deep breath, sit back and consider how important a dog’s feet are to them. They pull their feet back because instinct tells them to protect their paws. Sometimes a CANIDAE biscuit can help ease anxiety, but understanding why holding their paw makes them uneasy is a good reason to be patient, calm and gentle. If you can’t do everything in one sitting, there’s nothing wrong with trimming one or two nails each day until the job is done.

If you have problems trimming your dog’s nails, an easy solution is to walk him on hard surfaces like a sidewalk or pavement because the rough texture helps to wear the nails down naturally as the dog walks. Dogs may not like us messing with their feet, but sometimes we have to, for their sake.

Top photo by Quinn Dombrowski
Middle photo by EraPhernalia Vintage
Bottom photo by ActiveSteve

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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  1. anna macpherson says:

    my dog likes it when i hold her front paws and rub them she just goes to sleep when i do that, is it a sign of domince or does she just like it . she just goes to sleep and snor it is quit funny