Teaching "Wipe Your Paws"

fearful dogs Aug 08, 2022
dog with muddy paws

Do you have trouble cleaning your dog's paws?  This week I show you how to get started training your dog to wipe their own paws.  

If you're looking for paw cleaning strategies that require little or no training, check out this blog on no-touch paw cleaning.


Training Your Dog To Wipe Their Front Paws

To teach your dog to wipe their paws, there are 4 "big picture" steps to work through:

1) Get your dog to do some version of wiping their paws, and reinforce it: This is what this week's video focuses on.  It might take trial and error to figure out how to get your dog to perform the paw wiping motion. Examples I demo in the video include digging for hidden treats; asking for "shake" over a mat; starting with a nail board over (or under) a mat (if your dog has been trained to file their own nails); or using a toy or other prop that your dog already manipulates with their paws. 

2) Phase out any prompts or props you used to get paw wiping started:  At the end of this step, your dog should be wiping their paws on the mat you want to use for paw cleaning. That means fading out prompts or props like toys, hidden treats, or a nail board. I walk you through the steps I used to fade out my dogs' nail board in the video. 

3) Get more paw wiping per treat: When you start this training, you might be rewarding single paw wipes on the mat. If you'd like your dog to do several paw wipes in between treats, include this in your training. I discussed how to do this in an earlier blog on teaching your dog to file their own nails. 

4) Train in all contexts you need paw wiping: Where do you want your dog to wipe their paws? By the back door? Front door? Outside the car? Wherever you plan to use this behavior, be sure to practice in that context. 


Getting Paw-Wiping Behavior Started

One of the biggest challenges when training a new behavior like "wipe your paws" can be getting your dog to do any version of the behavior so you can reinforce it. Here are some ways to encourage your dog to make the wiping motion with their paws: 

  • Hide treats under the mat: If your dog smells treats hidden under a mat, they might use their paws to "dig" for them.  Be ready to say "Yes!" (or click if you use a clicker) when they dig, and deliver a treat. 
  • Hide treats under a towel or other item, on top of the mat:  Some dogs won't dig at the mat, but will use their paws to move aside something lighter, like a towel or light-weight blanket.  In the video example below I placed treats underneath a piece of a yoga mat, on top of the mat I wanted my dog to wipe their paws on. 
  • Ask your dog to "shake" over the mat:  If you've already taught your dog to "shake", you can use this to teach paw wiping. Hold your hand out over the mat and say "shake". Then pull your hand away just as your dog is about to place their paw in your hand. In the video, you'll see I did this with the mat over a wooden board, held up at an angle. With the mat at an angle, my dog ended up dragging their paw down the mat when I pulled my hand back. Once your dog is consistently wiping their paw on the mat in this context, you could slowly lower the mat until your dog is wiping their paws on the mat when it's flat on the ground.
  • Transfer nail board scratching to a mat: If you've trained your dog to file their nails on a nail board, you can use the nail board as a starting point to teach paw wiping. The process I show in the video involves placing the nail board on top of the mat, then under it, then removing the nail board altogether. 
  • Use a prop your dog already paws:  Maybe your dog doesn't know "shake", doesn't like to dig, and hasn't learned to use a nail board. How can you prompt them to wipe their paws?  Pay attention to when your dog uses their paws during their day-to-day activities.  For example, my dog Pancake uses his front paw to manipulate food toys, if they get stuck in a corner. So his starting point for paw wiping training involved a food puzzle ball, which I held still to simulate it being stuck. When he tried to move it with his paw, I said "Yes" and gave him a treat. Then I slowly phased out the toy so he was just pawing at the mat. 


If you try any of these strategies to teach paw wiping, we'd love to hear from you! Shoot us a message or email ([email protected]) and tell us what worked, and what didn't. 



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