Where there's a mud puddle to be found, there's a dog waiting to jump in. When your pup's ready to rejoin the family inside and he looks more like Swamp Thing than man's best friend, it's time to clean those nasty paws. And with the right preparation, cleaning's a breeze.
Setting Up a Cleaning Station
Before you get down to business, your dog needs to know that when you say "stand" and "stay" he has to obey. As soon as you bring him in from outside, keep him still and give him the command to stand and stay. You might want to lay an absorbent mat down right by the door or even clean his paws outside on a landing or on the porch. Setting up a cleaning station, consisting of old towels, rags, paw wipes, some treats for rewards and bucket of water with a lid, makes the entire process go much faster and smoother. Be sure to dump the water before you go to bed and refill it in the morning.
Wipe Your Own Paws
Keeping an old towel right by the door, or just using a mat, and telling your pup to wipe his own paws when he comes in makes the cleaning process a bit easier and faster. It's all about getting him to paw at a towel and realize that's a great thing to do. For example, throwing a towel over a few treats on the ground and then clicking and rewarding your pup for paying attention to the towel tells him that the towel means good things. You want to eventually up the ante and make him paw the towel for his beloved treats, as if he were wiping those soon-to-be dirty paws. You can then work in a verbal cue, like "wipe" as he's wiping. This method in itself isn't the fastest nor is it completely effective, but it can speed up the process when used with other options. You'll still need to get down and dirty and wipe in between his pads and maybe even dip his paws in a bucket of water.
Paw Wipes or Rags
If your furry friend has small paws, walked on a salty sidewalk or just tiptoed through the mud and has a light covering of dirt on his paws, a few paw wipes or a damp rag will do the trick. Paw wipes are much like the disposable hand wipes you get at restaurants, except they're larger. But if you don't have any laying around, dipping a rag in warm water, but never hot, and wiping all that nasty dirt or harmful winter salt off your pups paws will work just fine. Rags or wipes also work great if your pup kicked back some dirt onto his belly and chest. This is ultimately the fastest and easiest way to clean your pup's paws, but it doesn't work too well for overly dirty paws or if he stepped in something nasty, like a dead animal.
Bucket of Water
If your little guy isn't so little or has found a way to turn his paws into what appear like chunks of mud, paw wipes aren't going to be of any use. It's time to bring in the heavy hitter and fill a 3-gallon bucket with warm water. Wipe off as much excess dirt first with an old towel, then dip your pup's paws in one at a time, swishing each one around in the water to shake loose as much dirt as you can. You can use an old rag or towel to wipe off all the excess dirt and dry his paws.
If your pup got into something nasty, like a dead animal, you might have to skip cleaning his paws at the door and instead shuffle him into the bathroom for a thorough cleaning with dog shampoo. A small amount on each paw will do. You can fill the bottom of the tub with water, enough that his paw is submerged, spray his paw with water or pour water over his paw with a cup. Make sure you rinse thoroughly. Any leftover shampoo will make him itch later on.
For the Fearful Pups
Paw cleaning isn't all fun and games for some dogs. If your pup pulls back, thrashes around or acts terrified of getting his paws cleaned, slowing down can help speed up the process later on. Introduce him to the towel, the bucket and so forth one at a time and slowly, giving him a treat when he responds positively.
- Michigan Humane Society: How to Clean Muddy Dog Paws
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Groom Your Dog
- American Kennel Club: Canine Common Sense Wound Care
- Dogs: The Ultimate Care Guide: Good Health, Loving Care, Maximum Longevity; Matthew Hoffman
- StopDirt.com: The Best Door Mats for Stopping Those Pesky Dog Footprints
- Karen Pryor Clicker Training: Muddy Paws? Teach Your Dog to Wipe His Feet!
- Thomas Northcut/Lifesize/Getty Images