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How to Teach a Dog to Wear Boots

a greyhound gets his winter boots put on

This greyhound of mine looks a bit embarrassed about having to wear his winter boots (a.k.a. “paw protectors“), doesn’t he?

Don’t be fooled by that hang-dog look — when we go outside in minus-20°C weather (that’s, um, 4 degrees below 0°F for our American friends), the big guy’s whole attitude gets adjusted pretty quickly!

So, when do you know it’s time for your dog to wear winter boots?

That will depend in part on the individual dog’s breed and on your climate and lifestyle, but here’s a good rule of thumb:

  • When you’re walking somewhere that salt has been spread to melt the ice and snow.
  • When the snow is cold enough to squeak when you walk on it.
  • When the dog tries to hold all his paws off the ground at once.
  • … or when it’s cold enough that you, yourself, can’t walk the dog in comfort without earmuffs or something over your ears.

We don’t bother with boots just to pop from the house to the car, but in the depths of a Canadian winter, dogs often will need boots to take a walk or even to go in the yard to do their “business”. Obviously, there are many parts of the world where paw protection just isn’t even needed. But for the rest of us…

Lots of people say that their dogs “don’t like” wearing boots, or just kick them off, or refuse to let the boots get put on their feet in the first place…

But no worries, if that’s your situation. This can be solved with a little bit of positive dog training. If you’re not near a dog school that offers clicker training, however, you can still DIY…

First off, you can see from the photo that my greyhound isn’t too crazy about the whole boot concept either — not when we’re in the warm kitchen! — but once we get outdoors in the snow and ice and road-salt, he soon decides that he likes the idea.

Secondly, the dog boots pattern I drew up a while back has proven to be simple and effective. (Cheap to replace, too, if we lose one in a deep snowdrift!) The boots just slip on over the paw — use one hand to hold those toes together and guide the foot, while the other hand holds the bootie — and it fastens with a combination of Velcro and elastic that makes a snug secure fit around the dog’s ankle.

And the third trick, the really big one — Don’t wait for mid-winter to introduce a dog to wearing that paw protection.

Let your dog get used to his boots gradually, over time, and it’ll save a whole lot of grief when you’re in a hurry to walk him and get to work!

dog feet This greyhound stands patiently to have his boots put on, even when a smaller dog is getting curious and bugging him. Not only that, he’ll accept the putting on of winter boots from anyone — even the neighbour kids — without struggle or protest.

I tell you, a bit of training makes life so much easier!

How to “Boot Train” Your Dog

As part of a grooming or training session, just slip a boot onto one of his feet — don’t fasten it, the first time — just slip the boot on, give a wonderful treat, and then slip it right back off again and go on with your other activities.

Stand your dog for this exercise — or have someone hold his collar, if he isn’t likely to stand still. You don’t want him trying to walk around with this loose floppy weird thing on his foot! A slip on the floor or a successful kicking-off of the boot will just make “boot training” your dog more difficult.

The next day, repeat with a different foot… and the next… and the next… Then, try two feet. And a different two feet, the next day. What you’re doing here is working up to the point where your dog is happy to get his feet handled and get a boot on, because he knows he’ll be getting a lovely treat when it happens.

Step by step, build up his tolerance for the whole footwear issue. Don’t be tempted to go too fast! Patience will pay off in the long run.

Note that I have suggested doing the boot training as part of your regular training sessions. That’s to help your dog to understand that the boot is just another part of the wonderful “school game” you play together. Go at the dog’s pace, and stay within his comfort zone when you’re introducing anything new.

For some timid dogs, that could mean you start out simply by showing him the boots (and reward him for being near them), then just gently touching one to the top of his paw (and reward while the boot is touching him) , then touching one to his paw while you lift his paw in your hand (and reward)… and so on.

If your dog isn’t used to having his feet handled, or has had a bad experience with clipping his nails, etc., this could take a good number of days to get him comfortable. Keep it calm and happy, with lots of great treats, and gradually build up his comfort level with this strange new activity.

It bears repeating: Don’t be tempted to go too fast!

When the dog will eventually allow you to put boots (not fastened) onto all four feet at once, go back to putting a boot on just one foot — but this time, fasten it loosely, just enough so he can feel that there’s something around his ankle. Boot on, fasten gently, treat the dog, take off the boot. Next session, do the same thing on a different foot… again, working up to the point where all four feet can be in (loosely fastened) boots at one time.

Repeat the training cycle — one foot first, working up to all four — but this time you’ll fasten each boot more securely, as you would if your were taking the dog outside.

You’ll find that each training cycle will go more quickly, because the dog is gaining confidence and becoming more comfortable with the whole process.

At this point, some dogs will be quite calm about it all, and more interested in walking around than in standing still with you handling their paws.

  • If you’ve got carpets in your house, or some other kind of non-slip floor, that might be the best place to start learning to walk in boots.
  • With slippery tile floors like this one in my kitchen, I’d go back to one boot (securely fastened) on one paw, and let the dog try it out with his other three paws feeling like they normally do. Then work up to all four boots.

You’ll laugh out loud, the way a dog in new boots will lift his feet and shake them, trying to figure out what’s going on! Just keep his mind off those new boots, those first few times — offer treats, a favourite toy, a ride in the car, whatever he sees as a reward and will distract him from the funny feeling of wearing boots…

Before you know it, your dog will be standing patiently while you put boots on his feet and walking gracefully with well-protected paws.

44 comments… add one
  • domestika 2008/02/24, 9:36 am

    NW Dog Whisperer, that’s hysterically funny! (And of course now I’m wondering if dog booties and iPod covers might, in fact, be interchangeable in a pinch…)

    As for the “cat mishap,” been there! Nothing like walking into a room and seeing your cat sitting on the keyboard, one paw firmly on the Backspace key, watching your hard-won words disappear backwards up the screen at a rapid pace before the screen goes black. And that’s how I learned to hit ‘Save’ almost obsessively! ;)

  • nw dog whisperer 2008/02/23, 7:14 pm

    I had a “cat-mishap” while trying to send the comment.

    My daughter had said to me (while I was reading your post) “What are those, ipod covers?” I said that they were doggie boots. She replied, “Why would someone put ipod covers on the dog’s feet?” She’s thirteen.

    In the above comment, I had originally written about what she said, and how I thought what you had created was a wonderful idea. It is awesome great for so many dogs in the colder areas, (we live in the Mt Hood area of Oregon, so they are a great idea to pass along to people here!)

    As I was trying to push the “Post Comment” button using the mouse, the cat somehow layed down on the correct combination of keys to delete a large portion of the comment, leaving only the joke I made about my daughter’s comment, saying that you have a great idea for i-boots, and my dog would need i-video boots!

    Again, love your site!

  • nw dog whisperer 2008/02/22, 4:47 pm

    This is just awesome – standing ovation for the i-boots invention!
    Your boot-training is fabulous, too.

    I’m thinkig I should go for i-boot video size for my bulldog!

  • Edward 2008/01/01, 11:11 am

    The boots are suitable for Christmas, perhaps the dog will replace reindeer for the next Xmas :razz:

  • domestika 2007/12/31, 3:33 pm

    @Mary Emma, thanks so much. Ginger may not appreciate the idea of footwear at first, but if it means she can play out in the snow with the kids a bit longer, without getting cold… well, she might figure out that boots aren’t so bad!

    @Claudia – Awww, what a beautiful 4-legged redhead you’ve got there! I need a photographer like you for all our doggie portraits… all photographs, probably, come to that.

  • Claudia 2007/12/31, 3:04 pm
  • Mary Emma Allen 2007/12/30, 9:36 pm

    Delightful, Jen. I’ve forwarded the link to my daughter. She’ll enjoy this although she may not make boots for Ginger. My grandson might try to though. Ginger loves the snow but her feet do get cold.

  • Claudia 2007/12/30, 9:20 pm

    You’re the best! So glad I stumbled upon your blog! I added you to the roll, so I’ll be back. (Does her best Arnold impression)

  • domestika 2007/12/30, 9:13 pm

    Tirzah, just hang on a sec while I figure out how to send you some of our snow — 90 cm down so far in December, and another 30 cm is supposed to be rolling in tomorrow to finish off the month / year. Gah.

    Glad you think my big guy is cute — I suspect he rather thinks so himself (okay, well, I do too…)! And rambling is always welcome here. Welcome? Nay, it’s positively celebrated!

  • Tirzah 2007/12/30, 7:54 pm

    Aww, what a sweet picture! And I thought doggie coats were cute! Those are adorable! When my moms dog had a hurt paw, she made her a leather boot to wear on her hurt foot and she didn’t like it the first couple times but she had to wear it and eventually got used to it. We don’t get much snow around here, we’re lucky if we get a few inches a year! I wish we got more though….

    I’m rambling, it must be time to go! LOL

  • domestika 2007/12/30, 4:56 pm

    Queen of comment typos is me, Claudia! I could use an edit button myself…

    And isn’t it great to have a friend who sews, if you don’t yourself?! ;) Run a tape measure around your pup’s paw and it’ll help her to size the bootie pattern right — a nice slim fit (but not too tight to get the paw into) is most comfortable for the dog, but with fleece you can always just make another seam and cut off the excess if it starts out too big.

    * And for anyone who’s wondering about the “magical things”… you really should skip over and have a peek at Claudia’s curio cabinet of meaningful treasures! Great stuff!

  • Claudia 2007/12/30, 3:24 pm

    blankets AND booties (we so need an edit button in the comment section!)

  • Claudia 2007/12/30, 3:23 pm

    Jen,

    I love inspiring people, especially when it comes to magical things! :) The bottle is old, but I don’t know what it is. My husband brings them home after he finds them buried in the dirt. He’s a Lineman and when they replace the old poles they sometimes find stuff like that so he started me on a collection of them. I have a separate cabinet for them, but that one happens to contain sand from Iraq that my cousin sent me when he was serving over there. Like I said, in that cabinet anything goes. The funkier and/or more unique the better.

    BTW – I sent your paw protector pattern to a friend of mine who sews (I am UNGODLY untalented when it comes to making anything that does not involve paint by numbers) – – and she said she’d see what she could do! Thank you again for proving to my s/o that blankets are booties for dogs are not, as he so eloquently says, “a pussification of our Nation”. He’s SUCH a drama mama. ;)

  • domestika 2007/12/30, 1:19 pm

    Claudia, you just made my day — I’m so glad to be able to help!

    Yes, “dignity” has nothing to do with it — my dogs are country dogs, and you can tell by my own not-so-elegant hiking boots in the pic that I’m no Paris Hilton to dash daintily from cab to nightclub… In a cold climate, winter wear is practical, even essential, for dog breeds without a lot of body fat or thick Husky-type fur to protect them.

    By the way, I made my greyhound’s coat, too — used newspaper to draft up a pattern to fit, because he’s too long for store-bought dog clothes, and lined a piece of corduroy with fleece: it just ties underneath the lower belly. Tell your partner your Whippet needs a “horse blanket” and maybe he’ll find it easier to deal with! :D

  • Claudia 2007/12/30, 10:24 am

    We have a long haired Whippet who has made it abundantly clear she is not in the least bit interested in going outside in the cold weather. Her delicate paws can’t handle the harsh elements and my s/o and I have had an on-going argument about purchasing her a coat and boots so we can continue our daily walks. He refuses. Says it’s undignified. I come back with, “And letting her get winter fat because you’re ashamed is alright?”

    This post came at JUST the right time. Excuse me while I go shove it in his face and say, “See? OTHER people do it!” ;)

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