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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
  • Ginger 2010/10/16, 8:19 pm

    If your dog hates the boots even after tireless hours of trying to train them make a strap that goes from boot to boot from elastic. Don’t make it too tight or that will defeat your whole purpose. Measure from the top of the boot to the other one then take out about 1 inch. This should keep the boot on when the dog tries to shake them off. But…………mark each one for the front or the back because most dog have a different length for each end. If you need more info please feel free to email me at ladytigger54@hotmail.com. Hope this helps.

  • Domestik Goddess 2010/10/13, 11:33 am

    The secret is not to rush it, Rachel – go very very slowly to get your beagle used to the idea of boots. It might take a few days before you get all four on him without stress, so it’s great that you’re starting now to boot train him – not waiting for the really cold weather!

  • Rachel 2010/10/13, 2:45 am

    … not sure my beagle will take to these, but since he is starting now (October!) to refuse to go out on cold days, I think he will just have to deal with it! LOL! Thanks for the pattern AND especially for the advice on how to get your doggy in the boots. These next few weeks should be fun!

  • Tara 2009/11/21, 11:40 pm

    thanks for all the wonderfull tips now only if i could get my cats to stop stealing them from my puppy hes small and has canckles lol well any way thanks!!!

  • Susan 2009/11/09, 4:34 pm

    Thanks so much for this. I have a shih tzu puppy that LOVES to play in the snow, but even when I just let him out to do his thing, he comes back in with snow up to his little body….in little (and big) snowballs….and I won’t bathe him every day either. He’ll stay in a puppy cut also, so I need to get more yummy treats (baked sliced hot dogs work well for him). I need to design a coat that works in reverse, over his tummy, leaving space to pee and poop, snow on the top is not a problem…but it ‘clots’ on his tummy!

  • Sheldon Mayer 2009/08/29, 7:15 pm

    Hi.
    I have a greyhound that doesn’t like to wear a coat an dont know how to get her used to it.
    She will just stand still and look into space and wont move, I am getting frustrated with the thought of her not wearing a coat during the cold spells in New Hampshire.

    Please Help!

  • domestika 2008/12/21, 5:21 pm

    Rose Anne, loved seeing those pictures of the jacket and boots you made for Belle! Her facial expression looks a lot like my poor Casey here (above), getting the boots out on for the first time – WHAT are you doing to me now???? LOL – but it’s funny how fast they figure out that booties are waaaaay more comfortable than having cold cracked paw pads on a bitterly cold day, especially if you’re walking where there’s a lot of road salt. Thanks for sharing!

  • Rose Anne 2008/12/21, 2:19 pm

    Thank you so very much for your blog on the doggie boots, the pattern was basically easy to follow, I just did not read properly, but the fleece booties are okay now on Belle. Please check my blog for Saturday’s show n tell and Sunday’s followup to emails for info. Again thank you for your help. Much appreciated.

    I can tell you this -26C with windchills of -43C are too cold for me bundled up never mind a bare dog that does not like being cold on a normal winter day!!!

  • domestika 2008/10/20, 4:28 pm

    Please do, Gill — and I’ll be sending you & the pup lots of good thoughts.
    :) That lovely sense of humour will help you a lot!

  • Gill Evans 2008/10/20, 1:22 pm

    Thanks domestika for all your help. I’ll definately look at the web site you recommended and hopefully i’ll find the help i need. I will keep you informed and hopefully one day he WILL wear the boots and i’ll wear the trousers!!

  • domestika 2008/10/20, 1:07 pm

    I really feel for you, Gill — and an 18-month-old dog can be such a wild teenager! Yes, it sounds like there’s a lot going on here. Sore paws seem to be at the top of the list, so I do encourage you to chat with the vet about that. We wouldn’t want our toes handled and stuffed into booties, either, if they were hurting all the time!

    Absolutely do not get a second dog if your first dog is not where you want him to be for behaviour! And that counts for any breed, never mind that your guy is a powerful big Bull-Staffie mix!

    But it sounds like there are a number of issues here that you want/need to address — and you’ve done the right thing in taking him to obedience classes.

    Unfortunately, not all obedience trainers are created equal. Frankly, I am astonished to hear that the training school “expelled” your dog and said there wasn’t much they could do for you. It is very common for dogs to “forget” their training when they get away from home and into an area of high distractions, and there are solutions…

    You do have a complex situation here, however, and fear / fear-aggression is not something I’ve had enough experience in handling — so I’m going to send you over to Watch and Train.com. Jeff Millman is a top dog trainer in Chicago, who is not only extremely experienced with “problem dogs” but also incredibly generous with one-on-one advice through his forums. I check in at his website often, because there’s always so much more to learn about training.

    One reason why I like to recommend Jeff Millman is that he’s a natural teacher — lots of trainers are good with dogs but can’t communicate so well with people: but Jeff is a teacher for both dogs and people. Tell him about your situation — including your history with dog school and the private trainer — and see what he has to suggest.

    Let me know how you make out? :)

  • Gill Evans 2008/10/20, 12:32 pm

    Thanks Domestika, I somehow thought you might say this, we did take him to training classes but he gets so excited that he just wouldnt do a damn thing we told him (even though at home he can do sit, stay, leave, paw and speak) other dogs really excite him even when we are out walking, hes perfect until he sees a dog then all training goes out of the window and he desperately wants to play. In the end the training school said there wasnt much they could do for us and he was just disrupting the class, we got expelled lol!!! so we did get a professional trainer, he charged £40 per session and once again with the trainer he was a perfect dog as soon as the trainer left, he went back to being naughty again. We had the trainer come for approx 6 sessions, to be honest I really cant afford it again and it seems such a lot of money just to see the dog pull the wool over the trainers eyes again!!! HELP!! I did consider getting another dog to try and calm him down but have been warned against getting another dog with the breed that our dog is apparently it could end up in a blood bath. Our dog is now 18 months old.

  • domestika 2008/10/20, 12:10 pm

    Gill, you’ve got a large dog, and he’s growling and challenging you — putting on boots might be the least of the problems. You sound like you’re about at the end of your rope with this dog, and he’s very clearly telling you that he is feeling fearful and will protect himself.

    Your dog’s chronic toenail infections mean his feet are very sensitive. Boots may put pressure on the nails and cause him pain. At the very least, he has good cause to be afraid of having his feet handled, based on his medical history.

    This is not a simple situation — and not one that can be solved long-distance, over the Internet.

    I’d strongly recommend getting in touch with a positive-methods dog trainer in your local area (a clicker trainer, if at all possible) to help sort out your situation before something more regrettable happens.

    Ideally, through the regular and positive reward-based training we do with our dogs from the time they’re very young, the dogs come to trust us to do what’s best for them. (They may not like everything we decide, but the point is they can trust us to make the decisions!) Our part of the deal is to keep our dogs safe from harm. This can be tricky with skittish, timid or fearful dogs, and especially so if they have signs of fear-aggression. Dogs pick up so much from voice and body language — if we get tense and anxious, they know it and get even more tense and anxious themselves.

    I know that some dog owners can be a bit reluctant to call a professional trainer or behaviourist — maybe it’s money, maybe it’s embarrassment — but behaviour problems don’t go away by themselves, they just get magnified over time. A good trainer who’s there on the spot, to see you and your dog together, can often pinpoint the key to solving a whole host of problems, and you’ll just kick yourself for not doing it sooner.

    Please do consider an in-home consultation. If you don’t know who to call, ask the humane society or kennel club or your vet for a recommendation. If your dog is growling and snapping at you, there’s likely something more going on here than just an issue of putting on booties. It might be a good idea to talk to your vet about alternatives to regular boots, too, if they are putting pressure on the nails and causing the dog some pain.

  • Gill Evans 2008/10/20, 7:51 am

    I have read all the comments above and have tried everything but my dog just will not let me put his boots on!! he’s bulldog cross staffie and is continually cutting his pads and scuffing his toenails to the point where infection sets in so its important that I get him used to the boots, as he is costing me a mint at the vets!!! As soon as he sees them he goes mad, racing round and round the house barking, I have tried treats, coaxing and everything but he will not approach me when he can see them! Ive tried hiding them and pining him in the cornr of the kitchen but then he starts growling and trying to snap at my hands, he is a big dog weighing in at 32kg and Im only 8 stone so you can understand the battle!!! I did manage to get one on when he was alseep but the minute he saw it he ripped it off, chewed it up and ate it!!! Any ideas anyone???

  • Aidan 2008/07/02, 3:59 am

    Hi Domestika, ran across this blog while researching an article on “dogs with blogs” and really liked your training how-to! Good progression without skipping ahead too fast and risking an adverse reaction.

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