Many pet owners complain that their dogs will not “let” them handle their feet for combing, nail trimming or even examination. It is a problem most common in smaller breeds of dogs as well as large-breed individuals who are high-strung.
It may be a learned trait, but I suspect that there is an inherited, genetic basis since it is so widespread. Some individuals may also have been made foot-shy by having toenails improperly trimmed into the quick, a very painful experience.
Depending on whether your pet is young or mature, the methods used to prevent or correct foot-handling shyness are different. We will discuss youngsters first.
With a young animal, up to 5 months of age, we are most interested in prevention of developing foot shyness. This is best accomplished by gentle handling of the feet and lower legs during times when the pet is calm. Sleeping in your lap, watching TV, morning cuddly times, these are ideal settings for the program. Be sure that your touch is light and gentle, and that your initial sessions are relatively infrequent, especially if resistance is encountered. Think “baby steps.”
Even if your youngster has shown no resistance to having his feet handled, start this effort now to prevent development of foot shyness later in life.
With a young pet who objects to light foot handling, or a mature pet whose mind is made up that “You, Human, are not going to handle my feet,” starting far away from the feet is the best approach. The key word here is patience. Plan to take a year, or more if necessary, to institute the following plan ever-so-gradually.
A pet who has apprehension about having his feet handled probably fears pain may ensue from being touched on the feet. To avoid intimidating him there, start by handling the legs instead. Start as high up the leg as you must in order to avoid anxiety. Perform this step when the pet is thoroughly relaxed, not when playing or practicing obedience training. Use a gentle massage, a light touch, or a soft stroking motion. Plan to stay at that level of the leg for 2-3 weeks or more. Carefully move down the leg 1/2 inch, no more, and work there for at least 2-3 weeks. Then move down another 1/2 inch.
It is common for pets to show less sensitivity about the rear feet than the front, so spending more time on the rear legs and feet initially may cause less resistance to the process.
Don’t be in a hurry, you have the rest of this pet’s life to make him comfortable with having his feet handled, if it takes that long. When you are really close to the feet, you may find that you have to move forward in increments of millimeters. Take as long as you need.
If you fear physical harm from your pet, do not institute this plan without checking with your pet’s doctor first.
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.