YouTube and social media are ripe with funny pet videos, one of which is dogs trying on shoes for the first time!
This hilarious scenario might just be a silly thing to us, but it often begs the question of why dogs have such a significant reaction to something so mundane?
Dog paw pads are designed to send information to the dog’s brain about their surroundings. Shoes or socks block this sensory process and can make dogs feel very confused. Shoes may also prevent temperature regulation.
In this article, we will chat about just how our dog’s “feet” are designed and why putting shoes or socks on them makes them fling their legs around! As well as the pros and cons to putting something on your dog’s paws, helping you decide if it’s worth training your dog to wear shoes.
Shoes and socks feel completely normal and natural to us, but that’s the complete opposite for your dog! This foreign, alien device on their paw pads can cause quite a scene for your dog.
The reason your dog is likely confused by this new sensation has to do with not having been exposed to something on their paws before, a biological instinct due to the sensory properties of their paws, and messing with their internal temperature regulation.
Think about it - ever since we were little babies, we’ve had something placed on our feet. Whether it be socks, shoes, a blanket wrap, our feet have always been covered. This early introduction to texture and wrapping on a very sensitive part of our body made us comfortable with the feeling.
Puppies haven’t had the same experience; they’ve never had something cover their paws before! As such, the feeling can be very jarring for a dog that is most used to having their bodies uncovered. The same rings true for putting clothing on pups, like shirts or jackets - it’s a very unusual sensation.
So, you’re probably thinking, “why don’t you start getting a dog used to shoes and clothes when they’re babies?”
Well, here’s the problem: puppies are tiny! There is little to nothing available for them in the correct size. Puppies are also very temperature sensitive, so there could be problems on that front as well if you start dressing them up.
Alongside looking wildly different from our own feet, nature designed dog paws to be very intricate. They’re not just used to hold a living body upright: paws are sensory tools that tell the dog about the world they live in.
Dogs understand the world through their bodies, from their whiskers and nose all the way down to their paws. The paw pads actually provide sensory feedback to our dogs, which tells them everything they need to know about the ground. This phenomenon is known as proprioception. The information from your dog’s paw pads then helps them make instant decisions on their walking speed, the traction necessary to stay upright, and even how much they need to push their claws down to maintain stability!
When you put shoes or socks on your dog, you’ve effectively blocked proprioception. By instinct, your dog feels like their foot is ‘stuck’, which is when they do their funky flinging walk.
Beyond even the cognitive understanding that there is something on their feet, their biology takes over and immediately sends warning signals to the mind that there is something wrong with their paws.
A dog can be trained to get used to this and completely override the natural response process, but the initial experience will undoubtedly be comical to us!
Our entire bodies sweat to regulate our temperature, but that’s not the case for dogs.
On a warm summer day, your dog will be sweating through their paws to help keep their body temperature down.
By putting on shoes, which don’t allow the paws to breathe, you can cause your dog to feel off-kilter with their body temperature.
Even in colder weather, dog paws still influence internal temperature. A study conducted in Japan found that dogs minimize their veins and capillaries in the paw pads to reduce heat loss.
This then recirculates their existing heat back to the core of their bodies, helping them resist the cold weather. This being said, smaller dogs have been known to have a harder time with regulation than larger dogs, so that is something to keep in mind.
At the end of the day, the root question really is whether or not we should even be putting shoes on our dogs. It’s one thing for a silly video, but another to want your pup to actually wear shoes.
This question ends up being quite controversial in the canine community, so it’s best to evaluate the pros and cons of shoes and make an educated determination as to what is best for your own dog.
We wear shoes to minimize damage to our feet, so shoes are placed on dog “feet” to minimize damage from rocky or sharp terrain, hot pavement, snow, and other such problematic conditions.
Paw pads, especially in dogs that aren’t exposed to terrain frequently, can be very sensitive and soft. As a result, paws can be prone to getting cuts, tearing, and burning, especially in breeds that were not bred for work (such as lap dogs).
On wet surfaces, paws can also be very slippery. Shoes help give additional traction to prevent your pup from getting injured from a slip.
For older dogs, shoes can also help their bone and ligament issues. Dog shoes can provide extra cushioning and support for aching hips, painful joints, or overall old dog conditions.
The above being said, there are downsides to putting shoes on your pup. Firstly, as we mentioned earlier, shoes block important sensory information, which can cause quite a bit of confusion. When dogs feel uncertain, you can really see their confidence dwindle.
Secondly, dog shoes can impact body temperature regulation. If you keep shoes on your pup for far too long, they can be prone to medical problems (such as bacteria) due to their paws getting hot and sweaty inside the shoes with no opportunity for the paw to breathe.
As well, if you cheapen out on the shoes or purchase an improper size, they can be very uncomfortable. Shoes can bunch up, twist, and even limit blood circulation to the feet. A dog chewing at their shoes or socks can inadvertently damage their paws, as they’re in a rush to get them off.
Other dog community members who don’t agree with shoes also point out that dog shoes aren’t necessary in many cases. With paws being designed for terrain, the shoes may not be adding the protection the product is touting. However, it is also important to note that not all dog paws are created equal: some are not as calloused and strong as others.
If you’ve decided that shoes or socks are the right choice for your pup, you’ll be thrilled to know that our furry friends do get used to something on their paws! It may just take a little bit of time.
The best way to get your four-legged best friend on board is to use positive reinforcement and have patience - remember, this is all very new to your dog.
After purchasing shoes with the right fit, start by placing one shoe at a time on your dog’s paws. During this process, offer treats and kind words (spoken with an excited tone) to make the entire circumstance feel very positive.
Once all four shoes are on, don’t rush outside immediately. Instead, get your dog’s favorite toys and treats and play!
Make the shoes seem like they’re an absolutely normal occurrence and that nothing is different. After a few minutes, when you notice your pup feeling more comfortable, then you can go ahead and meander outside.
This process may need to be repeated several times, so don’t feel discouraged if you don’t get that perfect result at first.