As we navigate the Covid 19 epidemic, everyone is trying to clean and disinfect all of the surfaces we encounter. While this is important, it’s also important to consider product safety and intended use. In the past few days, I’ve seen some disturbing posts encouraging people to disinfect their dog’s feet after walks on city streets. Even more disturbing have been photos of the effects of bleach and other cleaner on skin. Soap and water will remove the virus from your dog’s paws, just as it does from your hands. Please don’t use chemical disinfectants on your pets! I do recognize that frequently bathing a large dog is inconvenient, but really nothing about the current situation is convenient.

One alternative would be to have your dog wear boots on walks and then leave those boots with the shoes you wear outside. Dog’s don’t naturally enjoy footwear, but with some training they can learn to tolerate well-fitted boots. At a scent work trial last summer, Maya burned her feet on a rubber mat in an exterior search area. After that experience, I decided to train all of my scent work dogs to work with boots on to prevent something like that from happening again. This is the procedure that I used:

Stage 1: Boots make cookies rain from the sky. Put all 4 boots on your dog. I know that you may be thinking it would be best to start with just one, but your dog will likely just avoid weight bearing on that one foot. Feed a really good treat. If your dog eats the treat, drop another on the ground and tell him to get it. If he does, start tossing the treats in different directions to encourage movement. Don’t worry if he’s very uncoordinated at first. Do sessions of about 10 treats before removing the boots and stopping the flow of cookies. Stay at this stage until your dog’s movements look natural and he is happily chasing cookies.

Stage 2: I can do stuff with boots on. Put on the boots and warm the dog up with some treat tosses. Ask for an easy behavior like a sit or hand touch. Reward and then go back to treat tosses. Structure your session to include about 3 behaviors (or the same one 3 times) out of the 10 treats delivered. Stay at this stage until your dog responds just as quickly with boots on as without them.

Stage 3: This will be the last stage for many of you. Put the boots on and take a walk. Reward generously with treats on the walk and keep moving as much as possible.

For my scent work dogs there are 2 more stages:

Stage 4: I can search in boots. Set up really easy searches at first and then gradually increase the difficulty.

Stage 5: Wearing boots at a trial. We haven’t needed to do this yet, but will be prepared for this summer.

My preferred brand of boot is Ruffwear. They come in enough sizes to fit most dogs well and have rubber soles for traction when you enter a building. Another option are Paws, which are easier to put on and off but less sturdy. If you take some time to make the boots a fun thing, your dog should learn to look forward to wearing them.

Elf models her Ruffwear boots

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