Muddy Paw Syndrome (Teaching Your Dog to Wipe his Paws)

Thanks to Animals Matter for the Photo

I think whenever anyone has a problem with something they denounce it a “syndrome” so I decry this month and probably several more to come “muddy paw syndrome” month.

I live in VA and today was the first day we have really gotten snow in almost 2 years.

I am from Wyoming and lived a couple of years in Green Bay Wisconsin so unless you can’t see or find your car… it’s not snow to me.

Snow in VA is a couple of flakes and maybe a skiff covering the ground for an hour or two.

I miss snow.

Snow also usually means that the ground is pretty well frozen, and if you are going to have precipitation you might as well have frozen ground.

Wet ground leads to mud.

Mud leads to muddy feet/paws and if you have multiple dogs it leads to muddy faces, shoulders, ears, tails and any other body part you can name.

And, I hate muddy… stuff.  Especially muddy stuff that I normally kiss.

It adds to muddy furniture and floors and everything else I can think of; and with 3 dogs I spend an awful lot of time vacuuming, sweeping and mopping as it is!  Wanna teach your dog to wipe his own feet? 

Me thinks this is going to require a full out bath!

You Teach Your Children To Wipe Their Feet or Take off Their Shoes… Why Not Your Dog?

Sounds complicated doesn’t it?

IT IS….. if you don’t use a clicker!

If you have not embraced clicker training you are forced to do what people have been doing for hundreds of years… either dealing with dirty, stinky things, OR wiping your dog’s feet by yourself.

Lets face it; neither of these are ideal!

Who likes to grab a smelly wet dog foot??

Not me!  Plus I usually get a smattering of mud on my face or pants or shirt… not exactly a pretty picture!

So are you ready for some self-regulated wiping?

Seriously, if you are not clicking… you have to; there is no sense in even trying if your dog doesn’t live for the clicker and you haven’t taught clicker basics!  For more on clicker training dog obedience basics click here.

Your dog must totally understand and you must both be proficient at clicker training before you attempt this move, because it can be complicated, otherwise.

The next thing to do is to play “Fun with a Box”; this game or skill or trick (whatever you want to call it) will teach your dog to use his feet and be rewarded for it which will make wiping them much, much more simple and I am all about simple!

So watch this video here on our dog obedience blog on fun with a box here and read the article,  and have fun playing and clicking!  It may take several  sessions before you and your dog get it down, and if you are not clicker proficient it may take even longer!!

But be patient, good obedience is something that builds on itself and gets better and better.

What You Need:

  • Your Dog
  • A Leash (if you think your dog is liable to find something more exciting to do)
  • Your Clicker
  • Great Treats
  •  A LARGE Towel or Blanket

Getting Started:

So your dog knows and loves the clicker.  He has happily entertained himself with an empty box and is use to putting his feet in it and on it.

You should know that you don’t have to have muddy conditions to teach this behavior.  It is actually better if you do this inside with no dirt or mud involved to begin to condition the behavior.

Now, put the towel or the blanket on the ground and wait.

If your dog puts a paw on the blanket click and treat.  Continue clicking and treating as those feet go on that blanket or towel (I like a blanket at first because it is bigger and harder to miss).

Once he gets that idea down and understands you want his feet on the blanket you are going to have to change your criteria.  Changing your criteria often causes frustration and then a gamut of other behaviors.  To understand more about frustration and how it helps your dog obedience and clicker training click here for that article.

Frustration is crucial.  Some trainers say they don’t like the term “frustration” they prefer Non Reinforcment Marker or No Reward Marker all of these things mean the dog no longer gets a reward for something that he once was reinforced for; and let’s face it, if you got paid for something over and over and over and then you no longer got paid for that… it would be a little frustrating.  You would probably quit, but a dog wants to figure out why the behavior no longer works.

So he does other things, and it is important just to wait and see what he does.

Wait for him to scratch at the blanket/towel and when he does give him a JACKPOT (much bigger better treat).

Soon he will begin scratching reliably and you will be clicking and rewarding.

Making it Better

So then it is time to use that frustration or No Reward Marker (NRM) again and wait.

He will undoubtedly show you a number of new behaviors, maybe laying on the blanket or putting his head down, or sitting, perhaps barking.  Ignore the behaviors you don’t want to see and DO NOT correct any behaviors unless they are aggressive or totally naughty.

He will probably now scratch vigorously and may circle around on the blanket/towel… THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT!!!  Be sure to click and jackpot!!!

Dogs probably aren’t going to “wipe” their back feet.  If you are really lucky you might be able to get him to kick those back feet, but this isn’t a typical dog behavior (except after they poop 😉

But if you can get him to do it long enough and circle around he will wipe those muddy feet himself; and you can reward with a cookie!

Helpful Hint

Don ‘t just do this on wet muddy days, get him use to doing it all or most of the time or you will end up with a dog running willy nilly through the house before he has a chance to wipe those dirty stinky paws!!

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  1. LORNA WRIGHT says:

    Wish me luck, i have a Border Collie Pup she is 4 months old. she LOVES
    the mud, the more the better!!! Will try and get her to wipe her own paws
    with the clicker method.
    Will keep you updated on the progress.

    Lorna wright


  2. Norah says:


    Enjoyed the blog about teaching your dog to wipe it’s own feet. My dog sits at the landing and waits until I wipe them for her, Last summer she sat on the sidewalk and laughed all the time it took for me to scrub down my daughter’s labradoodle that I was babysitting after a run in the field. The little darling white girl decided to find and proceed to roll in a fresh cow paddy!! It took a lot of water, soap, scrub brush, towels and elbow grease! I would have loved to throw her in the lake but it is too far away. I am too old for this! Thank goodness my Dobbie girl has not got into the cow pasture. I would love to send a picture but can’t figure it out (must be the age thing)

    I am really enjoying, and getting a lot out of, your videos and traing sessions. Thank you.


    Minette Reply:

    Glad to have you Norah! I would love seeing pictures (quite frankly I haven’t been able to figure out how to put them on this site either) 🙂

    But you can join us on Facebook if you have an account we are thedogtrainingsecret there you can share pictures 🙂


  3. Diana says:

    This is the coolest ever!!!! I am going to go back and reinforce the clicker then start this……… No matter how long it takes this behavior is well worth the time.

    Diana From Muddy Oregon!


  4. Candace Rocha says:

    OK, That’s great! but what about those of us that have dogs that get a whole lot more then their feet wet and muddy? I have a large shepherd/lab that is 13 years old. she never out grew kicking up the mud, water, ice, and snow onto her belly. So that would not work in this house. Not to mention the little Yorkie/Cairn/Lasa, long haired terrier that I have. The best thing that works for him is to shave down his lower legs, his stomach and put a jacket on him. His fur is like a sponge. less of it near the ground, less of it to dry.


  5. Vickie LeBlanc says:

    I taught my dogs right from the beginning to stop and wait for me to wipe their feet when they come in on muddy days.


    Minette Reply:

    Yes, but it is better to have them do it themselves 😉


  6. Donal says:

    We taught our two Jack Russell terriers to spin 3 or 4 times on the mat at the back door when they come in, works well 🙂


  7. Sam says:

    Now I have an easier method for doggs tha play with a laser just run the dot around the towel. It also helps speed exercise as he runs with not at the dot even allowing for disruptions. Now if I could only get one bright enough for sunshine days.


  8. phil says:

    My dog nena is still an agressive puppy
    she is 6 months old. and i read and tried your book
    and nothing has helped me. i asked for help before and no
    i dont know what to do. I thought the hand on trainning
    would help me. can you give me some suggestions please.
    She continues to jump on my grandchildren.

    thank you.



    Minette Reply:

    It is a liability to try and give you advice with an aggressive dog that I cannot see. If I give the wrong advice someone could get hurt.

    I recommend getting a veterinary behaviorist to come over and witness the behavior and put you both on a behavior modification program.


    phil Reply:

    I spoke to a couple of my freinds
    they said my pup nena will probably
    grow out of this behavior. i hope so.
    I beleive she wants to play.but she is
    to agressive and nibles at my grand kids.

    thank you.


    Minette Reply:

    I hope your friends are right, but they are probably not dog professionals. I still recommend seeing a professional.

    I see lots of trauma and scars and dogs euthanized when people think a dog will outgrow a behavior and it doesn’t.

  9. Carolyn says:

    I had a wonderful Border Collie whose feet I had to wipe on muddy days. While I was wiping his feet I would also whisper sweet nothings in his ear and give him loads of rubs and scratches. Bobby decided that even on sunny, dry days he needed his feet wiped and would just stand inside the back door until I “wiped” his feet. Bobby was the most beautiful, smartest and loving dog I have ever met. I still miss him so much, even after many years since his passing.


  10. Where can you get a clicker? 2 dogs, part lab and ??? small. mom and female pup. They are inside dogs, can go out back, fenced in but every chance they get are out the front door and chase cars. Keep my latch on door but company will always lrt them out


    Minette Reply:

    Any pet supply warehouse, some walmarts and you can do a search for them online.


  11. Nancy says:

    Question, my soon to be 1 year old chocolate lab just peed on my rug. I had her out for about 15 min. brought her in and she did it. Why would a trained dog do this? I scolded her (did not hit her) and she seemed to be ashamed but not sure if she knew why. Any thoughts please.



    Minette Reply:

    She could have a bladder infection and is in pain so she could be peeing more often and whenever the pain hits.

    If she is not spayed she could be marking or in heat or near to being in heat.

    Some female dogs mark just like male dogs do, but if this is new I would have your vet check her urine.


  12. Micki says:

    I taught my dog to do this by putting a piece of his kibble under a towel. As soon as he scratched I treated with a piece of chicken. After 2 sessions I was able to remove the towel and get him to respond to the verbal command. He now does it when I wipe my feet.


  13. Emmile says:

    If my dog starts scratching at the blanket/towel and if I reward her, then she will think that scratching is good, and she will scratch up my carpet. This is so cool, though, and I bought a clicker today! ^^


    Minette Reply:

    Not if you only reward her conditionally after she comes in… if she does scratch at the carpet then tell her no.


  14. Emmile says:

    Thanks, Minette! You are such a good dog trainer!


  15. Gabrielle Williams says:

    My dog is 11 years old but acts like a puppy, she is very very hard to train and i cant even make her sit. I have tried everything on this website, books and even professional trainers but i cannot make her do any tricks i would like her to.



  16. Shari says:

    Just wanted to give a hint to those of us that continue to wash/wipe the dog’s feet. The coffee cans with the handles make a great ‘pitcher’ to fill with water, dip the dirty paws off to rinse the big stuff, gently squeeze the paw to ‘wring’ it out, then proceed with whichever paw wiping you (or the dog) does.


  17. Troy says:

    another good way to teach them to wipe their paws is to put a treat under a towel and then place your dog on top of the towel and allow him to sniff the treat that is under the towel. They will then try to get at the treat by scratching and digging at the towel and then reward them for doing so. However I am still at a loss on how to teach the wiping of the back paws.


  18. Kelby says:

    Okay!!! I have got my dog onto the towel, but then he just looks at me in a sit. So I waited for a few minutes and he still just stared at me. Then he went into a down and stared at me some more. Then lost interest and put his head down and closed his eyes lol. How do I get my dog to start moving his paws on the towel?


    Minette Reply:

    you have to up your clicking game. google “fun with a box clicker training” and it will give you ideas on how the behavior of touching something with the feet works.


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