Why do dogs wipe their paws?

Author picture Jessica

Wiping or kicking the grass after going to the toilet is a very common behaviour for many dogs, from large to small, male or female and any breed. It can be a bit startling when your dog suddenly kicks up dirt and grass all over the place! But why do dogs do this? And is it a problem you should stop, or is it perfectly normal?

Wiping paws is seen in many dogs. It can be pretty funny to see, almost like your dog is washing its hands after going to the toilet, but in reality, it is something completely different.

The kicking motion is actually a form of marking which spreads the smell of your dog's pee further. The dog also uses the scent of its paws to increase the strength of it's left-behind smell. Dogs have glands under their paw pads and bacteria between the toes, which creates an individual scent when wiped on the ground. By doing so, the dog leaves a personal 'business card'.

Tip : Dogs do like to keep their own paws clean by licking, but it's best to avoid washing your dog's feet with shampoo. They would prefer to keep their own scent!

Why does a dog want to spread its scent?

Dogs experience the world primarily through scent. By spreading scent with their paws when they mark their environment, a dog is saying 'I was here'. This is a very normal marking behaviour that can happen with any dog, not just large, strong males. Females, shy dogs and small dogs can all potentially wipe their feet on the ground. Marking does not necessarily mean that a dog wants to define its territory. Through scent, dogs can communicate and exchange many messages with other dogs. 

Dogs can communicate with each other by wiping their paws

But what does it mean if a dog suddenly wipes it's paws more often than usual? There can be many reasons: for example, a new dog may have joined the pack (dog walkers might notice this when a new furry client joins your usual dog pack on a walk), or something may have changed in the environment. The dog may also want to mark if they encounter another pooch during a dog walk that your dog wants to 'show off' a bit, or the dog might just always habitually do it after going to the toilet. As such, paw-wiping is not a behaviour that your dog needs to unlearn. It's really typical dog behaviour and part of a proper and fun dog walk!

It is important to pay attention to combinations of body-language in a dog. If your dog suddenly gets angry or tense, scuffing the paws at the same time can be an additional sign of aggression. Dog walkers should always pay attention to stress signals such as staring/fixating, raising the lips to expose the teeth and fur standing on end. Always try to de-escalate tension between two dogsDistract your dog and make sure that it focuses on a treat, such as a favourite ball or a dog biscuit. Read more about preventing fighting dogs. 

It is important to always pay attention and investigate changes in behaviour in case there is something else causing a problem. Is your dog (or dog walking client dog) a fanatic paw wiper, but suddenly stops doing it? This may indicate pain in the muscles or joints. If in doubt, always consult a veterinarian because dogs can tend to hide their pain.

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