Q. My Bichon Frisé puppy, Snowball, hates having her paws touched. Whenever I try to touch them she pulls them away and wiggles. I don't know why she does it and I need to be able to clean her feet. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can make her feel more comfortable about this? Margaret, via e-mail
A. Dogs' paws are sensitive things. Back when they were wild creatures, dogs would not have been able to survive if their pads were injured.
As owners, we often make our dogs afraid of paw contact because we tend to give them no warning and just grab and dry their feet very roughly. Another common problem is that an inexperienced handler will cut their dog's nails incorrectly and damage their paws in the process – which causes great pain in the dog's feet.
The fact is, puppies need to get used to having their paws handled – it's a new and worrying experience for them – so it's something that should be introduced gradually and sensitively.
Your dog needs to be able to trust you, so the first thing we need to do is to build up confidence between you and her. Do not try and touch her paws at this point. Get your puppy's favourite toy and play some games with her on the floor. Shake the toy in front of her and hold it down on the floor. When she puts her paws anywhere near your hand, give her the toy. Do this a few times during the day and she should gradually get more confident that you are not just trying to grab her paws.
Also, you can teach her to "give five". Get her favourite treat, show it to her, then put it in the middle of your hand and make a fist. Place your hand just under her chin and wait. When she raises her paw a little bit off the ground, give her the treat. Do not give the command until she is touching your hand with her chin and then say, "give five". Be patient. She will try everything else, but do not give the treat until she lifts her paw off the ground. Good luck!
Remember that if an animal shows signs of distress or discomfort an early visit to the vet is always recommended