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Every time you leave the house, before walking out the door, you stop and put on your shoes.
It’s such a normal part of your routine that you probably never give it a second thought. You certainly don’t start prancing around as if your feet are suddenly foreign to you, but that’s precisely what happens when you put a dog in shoes for the first time.
As soon as the shoes are on, it’s like your dog has entirely forgotten how to walk. Every step seems unstable and unsure. Your dog suddenly seems off balance and out of their element, even though they’re on the same four paws they’ve has been walking on for their entire life.
As an outsider, it’s absolutely comical to behold, but your dog probably isn’t having as much fun trying to relearn how to walk now that their main physical connection to the world has been severed.
So, why do dogs walk weird in shoes?
A dog’s paw pads help them to maintain traction and balance while aiding in navigation by sending constant signals to the brain. Shoes cut these signals off since they prevent the paw pads from touching the ground. Plus, they make your dog’s paws heavier while restricting movement, and they can be downright uncomfortable.
If you’ve never seen a dog attempt to walk in shoes before, then you might not realize just how much it affects their gait. And truthfully, it’s hilarious to see. Just check out this short video for several examples!
Reason 1: Shoes Interfere with Proprioception
When you perform basic movements, such as walking or lifting a drinking glass to your lips, you don’t have to put any thought into the action. Rather, you subconsciously make all the calculations necessary to complete the movement. This is because sensory receptors across your body are constantly conveying information to your brain in a process known as proprioception.
When you cut off some of your sensory receptors, you’ll no longer be able to perform those basic tasks quite as easily. For instance, try putting on thick work gloves and performing an intricate task like installing a small screw. You’ll likely find it quite difficult, which is in large part due to the lack of sensory information that’s now being sent to your brain from your fingertips.
Of course, proprioception isn’t just limited to people. All animals use it in the same way that we do.
Otherwise, they would have extreme difficulty managing even the most basic of movements. Well, that’s exactly what happens to a dog when its paws are covered in shoes. The dog loses their connection to the ground and all the sensory information that was being conveyed by its paw pads.
With that sensory information missing, your dog can no longer walk normally because they lack vital information that the paw pads are usually relaying.
Now, the dog doesn’t know exactly where the ground is or the relation between its paw and the ground, making it very difficult to take each step. Rather than secure footing, your dog is now unsure what is happening to its paws and can no longer take a step in confidence since it’s not receiving the signals that help them to understand the terrain theyr’e walking on.
Reason 2: Loss of Traction and Balance
Your dog’s paw pads do more than just convey information about the terrain underfoot. Healthy paw pads are thick and leathery, providing ample traction in just about any condition. Pads are just one of the many adaptations that help dogs run as fast as they do. When the paw pads are no longer contacting the ground, that traction your dog relies on so heavily is suddenly gone.
Think about what happens when you wear socks on a slick surface like a wood floor. You must be extra careful with each step, or you could slip. That’s the same sensation a dog is experiencing when wearing shoes. No longer can they rely on its paw pads for traction, so each step now feels slick and unsteady, which also throws off your dog’s balance.
Reason 3: Shoes Make Your Dog’s Feet Heavier
If you’ve ever worn heavy work boots, particularly the sort with steel protection for the toes, then you know exactly how strange it is for your feet to suddenly weigh far more than you’re used to. Granted, you knew that when you put the boots on, and you did it by choice. Your dog, however, likely had no idea what was happening the first time you strapped shoes over its paws.
You might not think that your dog’s shoes weigh very much, but your dog isn’t used to any weight on its paws at all. Even a light addition can feel very strange for your pooch. Suddenly, all four of its paws are weighed down in an entirely foreign manner. This makes each step feel clunky and awkward, further adding to the disconcerting feeling that dogs experience when first wearing shoes.
Reason 4: Restriction of Movement
You’ve probably been wearing shoes for most or all of your life. After having so much time to adjust to shoes, they don’t seem like a hindrance anymore. But if you put on the wrong pair, you’ll quickly notice that your feet don’t feel right. You might not be able to move your toes individually anymore. If you’re wearing high-top shoes or boots, you’ll even lose quite a bit of ankle mobility.
Things are no different for your dog, except that shoes are a new experience for it. Restriction of paw movement is an unknown sensation, and it can be a strange one. For the first time, your dog’s paws no longer function in the manner they always have before. Toes can’t be spread apart because they’re contained in the shoes. Joints that usually move freely now experience hindered mobility.
Reason 5: They’re Uncomfortable
Comfort is generally a major consideration when purchasing new shoes, but many forget to think about their dog’s comfort when putting shoes on them the first time.
Shoes for people are built with comfort in mind. They have tons of airflow to ensure your feet don’t get hot and sweaty. Soles are made with thick rubber and special inserts to reduce the impact of walking. They’re even sized very specifically so you can get the exact right fit.
But dog shoes aren’t nearly as high-tech.
They tend to be very simple and utilitarian. While that’s fine in terms of protection, it’s not a great sign for comfort. You might even notice your dog biting and scratching at its shoes in an attempt to remove them. As simple as it seems, discomfort is one of the major reasons for such behavior.
Reason 6: They Don’t Fit Right
Getting shoes that fit properly is vital for your comfort. Shoes for people come in every size imaginable. There are even special sizes for feet that are extra wide, flat, or have a severe arch. Dog shoes also come in various sizes, but there aren’t nearly as many options. Moreover, your dog can’t simply tell you that its shoes are too tight.
Properly sizing your dog’s shoes can prove to be more difficult than you might initially anticipate, but if your dog doesn’t seem to be getting used to its shoes even after an adaptation period, then it might be due to a poor fit. An ill-fitting shoe could rub and cause sores, so if you notice your dog is failing to adapt to its shoes, you might want to double-check their paws for any signs of rubbing, such as hair loss or visible sores.
However, the modern dog shoe does a great job at fitting a pup’s feet so this will rarely be the problem assuming you’ve measured your dog’s paw correctly.
It’s a Big Change, But Your Dog Will Adapt
As you can see, there are quite a few reasons that your dog walks oddly when wearing shoes.
In truth, there’s no single reason for this; all of the previously mentioned factors play a role. Your dog’s proprioception is altered, the shoes are uncomfortable, its paws suddenly feel heavy, mobility is reduced, and so on. It’s the combination of all these changes that impedes your dog’s ability to walk. Even if you were to solve one of these problems, the others would still cause your dog to walk strangely.
The good news?
It’s a temporary issue. If you’ve ever seen a service dog out and about wearing shoes, you may not have even noticed because that dog was likely walking normally. Ever seen a woman wearing high-heels for the first time? Their walk is disjointed and off-balance, but in time, they learn to walk gracefully in their heels.
Your dog will go through the same process. At first, there are a lot of new things happening accompanied by a loss of standard sensations that help your dog navigate the world. After an adjustment period, your dog will start to adapt to the changes, and they’ll no longer make walking such a difficult task.
How long that will take differs between dogs, but within a short time, your dog should start to walk close to normal while it’s wearing shoes.
Should You Be Concerned If Your Dog Walks Strangely in Shoes?
It’s entirely normal for a dog to walk strangely when it first starts wearing shoes and there’s no reason for you to be concerned. The shoes aren’t likely to be causing any pain or problems. Many dogs wear shoes, and there are even practical benefits associated with shoes for dogs.
However, if your dog continues to have trouble walking in shoes even after a substantial adaptation period, then you should start looking for specific causes. In these cases, you’ll want to ensure that the shoes are a proper fit and they’re not rubbing anywhere or causing sores.
It’s Probably Not Pain
In some cases, a shoe that doesn’t fit right can rub on your dog’s foot and cause irritation or even pain. However, that’s a rare issue.
Generally, shoes are not going to cause your dog any pain, though they might be a bit uncomfortable. Dog shoes are designed to provide protection, so if they were causing pain or damage, they would be counterproductive. There’s no need to worry if your dog can’t walk normally when it first starts wearing shoes. It’s not a sign that your dog is hurt or that the shoes are painful, it’s just going to take a while for your dog to get used to the new sensation.
When Should Your Dog Wear Shoes?
It’s pretty clear that dogs don’t really like shoes; at least, not when they first start wearing them. Many will bite and scratch at their paws to remove the shoes, which is a clear indication of displeasure. Still, there are some instances where putting shoes on your dog is in their best interest and may even be necessary to avoid damage or injury.
Dogs’ paw pads are tough, but they’re still prone to injury and infection, which shoes can help to prevent.
You probably don’t think about how hot the ground is while you’re walking around outside unless you’re barefoot on the beach and suddenly realizing that the sand is scalding! Usually, you have shoes on to protect your feet from that heat, but unless you put shoes on your dog, their paws are at risk from the high temperatures of certain surfaces. First, your dog will feel discomfort, but burns and blisters can also result from walking on hot surfaces.
But how hot is too hot?
It might be surprising, but when ambient air temperatures are a cool 86 degrees Fahrenheit, asphalt can register an intense 136 degrees, which is sufficiently hot to cause serious damage to your dog’s paws. If you plan on walking your dog in the heat, shoes can ensure your dog’s safety and keep its paws healthy.
A simple test you can perform is to put your hand on the hottest part of the ground. If you can keep your hand there comfortably for 7 seconds, then it’s safe for your dog. When it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws as well.
Paw pads are pretty tough, but they’re far from invincible. If your dog steps on something sharp or abrasive, its paws could get cut. Putting shoes on your pooch could prevent such incidents from occurring. For this reason, the German police have been outfitting their dogs with boots since 2008.
Do Dogs Need to Wear Shoes in the Cold?
Heat can cause severe damage to a dog’s paws, but interestingly, cold doesn’t have the same effect. This is because the system of arteries and veins that make up a dog’s paw pads acts as a heat-exchanger, recirculating heat through the core and preventing the paws and the body from getting too cold. The same heat-exchange system has been documented in penguins, dolphins, and arctic foxes.
Of course, differences between breeds and individual canines mean that each dog’s tolerance to cold will be unique, but across the board, dogs’ paws are much more resilient to cold than heat. Most dogs will not need shoes to protect them from cold weather, snow, or ice.
How To Help Your Dog Walk in Shoes
Even though it can be amusing to watch your dog’s comedic attempts at walking with shoes on, it can be a hindrance to the activities you wish to perform. After all, you probably didn’t put those shoes on as a fashion statement. Luckily, there are a few ways you can help your dog to walk more comfortably in its new shoes.
Get Them Comfortable with Having Things on Their Paws
Your dog isn’t used to having anything on its paws, but you can mitigate this in a couple of ways. Start by getting your dog comfortable with having its paws touched. Try massaging its paws or simply holding them. Once it’s starting to be comfortable with that, try putting the shoes on for very short periods so your dog has a chance to adapt without being out of its comfort zone for too long.
Ensure Nails are Trimmed Short
Long nails can interfere with a shoe’s fit, making it uncomfortable for your pooch. Make sure to trim your dog’s nails before putting its shoes on to help reduce this effect as much as possible.
Making sure your dog’s nails are trimmed are not only great for shoes but it’s also a good idea for day-to-day to life if your dog likes to use their paw on you!
Check for a Proper Fit
Sizing your shoes is easy. You know exactly how they feel. But you can’t ask your dog how its shoes feel, so you’ll have to check the fit yourself. Make sure there’s room for your dog’s toes to move around without having any extra space for the whole paw to slide. Look over your dog’s paws after it wears the shoes and ensure there are no areas that appear to have been rubbed, such as sores or patches of missing hair.
It’s commonplace for dogs to have trouble walking when they first start wearing shoes. The shoes interfere with their connection to the ground, impeding the sensory information that the paws convey. Furthermore, shoes can be restrictive, heavy, and uncomfortable while reducing your dog’s traction and balance.
Still, there are times where the protection of shoes is vital for your dog’s health, so don’t shy away from shoes just because your dog has a hard time walking in them. Enjoy a quick laugh, then help your dog to get used to the new sensation. With a little time to adapt, your dog will learn to walk normally in its new shoes, and you’ll probably start to miss the hilarious times when it was first getting used to them!