“Oh, look, that dog has shoes on!” For many Service and Working Dog handlers, they hear those words at least once an outing. Children in particular are fascinated about dogs in boots, and they’ll often comment for all to hear. There are lots of reasons a Service Dog might wear boots, most of which revolve around the dog’s safety and comfort. Does your Service Dog need boots? Read on to find out!
While boots and shoes look curious on dogs, for lots of working and Service Dog teams, they’re the only way for the team to work comfortably and safely. If you and your Service Dog routinely encounter any of the following scenarios, you may want to think about getting your partner a pair of boots:
- Your Service Dog walks on pavement, asphalt, stone, sand or metal (such as bus steps or outdoor ramps) when the temperature is routinely 90 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter. It takes only a few seconds to blister and burn the pads completely off a dog’s feet when they’re on too-hot of surfaces, and in some areas of the United States, the ground gets baked in the summer sun and can cause burns on contact.
- Your short-haired Service Dog is routinely out walking in snow, slush or ice.
- Your Service Dog walks on city sidewalks or in urban neighborhoods after it has snowed, sleeted or iced, and your community utilizes salt and chemical trucks.
- Your partner is ever asked to traverse super rough terrain.
- Your partner works indoors on tile, stone or laminate floors and needs the extra traction.
- Your Service Dog works in a healthcare facility or at a laboratory where shoe changes are required of humans before being allowed to enter the area.
All of those reasons and more are perfectly valid occasions for Service Dogs wearing boots. Now that you’ve determined whether or not your partner needs boots, though, the real questions are “What kind?” and “How do I help my Service Dog like their boots?”.
Service Dogs and Boots: What Kind
There are dozens of different brands available for boots. Two of our favorites are Ruffwear and Muttluks. Both companies make solid, durable, ergonomic boots that fit well and last forever. Ruffwear has boots for warm environments, cold/snowy environments and city environments, and Muttluks also has several options for various uses and environments. Ruffwear has a special program for Service Dogs, so you should contact their customer service people for more info.
Regardless of what kind of boot you get, for every day and working wear, the boot needs to be sized specifically to your dog. It needs to fit well and not cause any compression, soreness or hot spots. It needs to fully cover the foot, and be easy to put on and off. Make sure you get boots made for the environments your Service Dog will be working in.
Service Dogs and Boots: Teaching Your Dog To Like Boots
Now for the fun part – how to get your Service Dog to like their boots. 🙂 First and foremost, it’s important to have two skills already in place – a “settle” or “relax” position where your dog lays on their side or back, and a “shake” that’s solid enough that your dog will leave their paw in your hand and allow you to touch their feet and fiddle with them.
There are lots of guidelines to teaching your dog how to “shake” online, but not so many for “settle.” To begin working on “settle,” lure your dog into a down position, and then carefully lure your dog over onto their side. Click and treat, or simply reward. Continue until you can lure your dog all the way over on their side or back comfortably, and then work on extending the duration. Alternately, you can simply flip your dog over between your legs and rub their belly and offer cookies. The only important thing is that your dog be comfortable and not stressed by this position. How you get there is really up to you and your Service Dog.
Spend a minute or two playing with all of your dog’s feet, treating often. You’re treating not just for your dog allowing you to mess with their feet, but also for remaining calm and relaxed while on their back or side.
Next, grab the first boot and slide it onto one of your dog’s front feet. Give tons of cookies while you’re doing this, and tighten the strap on the boot. You need to make sure it’s secure and will stay in place. Give cookies, cookies, cookies throughout this process. Repeat with the other front foot, and then spend a couple minutes rubbing your dog’s belly. Continue treating and softly praising your dog. Don’t get too excited, or your Service Dog will want to get up.
For some dogs, two boots to start with is more than enough. For others, they can handle all 4. It’s up to you, and how your partner reacts. If they’re comfortable, continue. If not, skip the next few parts.
The easiest way to put the boots on your Service Dog’s back feet is to hold the boot in the hand opposite the foot (so if you’re putting the boot on the left side, hold the boot in your right hand) and reach across your dog’s body while holding the foot stable with the same-side hand.
Finally, put the last boot on in the same way you did the first back foot – reach across your dog’s body, secure the leg, slide the boot on, tighten the straps. Now you’ve got a fully booted dog! Keep your dog on their back or side between your legs, still offering cookies and belly rubs. Talk gentle to them, and once you’re certain your dog is relaxed, release your Service Dog.
Expect some hilarity – your dog is going to forget how their feet work, and they may act like their legs are broken. Toss a handful of kibble or treats around the area so they can run around sniffing and picking it up, and thus re-learn how their legs work. This might take a couple of rounds, but once your dog is moving confidently and without issues, call them back to you and begin working on some basic obedience or tricks that your Service Dog knows really well. Both activities help your dog to figure out how to move with the boots on, and help them to understand that there’s really nothing special going on here.
Continue working with your dog until you’re both comfortable, and then remove the boots. Place the boots on during your dog’s meals for the next several weeks, and during particularly fun events, and before you know it, they’ll be wearing boots like a pro!
One final thing – if your boot “flips over,” (See gallery for examples) the boot is either too big, or you didn’t tighten it enough. This is especially common on back feet, because, strangely enough, dogs often have different sized back and front feet. Always measure all of your dog’s feet before buying their boots.