Why Do Dogs Wipe Their Feet?

Puppy Jumping in Garden

Why do Dogs Wipe Their Feet?

Have you ever seen your dog wipe its hind feet on the grass? Usually, dogs do this after defecating or urinating, and it seems an absurd behavior. However, there are many natural reasons your dog wipes its feet after going to the toilet. You may even be surprised to learn that you can observe your dog’s health through this action.

Dogs of every variety, from domesticated miniature poodles to wild Alaskan wolves have a strong hierarchical system. They must establish which dog is the Alpha, or leader of the pack, which dog is the omega, the bottom of the pack, and every position in between. You might assume that size and breed have something to do with how dominance structures are arranged between dogs, but research has shown this not to be strictly true.In fact, dominance behaviours in dogs often surprise their owners. All too frequently, the smallest dog in a multidog home gains the top pack position, and people observing this oddness are left scratching their heads. If you’ve seen this happen you might wonder why the bigger dog doesn’t exert its size and muscle to gain priority over the smaller dog. The reason, scientists have discovered, is as odd as the behaviour.

Dogs scratch at the ground after squatting in order to spread their scent markers. If you’ve been the owner of a single dog for many years, you may have noticed that your dog began to scratch the ground less often as time progressed. This doesn’t mean your dog is getting lazy about staying clean, because it’s a misconception to see paw wiping or scratching as a cleaning behaviour.

In the opposite scenario, if you’ve recently adopted a second or third dog, you may notice your first dog suddenly scratching the ground as if it’s trying to dig to the earth’s core. Again, your dog isn’t trying to get extra clean to make a good first impression on the new company. The scratching behaviour is all about building a pecking order—who’s at the top and who’s at the bottom.

So, you’ve noticed the smallest dog in the home is the one who lords over the other dogs. You’ve noticed that the smallest dog is also the one that scratches the most after defecating or urinating. You’ve seen the little one follow the bigger ones around the yard, sure to pee on the same spot as the bigger dogs every time after the bigger dogs have peed. You’ve witnessed the not-so-subtle pecking order being established.

Not muscle, not size, not even aggression sets up the pecking order in a dog pack (if you own more than one dog, you have a pack). Scent dominance creates the pecking order, and the dog who most aggressively scent marks its territory is the alpha. Of course, if the smaller dog is forced to fight, it can loose its dominance by being beaten by a larger dog, and fighting does determine rolls, but when in peace, if dogs aren’t aggressive, their scent markers prevail.

Now, as a final note, if you’ve noticed your dog scratching the ground less, and its always been a heavy scratcher, this can be a sign that the dog is having health problems. Commonly arthritis leads to less scratching behaviour. If you observe your dog scratching less, check its feet, legs and joints. If it whimpers or retracts its leg away from you while you check, you may want to visit the vet. An arthritic dog leads a difficult life, and many inexpensive medications can restore joy to the canine’s life.