We get puppies and dogs because we want to spend our time, to share our lives with another living being. For some, the best part about owning a dog is coming home and having them be so happy to see them and be so eager just to cuddle.
For other people, the best part of a puppy is going out and doing things with them, such as hiking or biking.
However, while there are many ways in which we want to spend time with our puppies and dogs, sometimes they do things that disrupt what we see as good times.
For example, when your puppy is excited to see you walk into a room or just as you’re playing a good game of fetch with them, you may find your puppy starting to nip at, bite, or otherwise attack your feet.
If that’s happened to you, then you’re not alone. The following is a look at what it means when a puppy attacks your feet, why they do it, and some good strategies to teach them to stop.
Puppy Play or Something Serious?
If you’ve ever been around a baby or toddler, then you probably have noticed how fascinated they can be with putting things in their mouth. From pacifiers to grabbing toys from the ground and sticking them in their mouths.
While this can be dangerous if they put the wrong thing in their mouths, in general, this is seen as normal behavior as it’s during this time that the baby or toddler is exploring their environment. A very similar thing happens with young puppies.
When a puppy is young, they are going to be mouthy and just about every puppy you meet is going to find that they are highly attracted to something that’s very close to their eye-level — your feet and ankles.
So if your pet is attacking your feet, the first thing to consider is whether they are doing so out of normal behavior or if there is some troubling signs of aggression.
Puppies that are under six months old will mouth, nip, and even outright bite your feet. This is considered a normal part of development, but just because it’s normal for your puppy to do this, it doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.
If you have a young puppy, then what you are apt to see is nipping or attacking only when they’re excited and your goal will be twofold: To teach them to redirect that excitement and to teach them what’s called bite inhibition which will prevent them from causing you or anyone else pain.
However, if you have an older puppy or an older dog that is attacking your feet, the feet of someone else in your household, or a stranger and they do so as they are growling or pulling back their lips, then you may be dealing with an aggression issue. Aggressive behavior like this is something that you want to work on with a professional dog behaviorist as soon as you can.
If You Have a Herding Breed Puppy, Be Prepared for More Work
There is also a third option, you have a puppy or a dog that is a herding breed. Where most puppies and dogs mouth feet and ankles because they’re busy exploring the world around them, herding breeds mouth and nip ankles and feet because that is what they were bred to do.
Herding breeds like border collies, Australian shepherds, and corgis (yes, corgis are a type of herding dogs) were bred for thousands of generations to nip at the ankles of cows and sheep in order to move them in a desired direction.
What this means is that breeders and livestock owners would choose only those herding dogs that performed the best in the field to breed with the aim of getting puppies that would have a stronger instinct to perform the same way.
This type of breeding for a selective behavior is effective, especially when done down multiple generations and so today’s herding breed dogs, including mixed breed herding dogs, will still carry over that strong instinct to attack feet and ankles even if they’ve never seen a cow or sheep.
If you have a herding breed dog, one of the best things you can do is start bite inhibition and redirection training early to prevent this type of ankle nipping from becoming even more of an ingrained habit.
While some herding puppies will take to training well, many will struggle and it can be helpful to contact a professional trainer or dog behaviorist for help.
How Teaching Bite Inhibition Can Stop Your Puppy From Hurting You and Others
First off, it is a good idea to avoid encouraging your dog to ever mouth or bite you. This means not using your hands to play fight with their mouths and asking others to avoid rough-housing with your puppy in this manner.
There are so many other ways to play with your pup that will keep both of you guys happy and avoid exacerbating bad habits. For example, teach your dog fetch, hide and seek, or tug of war.
All of these are fantastic games that will strengthen your bond with your puppy and do so in a manner that won’t teach them that it’s okay to mouth, nip, and outright bite hands and feet.
The next step is teaching what we call bite inhibiting. Bite inhibition is when a dog understands not to apply too much pressure with their teeth when playing.
If you’ve ever watched dogs play, then you’ve witnessed how much they use their teeth to snap, bite, and grab at other dogs. The reason the other dogs playing aren’t crying in pain is because each dog understands bite inhibition, which is that they know not to apply heavy pressure that would cause pain.
Generally, it is the momma dog that teaches the puppies bite inhibition and it is in young puppy play that puppies practice bite inhibition against each other. But this doesn’t always happen.
Some momma dogs aren’t that good at teaching and other times puppies are removed from their litter before they get a chance to really learn bite inhibition. The good news is that you can teach it to them.
To teach bite inhibition, what you’re going to do is teach your dog that biting too hard means that play is over. When your puppy nips or otherwise attacks your feet, give a high pitched “ouch” noise and leave the room.
By doing so, you are demonstrating that bite was too hard and you aren’t willing to play if that continues. This is the exact same behavior you will witness puppies and dogs exhibit to each other at the dog park and other play areas.
If this doesn’t completely stop the attacking, then the next step is to work on redirection. Redirection can be an especially effective method for herding breeds and mixed breeds that act as though they are hard-wired to attack feet.
With this training technique, what you’re going to do is choose a toy your puppy loves and have it near you when you play. When your puppy starts attacking your feet, move the toy in front of their mouth and encourage them to grab hold and attack this.
Remember to Always Reward Good Behavior
With both bite inhibition and redirection, you should always remember to include plenty of positive praise when your puppy or dog succeeds.
This means if you do the ‘ow’ and move away and the next time he comes up to you without attacking your feet, praise and give him treats or another high-value reward.
If you are choosing to redirect and your puppy goes on their own for the designated redirect toy instead of your feet, praise them! Sometimes, puppies and dogs will attack feet because they want attention.
Well, by giving them praise before they get into this mindset, you preempt them and thereby encourage better habits that both of you will appreciate.