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My Dog Keeps Biting My Feet When I Walk

 
By Matthew Nesbitt, Journalist specialized in animal research. March 26, 2020
My Dog Keeps Biting My Feet When I Walk

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A dog biting our feet is something we hope will stop when they are a puppy. It is a very common occurrence when the dog is young. Even though nipping at our feet while we walk can provide a tripping hazard, there are important reasons why they bite like this. Most dogs will be educated to stop doing this as they develop, but it is possible some adult dogs will continue this behavior.

If you see that your dog keeps biting your feet when you walk, you may be both frustrated and worried. The habit can be annoying to us, but also poses a safety risk for both ourselves and our dog. For the elderly and living with mobility issues, it is particularly worrying. This is why AnimalWised looks at the reasons why dogs bite people's feet and how we can stop it.

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My puppy bites my feet when I walk past

A dog's biting habits are important for various reasons when they are younger. Once puppies are able to walk and see, they start to bite and play with others in the litter. It is natural and healthy instinct which has a lot to do with how they would behave in the wild.

Since dogs which are not raised in a human household don't have to fend for themselves, this behavior helps them to become predators. It also helps them to compete for other resources, find a mate and defend themselves against predators.

To a puppy, our feet will resemble a small animal. The laces could mimic a tail and the fact they are close to the ground make them seem like they would be good to practice on. A puppy will often bite our feet because it sets off their instinct, stalking and chasing our feet as if they were a littermate or prey animal. Long laces, baggy pants or other material can be extra enticing to a puppy, similar to certain chew toys they might have.

While these behaviors are very important in the wild they are not as important in the domestic environment. In fact, they can be very problematic. If a puppy bites our feet to practise their skills, they may do the same to an infant or another vulnerable person. They can cause injuries as a tripping hazard and biting inappropriately can foster destructive behavior.

Another reason a puppy will bite your feet is because they use their mouths to explore. We humans use our dexterous hands to explore our environment, but dogs do not have this ability. Instead, they use their mouths to search for food, examine material and look for dangers. By biting our feet when we walk, the puppy is extending this exploratory behavior.

Puppies may also keep biting our feet due to a lack of stimulation. All puppies will need to release energy and hone their skills. If they are not sufficiently physically and mentally stimulated, they might bite our feet out of frustration. Just as they may rip up a slipper or gnaw on a teether, biting our feet is a way to relieve their frustration since they do not have healthier channels to release it.

My Dog Keeps Biting My Feet When I Walk - My puppy bites my feet when I walk past

My adult dog bites my feet when I walk

While we will be able to tolerate a certain amount of biting and nipping in puppies, we cannot do the same in adult dogs. When not directed properly, biting can be destructive and dangerous. This does not mean does will not bite at all. It is still an important part of their communication. For example, it is fine if a dog chews their bone or teether, but not our shoes or people.

An important part of biting behavior in dogs is something called bite inhibition (or sometimes ‘soft mouth’). This is a vital aspect of the dog's education and development. Before a dog learns bite inhibition, they may bite down on a person and not realize they will cause them harm. They should learn that when they put their mouth on someone, they shouldn't cause any harm. Most dogs will learn bite inhibition from their littermates.

When a dog bites inappropriately as an adult, including when they bite our feet as we walk, it is likely due to poor education. If a dog has not been socialized properly, they are unable to channel their natural instincts in a healthy way. They may only be trying to get attention or to play, but their actions can have negative consequences.

However, it is also possible that lifestyle impacts on the dog's behavior. For example, a dog which is not sufficiently mentally stimulated might bite our feet out of boredom and frustration. If an adult dog starts developing this unwanted behavior all of a sudden, this is possibly the reason.

Other factors may influence biting behavior in a dog. While socialization and education is the most important factors, some dogs may be more prone to biting issues due to genetics and history[1]. If you cannot work out the underlying reason why your dog keeps biting your feet when you walk, you will need to seek professional advice from a canine ethologist.

How to stop a dog biting your feet

Once you have understood the reason why your dog bites your feet, there are some ways to stop this unwanted behavior. Here we will detail the best course of action for both puppy and adult dogs:

Provide more exercise

If a dog is biting inappropriately due to boredom, you will need to ensure they have enough exercise. Taking them for sufficient walks and more strenuous exercise when needed will help them to remain balanced. Walking and exercise will help a dog exercise their natural instincts and get rid of excess energy which may lead to biting feet.

Basic obedience

If you have a dog which keeps biting feet, they may not have been sufficiently trained. In these cases, we will need to either establish basic obedience training or refresh what they have learned previously. By teaching them to sit and stay on command, you can use these commands if they start to bite your feet.

It is very important that we do not scold or hit the dog when they start to bite feet. The reason is because negative reinforcement is not very effective and it can cause trauma in the animal. The use of negative reinforcement may be a contributing factor to foot biting in the first place. Use positive reinforcement in the form of giving treats and affection.

Inhibit movement

Keep your feet still when your dog launches at them. Since your dog may look at them as a toy or prey replacement, moving them around can encourage them. This is because they believe you are responding to the play they have initiated.

During the time you are trying to prevent the dog from biting your feet, we also recommend not wearing baggy clothes or loose laces. This is inviting to them and encourages the behavior. Even trying to remove your feet or shoes can make the dog think you are playing. By remaining still we can help them know it is not time for play.

My Dog Keeps Biting My Feet When I Walk - How to stop a dog biting your feet

Remove your attention

This point is of vital importance. A dog needs to turn around any bad education they have previously received. Since they may be biting you to get your attention and play, not giving them any attention will help them to release you.

However, it is possible that ignoring a dog which is biting your feet means they will bite harder. In these cases, we should still ignore them unless they pose a physical danger to you. We need to be sure we can distinguish between a dog trying to engage with us and one who is being aggressive.

Offer an alternative

Lastly, since your dog may be attacking your feet because they want to play, you can give them an alternative. By providing a toy or teether for them to bite, you can redirect their enthusiasm somewhere more helpful. Since the biting is part of their nature, we should not be stopping it completely.

Intelligence games should also be used in conjunction with training to stop a dog biting your feet. These games not only provide a distraction whenever they are trying to bite you, but they help improve their cognitive ability. This can treat the underlying reason for the dog biting in the first place.

When the dog does let go and stop biting your feet, then you can reassure them with positivity. You will need to stop again if they think this is encouraging play. If you are unable to stop the dog from biting your feet, you will need to see a canine educator or ethologist who will be able to expertly asses the situation and provide more practical help to stop this behavior.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Keeps Biting My Feet When I Walk, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

References

1. Essig Jr., G. F., et al. (2019). Dog bite injuries to the face: Is there risk with breed ownership? A systematic review with meta-analysis. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 117(A1-A2), 182-188.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165587618305950?via%3Dihub

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