As nearly every dog owner will tell you, the only one who loves the daily dog walk more than the dog is the dog’s owner. Sure, sometimes it may feel like a nuisance, like during a rain shower or snowstorm, or on those mornings when you would rather sleep in, but your doggie is clear that he will not wait for you.
But usually, on even those days, once you begin your walk in the fresh outdoors, you quickly appreciate that quiet bonding time that you and your pet share.
It is not hard to see why. Walks in fresh air provide good exercise for both of you.
The air and activity have been shown to have a calming effect on both of you, and with the addition of pretty scenery from the neighbourhood or park, the scent of flowers and grass, and the chirping of birds, you have an all-around sensory experience.
Walking your dog can and should be an enjoyable activity that promotes good health and a strong bond between owner and pet.
All of those joys of pet ownership may go down the drain if you have a dog that nips at your heels as you walk. If you have never experienced this, you may be surprised to learn that it is actually quite common.
And if you do experience it, then read on to understand why your dog does this, and what you should do.
Related Reading: Why Your Dog Jumps On You While Walking
Reasons Dogs and Puppies Nip at Ankles During Walks
In order to address what to do with a dog who nips at your heels while walking, you must first understand why it is happening. There are 7 main reasons a dog or puppy may nip or bite at your ankles when you are walking him.
1. Instinct and Herding Mentality
Many dog breeds, especially those in the herding category, have retained the instinct that their ancestors started when they were used to herd sheep in agricultural settings.
Remember, other than toy breeds, most dogs used to serve a function, hence the term “working dog” Herding dogs would move sheep and cattle by nipping at their legs and ankles to get them to move.
No, your dog does not think you are a cow but rather is acting on instinct alone based on habits that are thousands of years old. Some common herding breeds are Australian Cattle Dog, Border Collie, Beauceron, Canaan Dog, Welsh Corgi, Collie, American Shepherd and Old English Sheepdog.
If you have a dog from a herding breed it is likely that the biting of heels is instinctual.
2. Exploring/Investigating with Their Mouths
Dogs often like to explore their surroundings with their mouths and snouts. Indeed, the scent is the most important guide for dogs, and when used with a mouth that can nip, a dog will use these two traits to explore his environment, including your ankles.
When your doggie nips at your heels in these instances, it is more to feel and sniff his way around as he seeks to understand his environment.
3. Lack of Stimulation
Some dogs nip their owner’s heels due to lack of appropriate stimulation. While a walk in the park or around the neighborhood should provide your pooch with stimulation, it could be boring if it is the same walk day after day, for example a short walk around the block that he knows very well.
In this case, the dog may tune out and get a little frustrated causing him to nip at your ankles.
4. Teething Pup
As anyone who has ever raised a puppy knows, the teething stage can be brutal as pups possess razor sharp teeth and as more teeth try to pop through their gums, they will seek comfort by biting into things to alleviate the pain, much like babies do.
5. Asserting Authority
Some dogs will attempt to assert their alpha dominance by nipping at your heels to let you know who is in charge. These dogs may feel fearful and to avoid being submissive, they will attempt to let you know they are not scared of you.
Similarly, if a dog is anxious, confused, or depressed, he may lash out by biting the hand that feeds him, or in this case, the heels.
7. Lack of Training
A dog who has not been trained well and who possesses bad manners may nip when she can, simply because, she can. Dogs who grew up in a kennel or with no training at all often exhibit antisocial behaviors such as this one.
8. Play Time
Finally, your fun-loving dog may be trying to tell you she wants to play and play rough. If you are accustomed to rough housing with your pet, often he will react back in kind, and this could be her way of telling you, it is on!
What to Do Once You Identify Why Your Dog is Nipping
Now that you have learned the various things that can cause your dog’s nipping behavior, you must identify which one applies in your situation.
The solution for changing the behavior depends on the cause. Once you identify the cause, here are the solutions.
Strategies to Change Dog Biting Feet During Walks
If your dog is nipping because she is in a herding breed, it is simply a matter or training her not to nip. To do this, use basic dog training strategies based on the use of positive reinforcement (like training treats) when she behaves properly and ignoring her when she nips.
If your pet is not trying to hurt you but rather is simply exploring her surroundings with her mouth and nose, then re-direct her when she nips. If your dog seems bored or lacks sufficient stimulation, try a walk in a different environment, take a long walk or mix up the walk by stopping to play with a ball or toy.
If she is simply untrained and lacks basic manners, then she will need positive reinforcement training to eliminate this behavior.
If you have a teething puppy, he will attempt to nip whatever he can to alleviate his pain. Always have a chew toy on hand and when the puppy nips, immediately place a teething toy in her mouth. She will learn that ankles are not for teething and that the toy is a great substitute.
In the case of a dog who is asserting authority by nipping at heels, this more aggressive type of behavior will require a more focused behavioral training approach and may warrant the assistance of a professional behavioral dog trainer. In this case the goal is to demonstrate to your dog that you are the alpha, not her.
Finally, if your dog is anxious, fearful, or frustrated, you will need to expose her to the exact environment that is making her stressed, but slowly. This is known as exposure therapy and may again require a professional.
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Walking Your Dog Should Be Pleasurable
One of the joys of owning a dog is the bonding between you and he on daily walks. Some of the other benefits of this daily ritual include exercise for both of you, stimulation, mental decompression, and enjoyment of the outdoors.
But if your pet has a bad habit of biting you when you walk, and it is a fairly common scenario, then that daily walk can turn into an annoying chore.
Luckily, this behavior is something you can usually correct, on your own. The first step to doing so is identifying the reason your dog is nipping. This can be from instinct, as herding breeds will nip like their ancestors did thousands of years ago to herd sheep.
It can also be from simple curiosity and using the snout and mouth to explore his surroundings. It can also be from a lack of stimulation or a lack of training. If your dog is a pup, its likely the reason for nipping is due to teething.
Your dog may also be trying to play with you and may have learned that playing roughly is ok. Finally, your dog may be trying to assert that he is the Alpha in the relationship.
Each of these scenarios requires a different response and solution to correct the behavior. Most will be fairly easy to correct using positive reinforcement, re-direction and replacing your ankles with a chew toy.
Some may be harder to correct, such as an Alpha dog tendency and a dog who is very fearful and anxious. Those scenarios may require a professional dog behaviorist.
In order to get to the business of enjoying your quality time with your dog, use these strategies to identify why your dog is nipping, and to correct the behavior. Once you do, you and doggie can look forward to walking and exploring together, with your ankles free of his nips.