Almost consistently, puppy owners will want help with puppy biting & nipping behaviour (including foot chasing) and toilet training. Although they will understandably have lots of concerns and questions, those top the polls.
Most puppies, by the time I see them, will show well established foot biting/chasing behaviour. But, this behaviour didn’t start in their new home; swinging out of conspecifics is a normal part of puppy-puppy and puppy-dog interactions. When they go home, that comes to an end so human feet become a clear favourite.
While this behaviour isn’t terribly concerning in terms of the dog becoming ‘aggressive’ as an adult, it’s irritating and possibly dangerous (in tripping someone up), plus might indicate puppy needs help with managing internal conflict and arousal.
No one tool alone is going to resolve this, or any other unwanted behaviour, but, rather, a variety of tools that are best applied in different contexts.
- STOP making it fun!
When you move, squeal and pull your foot back, this is likely to add to the fun puppy is having…you are basically acting like a dog toy…
Puppy is getting lots of jollies out of this – getting to bite, chew and rag your feet, shoes, slippers or trousers gives puppy an outlet for their excitement, providing relief from stress (feeling wound up) and soon this game becomes the source of fun in and of itself.
When puppy approaches, stop moving. Be boring.
While this might be most effective for puppies whose behaviour isn’t really well established, it also stops a seasoned-foot-biter getting any further pay off.
- Redirect their focus.
You’ve stopped moving. The little monkey is swinging out of your trouser leg or dressing gown strap. Now what?
Puppies are pretty easy to distract so make a fuss about something else.
Pretend to be embroiled in a very interesting imaginary task, complete with lots of ooohs and aaaahs, rustling of packaging, moving of items, tapping of surfaces.
Very often puppy will be enticed and wonder what you are up to.
Now you will be able to redirect puppy to a different activity by, for example, tossing some kibble onto the floor for searching, toss a treat or chew into another room, throw or wiggle their toy. Once they have moved away and forgotten about foot chasing, you can engage them in another activity that will keep them busy a little longer while also helping them calm such as a stuffed toy, a sniffing game or chewing.
- Provide them with an alternative outlet.
All behaviour serves a purpose, meaning the dog is doing behaviour to get something they need. A puppy biting, chewing and ragging on something, especially in a greeting or exciting situation, is seeking an outlet for their excitement.
They might not be quite sure how to cope with a greeting or the associated excitement so may be experience some internal conflict, not sure how to proceed.
Have a long toy, ready to wriggly on the floor, as soon as you come in the door so that puppy has something to rag on and tug. (Clip below)
Spend lots of time playing with puppies in short two minute sessions, practicing tug & thank you. A typical tug session should look like this (clip link):
This not only encourages play between human and puppy, but you are also teaching puppy to respond even when excited and helping puppy learn to regulate their own excitement, before things become too crazy and bitey.
- Change puppy’s expectations
Instead of expecting a big greeting and lots of foot chasing, help puppy’s expectations change to some other activity.
Practice coming in and out of confinement, in through a door or baby gate for example, presenting a different activity straight away. Puppy doesn’t even get to think about foot chasing. Toss food to move puppy away as soon as you enter and keep them sniffing and moving away as you move about. (Clip below)
- Play FOLLOW ME! games, a lot
Follow Me! teaches puppy to walk close to you for food rewards. It’s a simple game that must be practiced often, even outside foot-chasing contexts. Puppy learns that there are other ways to get and keep your attention.
It’s simple. Stroll about and each time puppy catches up with you or walks beside you, stop and feed a small food reward. Puppy can earn an entire meal during practice for this one.
Puppy learns that you moving about doesn’t need to involve chasing or biting your feet and by rewarding very regularly initially, puppy is prevented from even thinking about it. (Clip below)
This simple and fun exercise quickly establishes a really nice walking position for awesome loose leash walking and builds an excellent level of engagement. Lots of benefits to this one!
In this clip we practice Follow-Me! with Klaus. He happens to offer a sit behaviour that is rewarded and from then on, he offers an auto-sit each time the human stops moving. While this isn’t required, it’s a nice side-effect of puppy learning to human train. From Klaus’ point of view, he’s learning to get the human to produce food rewards – he just sits (and looks cute) – irresistible! (Clip below)
- teach LEAVE-IT! for feet or moving things
Help puppy learn that “leave it” means to reorient to their person, away from the moving thing, for a big pay-off.
Start by practicing in non-chasing scenarios and don’t make the moving thing too enticing to begin with. As soon as puppy looks toward it, say “leave it” and immediately offer a great reward. (Clip below)
You can work on mop chasing in the same way too, and apply ‘leave it’ with a toy to foot chasing. (Clip below)
Foot chasing and biting isn’t confined just to puppies; lots of adolescent dogs will do it too, often when greeting or going out for a walk. The excitement is more than their teenage brains are able for and biting is a neat way for them to channel that.
This usually is an initial response to getting out into the world, and soon dies down as the dog finds other forms of entertainment.
Use sniffing stations to get out the door – drop a few food rewards every couple of steps until you can get to an area where you can encourage your dog to sniff or engage in other activities.
Similarly, you could use a tug toy or other toy that the dog can carry or bite on. This can also help to redirect them from leash biting, which might be seen at the beginning of walks too.
Play the Go Find It! game on walks or in areas where the dog might redirect their excitement to biting or mouthing. This simple game can help to improve loose leash walking and engagement, while changing their motivations and helping to provide them with an outlet for their excitement.