Why Does My Dog Bite My Ankles When I Walk?

By John Martin - May 3, 2021

Dog biting ankle when walking

It can be a bit of a situation when all you want to do is take your puppy out for a walk but they keep biting your ankles. It is not advised to ignore that behavior.

Sometimes it is just a little nip and sometimes it is properly painful biting. Wherever your puppy is in that spectrum, this behavior is not without a reason and there is a way to sort it out. Let’s figure that out, shall we?

What Causes Your Dog to Bite Your Ankles When You Walk?

To stop any unpleasant behavior, in animals or humans, we need to understand what is causing it not only because “prevention is the best cure” but also because more often than not, the ‘why it happens’ actually tells us the ‘how to fix it’. Here are five reasons why your dog is biting your ankles.

Dogs are Herders

Like Jessica Jones would say, “start from the beginning”.

Many breeds of dogs have herding instincts because of their ancestry. And even if not, this is a curious animal and is a bit of a herder no matter the breed.

That is because it has a practical purpose for some dogs and how these instincts are put to use is up to the pet parents. But when that does not happen, the instinct doesn’t just go away.

It’s like this. If there is no food at home, are you going to just stop being hungry?

Dogs with strong herding instincts tend to react to movements quickly. And when you take them for a walk, that is exactly what’s happening.

They are hardwired to react and your moving feet are triggering them. This turns into temptation and when it is not coveted (by you) it turns into a bad habit.

And if you don’t handle this with intelligence and by using logic, it can turn into needless aggression. But just because it is in their DNA doesn’t mean you have to quietly tolerate it.

Experts say that puppies from herding breeds need their attention to be redirected when this behavior begins. They need to have a task at hand because that is how they are hardwired.

Distractions are also useful and can come in many forms and can be outdoor playing to indoor activities. We will look at that in a minute.

They Are Bored

If your dog does not have herder parents or ancestors, you might be puzzled as to why this is happening. In that case, one possible explanation is that they are bored out of their wits.

Your dog’s mind is not being adequately stimulated. Either they don’t have enough toys or activities.

It has gotten to a point where literally a pair of ankles are so exciting to them that they can’t help but grab your legs with their sharpest teeth. In this case, it is very clear what you need to do.

But just in case you don’t, keep reading.

They Are Probing Something

Dogs, as we know, are curious souls. Almost nothing gets away from them and everything that they find is something to investigate.

It is a cute and rather useful trait and often, it is their mouth that guides them on this path. They are basically like babies, putting anything they find in their mouths.

But dogs are more helpless than babies because they cannot use their limbs the way humans do. So, everything and we do mean everything goes in the mouth.

It is possible that they are doing the same thing with your legs if you have a puppy. In some cases, they are curious about whatever is dangling off you, like the edge of a piece of clothing, maybe an anklet or a loose shoelace.

A lot of times, this behavior subsides when they are old enough to stand up and play with other dogs or the people in the house. What you should try to figure out is if this nipping is playful.

They are Anxious or Afraid

In case you don’t think they are enjoying themselves and it is not something they possibly inherited, it is time to take this ankle biting more seriously.

One of the reasons dogs bite your legs and ankles is that they are afraid of something and it is making them defensive. As is expected, that comes out in an aggressive fashion.

You will be able to tell if they are nervous. If they are not nipping lightly but biting you instead, that is them drawing your attention to whatever is scaring them.

It might be a little difficult to know this right away but it gets better with time, as you get to know your puppy well. Meanwhile, study their body language when they are biting you.

See if their face is relaxed and make sure their body is not stiff. When they are aggressive, dogs will expose their teeth and gums and also bite harder.

They Think It’s a Game

And if it is none of the above, it is possible that your dog thinks this is funny. If you think about it from their point of view, it is a pretty great game.

Think about it. If your dangling accessories are not something to play with, then what’s the point? This is probably how kids feel too.

Sometimes, food and fun are all a puppy cares about. When they are small, your ankles are at the perfect height for them to bother you.

Almost anything can set this behavior off. And it’s really good target practice too.

Related: Why Do Dogs Drink Rainwater?

How to Stop Your Dog From Biting Your Ankles

While it can be adorable to watch your puppy curiously figure life out, this is not exactly a trait to be encouraged or avoided. Don’t worry. We’ll tell you a few ways to fix it.

Discourage the Move

One dog mouthing another gently is nothing to be worried about. But as mentioned above, if it goes into painful biting, you have something to take care of.

If it is another dog, you will know that they are hurt because they will yelp. And when your dog does the same with you, you can yelp too.

This often sends them a signal that they are hurting you. And if their biting is intended as a game, they will start to get the message.

Typically, it takes 15-20 seconds before they get it. So, be patient with them.

You can also develop a verbal command to get them to understand. This is an important part of training for puppies.

If they continue with the biting, you could try a timeout. The verbal command technique should be limited to three times every 15 minutes.

Get a Chew Toy

This is a simple solution. Your puppy likely already has a chew toy that is their favorite.

And you are in luck if it is an itty bitty thing that fits right into your pocket. Keep it with you whenever you are out.

When your dog starts nipping at your feet, give them the chew toy and distract them. Although, stop walking first so that they know something in the equation has changed.

You can continue walking once their focus shifts to the chew toy.

Stay Still

Speaking of stopping the walk, here’s something to think about. No matter what the reason for this behavior and how you choose to put an end to it, you need to start by stopping the walk then and there.

If you’re going to give your puppy a chew toy, you need them to notice and register it. If you’re going to give them a verbal command, you need them to stop attacking your feet before they listen to you.

The same is the case with a timeout and the next couple of solutions too. So, this is more of a step in all the behavior-changing solutions.

If you continue walking, some dogs take it as a sign of acceptance. This is particularly harmful if they think this is a game.

By not moving, you take away the excitement and gently force them to focus on something else. You’re not a tug toy and that must be taught.

Use a Taste Deterrent

Now come the creative solutions. Taste deterrents are a great way to discourage a lot of behaviors.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of those situations where a spray can do the trick. But instead of being random about it, notice where the dog has been biting and spray in that specific area of your body or clothes.

Once they taste the spicy or hot taste deterrent, your dog will stop. Remember to give them a treat or positive encouragement when they let go.

Taste deterrents usually take some time, say two weeks, to work. But once your dog has multiple bad experiences, they are likely to let it go.

But sometimes, it goes bad and the dog ends up liking it. So, make sure you notice their reaction.

Shaking their head, retching and drooling are all good signs.

Initiate No-Contact Play

And finally, there is the tough love option. When your dog is tugging at your ankles, the best way to deal with it is not to wrestle with it.

Your dog is not a bully who backs off when you stand up to them. Stop wrestling with your dog and try to initiate some no-contact games in their routine.

Fetch is an excellent solution if you take this route. Tug of war is another good one because it helps your dog deal with frustration.

Make sure the game is safe and establish some rules. You can also introduce some tug toys into the situation so that your dog is distracted.

Related: Why Does My Dog Walk in Circles Around Me?

Final Thoughts

Almost no one takes pleasure when their dog is getting aggressive with their teeth or just biting on your walking sweats. Thankfully, this is not a mystery that cannot be solved.

Instead, if you know exactly what is going on with the canine (and that’s not hard to figure out) you can come up with the perfect solution to make them stop in a matter of weeks, if not days.

Just remember that they are a being who is adjusting to your world and your way of life. Be kind and patient.