If your dog is chewing his own feet, assuming that he’s not doing it compulsively (i.e. to the point of bringing blood), that’s probably not something that you have to worry about. Dogs frequently nibble a bit at their toes, almost absent-mindedly, in the same way that humans bite their nails. It’s a self-soothing mechanism.
Dogs often lick at their feet, too, and for the same reason – they find it soothing. Again, this is not a problem.
If you have a dog who likes to lick your feet, again, you probably don’t have anything to be concerned about. This could also be behavior that your dog finds soothing, or it could be that he’s “grooming” you – after all, he likes being petted and brushed, so he’s trying to do the same thing for you.
Another reason why your dog might lick your feet is that he likes the salty taste of your sweat. Again, this isn’t cause for concern.
But what if your dog is chewing your feet?
I’m thinking that you don’t exactly view that as affectionate, grooming behavior, and you’d probably like it to stop.
Back in the Day…
When Leroy was a puppy, he was an absolute demon of a dog for chewing at my feet! In fact, as I told you in How to Stop Nipping Before It Turns Into Biting, there were times when it was getting to the point where I was almost afraid of him. I hated feeling that way so I took steps early on to gently discourage the behavior.
When adult dogs are chewing your feet, though, that can be a much more serious problem. After all, an adult dog’s teeth are generally considerably bigger, and more likely to cause pain and injury during “mouthing” behavior. It’s also harder to suppress mouthiness in an adult dog, because the behavior is already well entrenched – most likely, if you’re dealing with a mouthy adult dog, it’s because the behavior wasn’t corrected when he was a puppy.
Also, with mouthy adult dogs, they’re not usually as sensitive to our reactions as they would be in the younger stages. A loud “yike!” on your part, for instance, will usually cause a puppy to react immediately, and stop biting. With an adult dog, it’s more likely to be seen as just another type of noise.
So, how can you stop an adult dog from chewing your feet?
First, you need to determine why your dog is doing it in the first place.
Is It Play, or Aggression?
Most of the time, mouthing is just typical dog behavior, and there’s no harm intended. Some dogs, however, will bite out of frustration or fear, and this is when you have a problem.
It’s not always easy to tell if you’re dealing with “play mouthing” or aggressive behavior, but usually the tip-off is to look at your dog’s overall demeanor. If he’s playing, his body will be relaxed, and so will his face. His muzzle might be pulled back a little, but he won’t be showing a whole lot in the way of teeth.
On the other hand, if your dog is chewing your feet as a precursor to aggression, his demeanor and expression will be quite different. His body will be stiff and tense, and his muzzle will be “wrinkled up,” perhaps even to the point where he’s baring his teeth at you. He’ll also be snapping quickly as opposed to simply taking hold of your foot and chewing.
Now, I have to tell you that if your dog’s behavior has gotten to the point where his body language is screaming “aggression,” you’re probably already out of your league with this issue. Something has gone wrong in the dog’s early training – and usually, what’s wrong is quite simply that you didn’t train in the first place.
I’m not here to bust your chops over that.
However, you are going to have to get back to square one, and if your dog has lost respect for you to the point where he’s chewing on your feet, you might want to bring in a third party. There’s no shame in saying, “Okay, I got it wrong, and now I need a professional trainer.”
The only shame would be in not acknowledging that there is a problem, and allowing the behavior to continue. If you do that, then don’t think for a minute that your dog is going to stop with just gnawing on you. He’s going to carry the behavior over onto everyone he comes into contact with – your mom, your kids’ friends, the letter carrier – you get the idea.
If you’re a confident person who’s just let things slide, you might be able to pull the fat out of the fire on your own, though. So, keep reading to learn how to stop your dog from chewing your feet, and those of other people who might not exactly find the behavior all that endearing.
Dogs are basically curious creatures – there’s nothing that they don’t want to play with and investigate. When they’re puppies, it can be pretty cute – they suck and nibble on our fingers, and fall asleep with their toys in their mouths, and just want to kiss us to death!
It stops being cute, though, when the adult teeth start to come in. Bad enough those needle-sharp milk teeth, but when you’re dealing with an adult dog that has a significant amount of jaw pressure, the “cuteness factor” goes right out the window.
So, you need to teach your dog to control his natural tendency toward mouthiness.
Teaching Bite Inhibition
Ideally, with proper training and positive reinforcement, you’ll be able to get your dog to the point where he won’t use his mouth on people at all. The first step toward this, though, is not to curb the mouthiness completely, but to teach your dog that people can be pretty sensitive, so if he’s going to use his mouth when playing, he has to be gentle.
Bite inhibition is simply training your dog to control the force of his bite. If you can teach your dog at a young age that it hurts humans when he bites too hard, you’ll be taking the first step to teaching him not to bite at all – even in situations where biting would be a natural response, like when someone hurts him, or he’s frightened.
Dogs usually learn bite inhibition in the litter, and you can teach bite inhibition by doing the same thing that your dog’s littermates would have done.
If you’ve ever observed a litter of young puppies, you’ve probably seen them tumbling all over one another, nipping, tugging on ears and tails, and generally rough-housing. When things get too intense, you can bet that a puppy that’s been on the receiving end of a sharp bite will let out a loud yelp.
You should do the same. Let your dog mouth at your hands or feet, but if things get too intense, let out a yelp, and then pull back. Stop the play. Your dog will probably sit back and look at you, and wait for your next move.
Then, you can continue the play. If it gets too rough again, rinse and repeat.
The point I’m getting at here is that even if your dog didn’t learn bite inhibition in the litter (maybe he was taken from the mother and the other puppies too soon), he can still learn it from you.
If yelping doesn’t seem to get the message across, try adding a time-out. This usually works better with adult dogs. If he bites too hard, yelp and take your hand away. Then, ignore him.
Your dog will probably try to grab your hand or feet again, and when he does, turn away from him. Leave the room and close the door. Wait about 20 seconds, and then go back in and engage him in play again.
What you’re trying to teach your dog here is that if he bites too hard, the play stops. But it won’t stop forever – you’ll come back, and he’ll have another chance to be good.
Now, once your dog has “dialed it back” a bit, repeat the sequence, but this time, expect him to bite at an even lower intensity. Your ultimate goal is to get him to the point where he bites with very little (or even no) pressure.
Stopping Chewing Completely
Personally, I don’t mind it when my dogs take hold of my hands or feet, provided that it doesn’t hurt. As long as there’s no aggression intended, I don’t really see the need to stop this kind of play. However, if it bothers you, and you’d prefer to eliminate the problem of your dog chewing your feet or your hands entirely, it can be done.
What you need to do is simply offer your dog something that is more desirable than your feet or hands. So, when he grabs at you, tell him “No,” gently but firmly, and hold out a treat. It’s pretty much a given that he’ll quickly lose interest in human flesh, and take the treat.
Then pet him and tell him what a good, wonderful boy he is.
Also, encourage non-contact activities. These would be games that don’t involve your hands and feet. Throw a ball, for instance. Or, if your dog is very mouthy, try offering his favorite “tug toy” as a substitute for human flesh. When he grabs your feet or hands, offer the tug toy.
You could also try using aversion products, otherwise known as “taste deterrents.” You can find taste deterrents in most pet stores – they’re not harmful to your dog, but will taste horrible. You could think of these as the canine equivalent of those horrible substances humans paint on their fingernails to discourage biting.
Usually, a taste deterrent comes in spray form. You can spray it on your clothes and shoes. It works best combined with positive reinforcement, so if your dog is chewing your feet, gets a bad taste and backs off, tell him, “Good boy!” and give him a treat.
After a couple of weeks of being punished (by the bad taste, not by you) when he chews, and rewarded with a treat when he stops chewing, your dog will get the idea that no good will come from chewing, but something pretty cool could happen if he doesn’t chew.
If this doesn’t work (and with some very persistent dogs, it might not), you could switch over to negative reinforcement. What this means is doing something that your dog will find very unpleasant if he continues with his mouthiness.
This should be a last resort. To use an analogy, let’s go back to the bitter-tasting substance that people paint on their nails to discourage biting.
My Mom painted my nails with a product called “Stop-Bite” when I was a kid. It worked for a while to curb my nail biting, but eventually, I found that the gratification I gained from biting my nails was more powerful than the nasty taste of “Stop-Bite.”
My Mom had a great solution – she hauled out the hammer that my Dad used when he was working in the coal mine, and slammed it down on my hand, and said, “Stop-Bite don’t work? Well, this’ll learn ya!”
Okay, I’m making that up.
But if she had done that, I’m thinking I would have stopped biting my nails pretty speedily.
Oh, and just in case you’re not clear on this, I’m not recommending that you use the method my Mom didn’t use on me on your dog.
There are, however, products that you can use to direct your dog away from chewing. Peppermint breath spray is one great deterrent – most dogs hate peppermint. So, when your dog chews your feet or hands, shoot some peppermint spray right into his mouth. He’ll hate the taste, and the sensation, and will probably stop gnawing on you very quickly.
Keep in mind though, that this is a punitive method, and should only be used as a last resort. Positive reinforcement is always the better course of action.
Also, if your dog is aggressive in other ways, don’t try this. Unless you’re fully confident that you’re the alpha in the relationship with your dog, you could be playing with fire, and could be about to discover one of the better ways to get yourself bitten.
For that matter, if it’s gotten to that point, I think it’s time to bring in a pro – you’re in deep water, and you need help getting out. Again, there’s no shame in admitting that you have a situation you can’t handle.
Proceed with Kindness
I can’t stress enough that with any behavior problem you have with your dog, aggression is not the answer. I know that with Leroy, when he was grabbing my feet, there were times when I wanted nothing more than to whack him one. I didn’t do it, though, because I knew it would be counterproductive, and possibly even aggravate the problem.
Sometimes, I thought about just not playing with him. That would have been the easy way out, but it would have deprived both of us of valuable bonding time. I didn’t want to make Leroy think that I didn’t want to play with him – I just wanted him to play gently with me. So, I worked with him.
I’m not saying that we solved our issue overnight – we didn’t. But finally, we got to the point where we were comfortable with each other, and I knew that my feet were safe.
The Final Word
If you have a mouthy dog, you can correct the problem with patience and positive reinforcement. You’ll never correct it with punishment. So, consider what’s causing the issue. If it’s simply playful behavior, that can be easily corrected by finding other ways to play. If it’s aggression, you might need professional assistance. Either way, know that this is not an insurmountable issue, and with love and persistence, it can be overcome.