Why Does My Dog Bite My Ankles When I Walk?

why does my dog bite my ankles when i walk

When we first got our Frenchie, I wasn’t prepared for just how much puppies like to bite ankles. To say we had an ankle biter would be an understatement! The period of nipping at my ankles, feet, shoes, and shoelaces lasted until he was about 9 months old – thankfully he grew out of it.

This won’t be always be the case though with all puppies, as some feet and ankle biting dogs are problematic even past the puppy phase. I’ve will address how you can stop this in another guide, but if you’re just wondering why my dog bites my ankles when I walk, here’s the short answer followed by a more in-depth response.

Why does my dog bite my ankles? Dogs and puppies will nip and bite at your ankles and feet when you walk predominantly due to an ancestral trait where dogs were herders and guarders of animals. An ankle biting dog does this to emulate this ingrained behavior to assert authority but is also seen in teething puppies too.

Why do dogs bite ankles when you walk?

There are more reasons why dogs and puppies bite ankles when you are walking past, so I’ve split them up into two sections; one for adult dogs, and one for puppies.

First up are possibilities for why your dog nips at people’s ankles, the puppy section is lower down the page.

1. It’s in their DNA as herders

Whilst some dog breeds have more herding instincts in them than others, almost all dogs have an element of this behavior in them. Herding has a practical purpose for those dogs in an agricultural working environment, but the instincts can still happen at home!

All it takes is for your dog to see movement past, and he might have the temptation to bite at your ankles. It’s hardwired and triggered by your walking movement and isn’t always a symptom of bad behavior or aggression.

That doesn’t mean your dog things you a sheep, far from it. Dogs bite ankles and feet simply because it’s in their DNA to do so and is a natural reaction.

why do herding dogs bite ankles
Herding dogs will bite at ankles, and you will even see this in puppies.

2. Anxiety and fear

But it’s not always an instinctive or hereditary trait. Dogs can also bite people’s ankles when they walk out of anxiety and fear, which then manifests itself as an aggressive action.

In the majority of cases, a dog nipping at your ankles is perfectly normal, e.g. in their DNA. But what can be more problematic behavior is when they are not mouthing at your feet and ankles, but instead biting – and it’s not always that easy to ascertain the difference.

One way you can figure it out is your dog’s body language when your ankles and feet are bitten. For example, a playful nip or mouth action will be done by a dog with a more relaxed face, no hackles, and no stiffness in the body.

Aggressive ankle biting on the other hand will be accompanied by a dog who is exposing his teeth and gums, possibly wrinkled muzzle, and a more painful bite versus a harmful ankle nip.

3. Lack of stimulation

When a dog bites your ankles it can also mean they are lacking something in their lives, be it mental stimulation or exercise.

This make sense to me. If a dog is cooped up all day with no toys, play, or walk, then a pair of ankles walking past could make for an appealing game to alleviate the boredom.

Handy Hint: Have you ever wondered why dogs nip each others ears when playing? Here’s all you need to know about the ear biting game.

4. Lack of training

Adult dogs will often grow out of ankle biting, ours did. However, if they are still doing it as adults it’s almost always down to a lack of training and preventative action during their formative months.

I found it relatively easy to eventually get my puppy change his behavior with some of my own body language, stop commands, and treat based rewards. I also found that puppy socialization classes helped, as did finding alternative ways he could channel his natural instincts.

Handy Hint: You will often see dogs biting at the neck of another dog, and there’s a good reason why they do this.

Why do puppies bite ankles when you walk?

Puppies love to bite your ankles when you walk past. Even more so if you have a trailing shoelace – if you do, be prepared for your feet, ankles, and shoes to be attacked!

Whilst it can be fun for a little while, over time it can become very frustrating and problematic, particularly if you have young children or elderly relations who could fall over when their feet are nipped at. The bottom line is, you should not let your puppy bite you as it will lead to longer term bad behavior.

why does my dog bite my ankles
Dogs and puppies can nip and bite at your ankles and feet, but it can become problematic if not trained out of them.

Here’s why puppies are ankle and feet biters in addition to the reasons already explained.

1. Investigative behavior

Young dogs use their mouths to investigate the wide world around them. You see similar behavior in human babies where the put objects into their mouth to figure things out, including whether it’s something they can eat!

Puppies don’t have the advantage of being able to use hands and fingers to explore their environment, so everything goes to their mouth, including your ankles and feet. When puppies bite your ankles as you walk past, it’s just an example of them figuring out the wider world around them.

Also, once puppies are able to stand up and walk around, they will start to play with their siblings. A lot of this play is done by biting and nipping, and they will extend this behavior to their human owners too.

Handy Hint: My dog used to also bite the leash before we went for walks. Here’s how I stopped him from the leash biting.

2. Play and fun

All puppies want to do is eat and have fun… and your feet and ankles are the perfect combination to hone those hunting skills too!

As you walk past a puppy, possibly with a trailing shoelace that looks like a mouse tail, who can blame them for wanting to chase and nip at your ankles? Your feet and ankles make for great target practice.

why does my dog nip at peoples ankles
Our puppy was fascinated by shoelaces. He soon progressed onto ankle biting!

When our dog Claude was younger, I actively encouraged them game, but this was a mistake. It can be cute but as the puppy grows older and teeth get bigger, it’s not so fun.

3. Teething

Most puppies stop teething by the time they reach 6 months old, and in this time anything they can bite, chew, or nip is fair game; including your ankles and feet!

So, the next time your puppy starts biting at your ankles as you walk, you could put it down to teething and re-direct him towards some chew toys – like this one below on Amazon!

Dog breeds most likely to bite your ankles

Given how we know that herding is a huge factor relating to ankle biting dogs, I decided to figure out which breeds are most inclined to exhibit the ankle nipping behavior. All I had to do was look up which dogs are herding breeds – it stands to reason they will do this more unless trained to not do so.

There’s a great list on the American Kennel Club website with all the herding breeds. They say that:

“The herding instinct in these breeds is so strong that Herding breeds have been known to gently herd their owners, especially the children of the family.

You can imagine that manifesting itself in ankle and feet biting, and here’s the list of breeds in full.

Australian Cattle DogBorder CollieMiniature American Shepherd
Australian ShepherdBouvier des FlandresNorwegian Buhund
Bearded CollieBriardOld English Sheepdog
BeauceronCanaan DogPembroke Welsh Corgi
Belgian LaekenoisCardigan Welsh CorgiPolish Lowland Sheepdog
Belgian MalinoisColliePuli
Belgian SheepdogEntlebucher Mountain DogPyrenean Shepherd
Belgian TervurenFinnish LapphundShetland Sheepdog
Bergamasco SheepdogGerman Shepherd DogSpanish Water Dog
Berger PicardIcelandic SheepdogSwedish Vallhund

Why do herding dogs bite ankles?

I wanted to find out a little more if I could about why herding dogs like to bite ankles so much. The bottom line is that it’s hard-wired into their DNA as I previously explained. You just need to look at how dogs herd animals to see this behavior.

It’s simply a case of your dog mimicking how they would herd livestock. But having said that, not all herding dogs were bred to nip at ankles. Check out this statement on the AKC.org website:

“The Border Collie is renowned for the ability to stare down sheep to control their movement. They might occasionally nip a stubborn sheep, but that’s not usually part of their repertoire. On the other hand, the Australian Cattle Dog is also known as the Blue Heeler because these dogs nip the heels of cattle as part of their herding strategy.”

So, even amongst the herding breeds there appears to be variation in how common ankle biting might be.

Watch herding dogs in action

Just check out how effective ankle nipping can be in this mesmerizing video of sheep being herded in New Zealand.

Conclusion

Puppies and dogs do lots of strange and annoying things that can only really be explained due to their ancestry. I’ve compiled a list of behaviors below which can all be traced back to when they were wild or more like wolves.

Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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