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Why Do Puppies Attack Your Feet?

Puppies attack your feet for a simple reason: feet are fun! In order to better understand this behavior, it's necessary to put oneself into a puppy's "feet" ehm... "shoes." When puppies leave the litter, they are left with no playmates to play with and feet feature some distinct characteristics that make them particularly appealing.

Puppies attack feet, that's true, but it's also true that puppies attack anything that moves. While puppies are just trying to have fun when they attack feet, on the other hand, humans walking around with a crocodile attached to their leg, are  instead very desperate in trying to discourage the behavior. 

Let's face it: puppy teeth are very sharp! And when puppies attack feet with a wild look in their eyes as they growl, they can even be a tad bit intimidating. So why do puppies attack feet, and most of all, what can be done about it?

Puppies play a lot and often roughly when in the litter. 

Puppies play a lot and often roughly when in the litter. 

A Strong Urge to Play

When you open up your home to a new puppy, you likely envision a furry little bundle of joy who follows you around and keeps you entertained by chasing butterflies and rolls of toilet paper. That's what you may see in movies though. Reality is a whole different story.

 If you find yourself sharing your home with a "puppy monster" who engages in obnoxious behaviors and appears to be on a mission to eat you, bit-by-bit, rest assured you are not alone. Countless puppy owners endure this.

And when your socks look like Swiss cheese and you're considering wearing high boots just to protect your skin (and your sanity!) from your pup,  you know that you are officially going through"Crocopup phase."

You see, when puppies are brought into their new homes, puppy owners are missing out on a whole chapter of the pup's previous life. They are not aware of what the pups were doing when they were with their littermates and mom. Breeders know this all too well though. Here's just a little recap.

 By the age of two weeks, puppies are starting to explore the world and try to stand, albeit still being a bit wobbly. By three weeks, they are getting more and more agile and are likely trying to escape their whelping box. By four weeks, all puppies are actively walking and playing-and often driving their breeders nuts.

Now, puppies don't play with dolls or play-doh like children do. Instead, they engage in very physical wrestling games and things often get rather rough. They bite ears, they bite feet, they bite tails. Often, they hurt other puppies. 

Fortunately, by the time the puppies are ready to go to their new homes, most have learned to play gentler. This is because when they played too rough, their playmates squealed and withdrew from play. Play session after play session, bitey pup learned to bite with less and less pressure. 

Now fast forward to when the pups are brought into their new homes. No more puppies to play with, yet the urge to explore the world with their mouths and play bite is super strong. Who will they play bite with? Hmmm.. how about humans? Too bad though that humans have really sensitive skin compared to their littermates. What a bummer! 

Feet are fun because they are our main mean of locomotion-they move a lot!

Feet are fun because they are our main mean of locomotion-they move a lot!

Feet are Big Tug Toys

Watch any puppy play and you'll notice how play involves a lot of behaviors that are borrowed from aggressive, hunting and even reproductive behavior repertoires. You'll see puppies play growl, stalk, chase, pounce, mount and even grab bite. 

The purpose of play after all, is to practice behaviors that are likely to turn handy in the future. Hence, puppies practice refining their hunting skills just as children play doctor or pretend to go grocery shopping. 

Now, how do feet fit into this picture? Easy, feet to a puppy represents prey. In the same fashion as balls, stuffed toys and Frisbees mimic prey. Sure, to us humans our feet are a far cry from looking like two rabbits, but from a puppy's perspective they are similar because they move. 

And the more they move and provide resistance (and who can stay still with a crocopup attached to a leg?), the more the puppy will want to grab and tug this hard-to-get prey. Add a few squeals into the picture, and you will sound just like prey to a puppy with strong predatory drive. 

Mind you, puppies often get so focused, they seem to forget that, attached to those feet are their owners, or perhaps, they just see us as an integral part of the stimulus package which makes us, oh, so fun to play with!

Did you know? Cats too are notorious for attacking feet. In their case, it's likely that the same dynamics are at play and cats are just playing a game of "chase the mouse."

Redirect your puppy from your feet to toys and make sure you move them a lot!

Redirect your puppy from your feet to toys and make sure you move them a lot!

Now That You Know...

Now that you know why puppies attack your feet, it's time to see what can be done about it. You certainly want your puppy to outgrow this (fortunately most puppies do as they mature) so that your feet and socks are safe from harm. Here are some ideas:

  •  Avoid wearing shoes with shoe laces, long skirts and wide leg pants. Instead, wear tall boots (like Wellington boots): many puppies lose interest when biting on tall boots also because when wearing tall boots we are less likely to get hurt and move. Movement is what mostly attracts puppies so lack of movement makes feet/legs lose their big appeal. 
  • Avoid shuffling your slippers or shoes on the rug to entice your puppy to pounce on them. While this game can be sort of fun, is sort of fun, it can encourage pups to attack feet and ankles.
  • When your puppy is rushing towards you with the intent of biting your feet or legs while walking, stop walking and freeze. Imagine to be a lamppost or a tree. Puppies don't play with lampposts or trees because they are boring.
  • When you freeze, you can redirect your puppy's attention to another activity. Ask your puppy to sit or lie down and then reward with a treat (always keep some treats in your pocket or treat bag) tossed at a distance. 
  • If your puppy hasn't learned yet to sit or lie down, stop walking, freeze, and  redirect your puppy's attention to kibble tossed at a distance or a toy (ball, long tug toy, flirt pole) Keep several of these toys/kibble in your pockets/treat bag so that you have them ready to redirect at a moment's notice.
  • Try redirecting your puppy to an empty water bottle. Most puppies cannot resist the crinkling sounds produced by chewing on these. Always monitor your puppy when chewing these if your puppy tend to ingest things. To make the bottle even more interesting, fill it up with a portion of your puppy's daily ratio of kibble so your puppy will keep busy trying to roll the kibble out. Other options are Kong Wobblers, Buster Cubes and regular Kongs. 
  • Provide your puppy with a structured program involving games, training and mental stimulation. A 10 to 15 minute session every 90 minutes should help in channeling a pup's urge for playing and discharging pent-up energy. 
  • The main goal in getting a puppy to stop attacking feet is to teach the puppy  that it's boring playing with feet because there are far better forms of play out there that don't involve feet.  Move less and make your toys move more. Wriggle them, toss them, provide toys that contain food. With their strong urge to bite and play satiated with other forms of play, soon, puppies should outgrow the habit of chasing feet just as they outgrow the habit of chasing their tails. 
  • Finally, consider tiredness and overstimulation. Young puppies need to play, be socialized and trained, but they also need to sleep and they can get cranky and bitey when they are tired, but unable to fall asleep. If all your puppy's needs are met, give your puppy a safe chew to gnaw on his/crate in a quiet dark room. Your puppy should find his/her off switch and should soon fall soundly asleep. 

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