It's not uncommon to see dogs who seem obsessed with the owner's pant legs. Of course, among the many behavior quirks Rover may have, this is one of those that owners often find troublesome. Those sharp teeth often make it through the pants and nobody is eager to walk around while dragging a crocodog along for the ride. But what causes this doggy behavior? You may have heard that dogs often do so out of dominance, as if Rover is always strategically planning on ways to rule the roost. Yet, the term dominance is very misleading and it often blurs the real causes for many dog behaviors. For more on the dominance controversy read: What's Dog Dominance Theory? Let's take a look now on some possible causes for dogs biting at pant legs.
Why Do Dogs Bite When You are Walking?
Whether Rover targets your pant legs, your shoe laces or your legs, there's no doubt that you may be looking for solutions to the problem. Understanding why a dog bites pant legs in the first place can help aid you in the resolution of the problem. If the behavior persists, it means that the dog finds it rewarding in some way. Following are some potential causes for this behavior.
Pant Legs are Fun
Puppies are often attracted by anything that moves, whether it's a leaf blown by the wind, a butterfly or your legs. In a puppy's world, hands and legs are fun tug toys to play with. And the more they move, the more fun they are. Just think about it: have your ever seen your puppy play with a lamp post, a ladder or a tree? Most likely not, and for a good reason: they are immobile and boring! Movement is always attractive because it mimics prey, and some dogs are more attracted to it than others..
Pant Legs Lead to Attention
Your dog may discover one day that every time he bites your pant legs, he gets attention. If your dog is left alone for most of the day, any form of attention is rewarding. This means that if you look at him, talk to him and touch him even to remove him and scold him, he's getting some form of attention he craves. The dynamics are similar to dogs who jump, bark and hump the owner in hopes of getting attention.
Pant Legs Fill a Void
At times, dogs may feel aroused, frustrated, conflicted or uncertain. For instance, a dog may feel very excited to greet the owner and he may discharge the excitement by biting the legs. Or a dog who is in conflict or frustrated about something may engage in what looks like a case of out-of-context biting the pant legs, as a way to solve the conflict.
Pant Leg Biting for Control
Some dogs have an innate tendency to want to maintain order in the household. This doesn't derive from a need to rule the roost, but it is just a dog's desire to control movement. This is often seen in certain herding breeds and often the victims are rambunctious children or people coming and going from the house.
Pant Leg Biting Sends People Away
In some cases, pant leg biting is conducted out of fear. Indeed, a great deal of what looks like aggressive behavior is due to fear, stress or anxiety. A dog who is fearful, may learn with time that biting the pant legs will send people away. If the dog engages in this behavior several times, and the person leaves every time, the behavior is reinforced and the dog will continue to behave in this way.
These are just a few examples of causes for dogs who bite the owner's legs. Often, it helps to identify the underlying cause for a good resolution of the problem. However, often these methods can be used with success regardless of the cause.
Force-free Methods to Stop Your Dog from Biting your Pant Legs
You may have heard that biting is a behavior that needs to be corrected by using harsh methods such as alpha rolls, kicks and scolding. However, these methods do nothing to solve the problem, but actually may exacerbate it, leaving you with a dog who doesn't trust you and bites defensively.The following are a few force-free methods that can help reduce and eventually stop this annoying behavior.
Because dogs often behave in certain ways because they find some sort of reward out of it, the behavior becomes quickly a habit that becomes more and more difficult to overcome as it puts roots. The more the dog rehearses the behavior, the more it establishes. In the same way, the less the dog behaves in a certain way, the less it will establish. So, it's best to minimize the chances for the dog to rehearse the nipping. If you know your dog tends to bite the most when you come home from work and walk, keep him away for the time being, or at least do what you can to keep his mind off of it.
Let's say though that Rover happens to start playfully nipping your legs, what should you do? First of all, try your best to avoid jerking the leg around in an effort to get him off. This often exacerbates the problem as the dog gets what he wants: movement! Rather, try to freeze and become boring, just as that tree right next to you. No eye contact, no talking, no moving. Rover should soon stop and look for something else to do. Have a family member grab his attention now and distract him or remove him from the situation as the moment you start walking again he'll come back for more. In some cases though, dogs become more hyper when you freeze, why is that? Simple, the dog has learned that if he nips more and more you'll eventually move. Have you ever seen a dog chase a cat and bark at it when it stops moving in hopes to to get the cat moving again? Don't play his game and resist the temptation to move if feasible.
Redirect his Attention
Have you seen how focused Rover is when he chases and bites your legs? This is good, it means that you'll likely be able to redirect him and get his focus on something else and keep it there. There are several ways to accomplish this and some work better than others. Often, you'll need to try a variety of these strategies and replacement behaviors to see what works best. Here are some options:
- Stop walking, become boring and get your dog's focus stuck on a long tug toy. Move it around, make lots of noises and let hims grab it over and over. Your dog will soon learn that the tug toy is much more fun to play with rather than your legs. If your dog grabs your legs at any time, freeze and redirect to the tug toy.
- Train focused, attention heeling. Many small dogs are ankle biters because your legs are very close to them and they haven't learned any other way to interact with you. Attention heeling takes time, but a dog who looks up to you and walks, is less likely to be attracted to your legs.
- Become a treat dispenser. Break the cycle of focusing on your legs, by making a smacking noise with your mouth each time you are about to toss treats in various directions. With time, your dog will find the game much more rewarding than playing with your legs.
- Train your dog to hand target. Basically, you'll train your dog that great things happen when he targets your hand with his nose. This, again should keep his mind away from the biting and will fill that void often created when you remove an unwanted behavior.
- If you have little time on hand, stuff a Kong and then start walking when you notice he may start getting interested in your legs. Toss the Kong and this should keep him entertained enough so you can walk about undisturbed.
As seen, there are many force-free methods to help your dog keep his mind off your legs. Ideally, you should keep toys and treats handy at all times, especially in the initial stages. For instance, if you know your dog attacks your legs when you come home from work, keep a toy at the entrance or keep it in your car and put it in your pocket when you are coming home. Treats can be easily kept in a treat pouch so you can reward any time your dog is not focused on your legs.
Disclaimer: this article is not a substitute for a hands-on assessment conducted by a professional. If your dog is aggressive, consult with a reputable board-certified dog behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist. For a directory of force-free trainers and behavior consultants, please visit the Pet Professional Guild website.
Adrienne Farricelli, all rights reserved, do not copy