Why Does My Dog Attack Peoples Ankles?

This is a common complaint we get from many clients. You just tried to have a health exchange with someone you know, and your dog starts to act up.

A few reasons why your dog is acting this way

Is your dog a canine? They might have a herding background. Border Collies and Australian Shepherds are notorious for doing that too. They learn it in puppyhood.

The person might have turned their back too fast. Some dogs do not take kindly to that. Some dogs like to be petted by just about anyone. They feel angry and irritated when that does not happen.

Your dog might also feel anxious about the person you are talking too. Animals have a heightened sense of awareness, more so than humans. A dog can sense that someone is bad just by looking at them.

The person you are talking to might be giving off a bad vibe to your dog. Your dog might be biting their ankles to send you a signal that they do not trust who you are talking to.

It could be that your dog wants to play. Cats do it too. Some dog breeds have a more aggressive quality to them. Some pet owners do not take the time to research their breed before they get one. What appears to be normal behavior to them is weird to us.

We are not making an excuse for the biting of the ankles, we are simply trying to explain a few reasons for the behavior.

In the case of the dog have anxiety over someone, their stress and anxiety are lifted once the person walks away. It is your dog’s way of trying to make them go.

What can you do?

You can start trying to teach your puppy or full-grown dog different behavior. The first thing you want is a quiet room where the dog cannot be disturbed or distracted. Distractions are going to defeat the purpose. You might as well let them play in the yard if you are going to do that.


Your dog needs to be rewarded. You need to have very high-value treats with you. Some pet owners just take some stale cookies or leftover kibble thinking that will be good enough. It is not.

You need to choose something that will make your dog drool over. Something that your dog is going to do anything to have. Yes, this is called manipulation but, sometimes manipulation is what you need.

I am reminded of the rat in the maze(the one us psychology students learn about on the first day). The rat did whatever he had to get the cheese, He was taught conditioned response by B.F. Skinner or Pavlov’s Law(nod toe the psych students out there).

It is the same for your dog. Stock up n things like hot dogs and other meat products your dog likes. You will need them to reward him or her for doing a good job. Ian Dunbar(The Ferrari of Dog Treats) suggests you get the freeze-dried liver.


Once again, this is where Pavlov’s Law comes into play. Start making a noise with your mouth and lips. Your dog will look up. Hold out the treat and do it again.

You might have to do it no less than 10 times to get the full result. Your dog is going to begin associating the two(mouth noise equals treat). Once again, you are appropriating a conditioned response in your dog(much like the rat in the maze).

The operant behavior

Once you have accomplished this first part, you are now ready for the second part. You are now doing something called operant behavior. Associate the mouth smack with eye-level contact and the treat.

Now, you will have to hold the treat at eye-level for that to work. Start going “good boy” to him. Continue with eye contact. Your dog will begin to associate all three together if you do it right.

One way to gain the edge is to delay the response. Once your dog gets good at associating everything together, delay the good boy and the treat for a few seconds.

Psychology is part skill and game. You have to make a game out of it for it to work too. Pets like games. That is where the operant conditioning and Pavlov’s Law relates to one another.

The end result

You should get to the point where your dog is starting to go away from attack mode and moving toward people mode(if done correctly). Every time your dog sees a person, they will associate the person with a treat.

They are nice to the person walking by, so you give them a treat. Now, of course, you do not want to overextend it and have your dog abuse the situation. The goal is to create a balance.

Some helpful suggestions

  1. The treats should stop once the person is gone. That is where the “abuse of privilege” sometimes comes into play. Do not keep giving treats or you have just destroyed everything you tried to create.
  2. You might have to have a controlled setting. Have some people your dog does trust to create a setting for your dog to practice a bit. Some dogs pick things up right away. Others need practice. Get some friends to start creating a scenario where a stranger walks by. See how that works before you try the real thing.
  3. Does your dog have a predatory nature to start with? You might need to toss a treat to him. Predatory sogs do not respond well if you place your hand in their mouth. That means, you cannot change your dog’s predatory nature, but you can change the way you handle their attitude.

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