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A common problem for dog owners is that their dog constantly nips at people's ankles, while out on a walk. Small dogs have a knack for doing this. This can be terrifying for strangers and embarrassing for the owners. Let's take a look at why dogs behave this way and how you can deal with it.Why do dogs lunge at people's heels?
There are 3 main reasons why dogs usually exhibit this behavior – instinct, fear/stress, or fun. Dogs from herding backgrounds, are known to show this behavior. They use nipping to control the behavior of the person and try and move them in a desired direction – in this instance, they know a person will move away when the dog nips. Another reason that dogs lunge at strangers is because they're scared or stressed.Dogs that are anxious and wary of their surroundings lunge at strangers to make them to regain control and keep strangers away. Much like how people who are scared of pets tend to stomp their legs or make loud noises to shoo them away, dogs lunge at people's legs for the same reason. The last reason is that your dog thinks it's a fun game to play with strangers and have fun. This reason mostly applies to puppies as they have a constant need of entertainment.How do you change this behavior?
To change this behavior you have to replace it with a more suitable behavior. This can be achieved through training and rewards
. Here's a quick step by step on how you can replace lunging with positive behavior:
- Choose a quiet space with little distractions and gather good treats. Not the regular kibble or cookie but something your dog really loves.
- Before you give your dog a treat, make a specific noise. This will condition your dog to respond a certain noise as it expects a reward.
- Once your dog starts responding to the noise, train it to make eye contact or sit when you make the noise. To make it look up, position the treat near your eyes when your dog is expecting it and immediately acknowledge and reward him once the desired eye contact is made. Once it has learned this behavior, you can increase the difficulty by slowly introducing new surroundings and new people. Start with your yard, then the street and progress to a park.
- The final step is to create a threshold for your dog. Choose a comfortable distance as you take your dog out for a walk and make the noise whenever a person passes by. Keep repeating this until you condition your dog to look at you every time a person walks by.
Keep in mind that altering your dogs behavior without any rewards will not work, and might make them more aggressive. Punishing bad behaviors but failing to reward good ones will demotivate your dogs. Once your dog learns the preferred behavior, you can replace the treats and rewards with compliments or praise.