One of the more alarming behaviors dogs have is jumping and biting. It can be startling and even painful. You may feel concerned or even angry when your dog does this, but knowing why they do it can help. 

Why does my dog jump and bite me when we walk?

You are walking your dog, and they suddenly jump up and bite you. You are shocked and wondering why it happened. 

Play

Jumping and biting are natural aspects of play for dogs, and your dog may try the same behavior with you. Your dog isn’t being aggressive, they are simply saying “hey, I want to play”. 

This is particularly common with puppies, who seem to bite everything in sight. If your dog is attempting play, you may notice their tail wagging or them looking at you expectantly after they bite. 

Your dog may perceive your reaction as play as well. If you jump, say ouch, and try to pull your arm away, the dog may believe it’s part of the game. 

Attention

Sometimes your dog just wants your attention. Dogs, like children, don’t clearly distinguish between positive and negative attention. To them, any attention is better than none at all. 

When they jump up and bite you, they certainly have your attention. Common reactions like scolding them can backfire, because you are paying attention to them. 

Over excitement

Dogs can get overexcited. Some dogs have a higher excitement tolerance than others, and some possess more self-control than others. If your dog seems very happy and excited to be walking and then suddenly jumps up and bites you, they may be over-excited. 

They don’t know how to express their excitement, and the feelings build up inside them. Eventually, they have to release the excitement energy in some way.

Many dogs will chase their tail or begin running around in this state, but some will also jump or bite, particularly if they are confined by a leash. They may feel like they have no other outlet. 

Nervousness

Nervous dogs are also prone to jumping and biting. There may be too much stimuli like people, other animals, or vehicles passing by. They may sense another animal nearby. 

In this case, they are trying to tell you “I’m scared. Get me out of here”. They may know no other way to this than to jump up and bite to get your attention. If you notice your dog has its tail down or is looking at you imploringly, nervousness could be the culprit. 

Leash Frustration

Most areas require dogs to be leashed when walking, and you certainly can’t walk them down the sidewalk near a roadway without a leash. As their owner, you know the leash is for their safety as well as the safety of pedestrians and other animals. 

As a dog, they only know that they are restricted from checking out an interesting smell or saying hi to the neighbor’s dog. This can be very frustrating for your pooch. They may jump up and bite to express this frustration. 

Habit From Puppyhood

Puppies are adorable and much smaller than adult dogs. This means that behavior that is cute as a puppy can turn into quite a nuisance as the dog matures. 

If the dog was allowed to jump and bite playfully as a pup, they will expect the behavior to still be ok. However, an adult dog can knock you over or cause a serious bite. The habit that was once adorable and affectionate now seems anything but. 

Why does my dog bite my legs when we walk?

Maybe your dog doesn’t jump up and bite you. Perhaps they bite your legs or nip your heels instead. This can also be disconcerting, and even painful. Why do they bite your legs when you are walking? 

Herding Instinct

Some dogs are bred to maximize herding instinct, but it’s something all dogs possess. It’s actually a modified version of their natural hunting instinct. 

When hunting, a dog goes through several stages.

These include:

  • Search (Eye, Orient)
  • Stalk
  • Chase
  • Grab/bite
  • Kill/bite
  • Dissect
  • Eat

In herding breeds, search, stalk, and chase instincts are strengthened, while the latter instincts are weakened. This means a dog will instinctively chase a sheep, but won’t attempt to kill it.

During searching they find their target animal or animals. Then they may stalk, or move closer to their target. Then they chase. Of course, in this sense, chasing means directing the animal to the desired location, instead of an all-out sprint after it. 

In some herding breeds, the grab/bite part of the sequence remains. Instead of biting to kill, it takes the form of nipping at the animal’s heels to get it to move. Other breeds may use eye contact and stare down the animal to get it moving in the right direction.  

Herding dogs are often smaller than the animals they are herding, so they use the tools at their disposal. To get them to move in the right direction, they will nip at their heels or legs. The animal instinctively moves away from the nips, and in the direction the dog wants them to go. 

The problem is herding dogs don’t only herd livestock. They will also herd people. It doesn’t just occur in pure breed dogs. It is also a common trait in mixed breed dogs that are part herding breed. 

This isn’t because your dog sees you as no different from a cow or sheep. It’s because movement triggers the instinct. When they see you move, the instinct can kick in, causing them to attempt to herd you. 

Boredom

Just like people, dogs get bored without enough stimulation. If your dog doesn’t get enough physical and mental stimulation throughout the day, they may attempt to spice up their walk by biting your leg. 

It seems extreme to us. From the dog’s point of view, their normally calm and boring owner is suddenly very animated. It’s exciting. You jump. Spin around. Perhaps even deliver a few choice words. To your dog, it might be the most interesting thing they’ve seen all day. 

Overstimulation

Overstimulation can cause your dog to bite your leg as well. Dogs don’t have the same range of expression and coping behaviors humans do. Your dog may be overwhelmed with all the smells, sounds, and sights they encounter while walking. 

Excitement

Overstimulation and over excitement are similar, but not quite the same. Overstimulation occurs when there’s too much environmental input for your dog to process. Over-excitement can occur for many reasons, from getting their favorite treat to a rigorous play session.

They are similar to small children. Have you ever seen a small child get so excited they start jumping up and down and yelling, seemingly unable to contain their excitement? The same can happen to your dog. Biting your leg may seem like their only outlet at that moment. 

Fear or Anxiety

Overstimulation can also be the cause of fear or anxiety. Your dog may be so overwhelmed that they become nervous. Other reasons include a bad past experience in the area you are walking in, or simply a nervous temperament. Your dog might bite your leg when afraid to get your attention, as a way of asking for help. 

Puppy

Puppies will be puppies. A puppy may bite your leg for any of the reasons listed above, or simply because they want to play. They haven’t yet learned self-control or coping skills. They also need to be taught what behavior is appropriate and what isn’t, just like children. 

How do I stop my dog from jumping and biting while walking?

Stopping your dog from jumping and biting isn’t an easy task. It will take some perseverance and observation. However, it’s well worth it to be able to walk your dog without worrying about them jumping up or biting. 

What Not to Do

First, let’s look at what not to do. Don’t yell at your dog or hit them. These can make your dog afraid, which can lead to more aggressive behaviors out of self-defense. Instead, you’ll need to react calmly. 

Don’t attempt to pull out of your dog’s grasp. This may trigger their natural instinct to bite harder and pull, which can cause injury. They may also view it as play, which will also lead to them pulling. It also encourages the behavior.

Identifying the Cause

The first step to stopping the behavior should be identifying the cause if possible. If they are over-excited, take a break when you notice signs of excitement. Pet them or talk to them calmly until they settle. 

If they are bored, give them more exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day. Consider changing your walking route as well. 

If they are overstimulated, you may need a new walking route. You can also walk them at a different time of day. Things are usually calmer in the early morning and late evening than during the day.  

If they are nervous or anxious, identify the cause and eliminate it if possible. It’s a good idea to seek your vet’s advice. Your dog might need medication to help manage anxiety. 

Ignoring/Extinction Method

Ignoring is the best way to stop some dog behaviors, particularly if they are done for attention. However, this doesn’t always work in this situation. The problem is that the dog will often try harder if you ignore them.

Think of a toddler beginning a tantrum. You know they are only seeking attention, so you ignore them. Within a few minutes, the child is crying and or screaming so loud you are worried the neighbors will hear. If you hold firm and keep ignoring it, they will stop the tantrum soon after that. 

The same is true of your dog. They will eventually realize it’s not working and give up, but do you want your dog jumping more and biting harder in an effort to regain your attention? 

Many training methods say that you should cross your arms and put your back to the dog. This makes it harder for them to bite and shows that you are clearly not paying attention to them. This method is worth trying, but if it simply makes your dog more determined, try another method. 

Command

Commands are a cornerstone of dog training, and this situation is no different. If your dog is jumping up and biting, the best command may be “sit” or “stay”. You can also use “leave it” to indicate that they should leave whatever they are after (you in this case), alone. 

All of these commands have uses beyond this issue and are great for your dog to know. However, you’ll want to focus on one command until your dog learns it and you get the biting and jumping under control. 

You can also choose a command specifically for this situation, which may be easier to teach your dog. “No bite” is a common one. When your dog begins to jump up, you turn away and say “no bite” or whatever other command you’ve chosen. 

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is also a common part of dog training. It can be done with dog treats, verbal praise, or both. If you are using a command, and you really should, reward your dog with a high-value treat every time they obey. 

Don’t be afraid to help your dog out at first. If the command is “sit”, you may need to hold the treat above their face to encourage them into the sit position. If the command is “leave it”, turn away and cross your arms when giving the command, making it easier for your dog to obey. When they perform the task successfully, give them the treat. 

Should You Voice Pain? 

Opinions on this are divided. Some people believe that if you yelp or howl when your dog bites, they will realize they hurt you and stop. Dogs certainly possess a level of empathy for their owners, so it makes sense.

Have you ever had your dog stay right by your side when you weren’t feeling well or are upset? Your four-legged family member recognized your pain, and did what they could to alleviate it. 

However, others say that this could make the situation worse, encouraging more aggressive behavior from the dog. Their theory is that the sounds of pain will trigger the dog’s predator instincts. 

Who is right? There is no clear answer, and the truth is that it likely varies from dog to dog. If your dog possesses a strong sense of empathy, this might be effective when used along with the training methods mentioned above. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.