Tiny Rocky will attack feet. He’s adorable and puzzling.
He will attack the feet of his owners. He will attack feet of friends coming to the house.
The weird thing is that he starts off very friendly, but the longer someone is there, the more his tension builds.
As he did with me, he welcomes the person at the door in a friendly manner. As soon as they sit down he jumps on their lap, seemingly demanding a fuss.
Then, after a few minutes he jumps off and goes to his bed, from where he watches. He doesn’t just watch – he stares. Poised and hard-eyed, he will attack feet if they move.
In his mind I think I had overstayed my welcome and possibly so much talking aroused him further. He came and lay beside my chair, not taking his eyes off my face.
I glanced at him and heard the hint of a grumble and saw his lips tightened. I was well aware that he was poised to attack feet – mine! There is a feeling of threat in his stillness.
After having initially jumped on the person and had his fuss, he retreats and stares. It’s almost like he’s deliberately working himself up. It’s then like the first stages of a predatory sequence.
He also does this with the couple at certain times. Usually he’s in his bed or hiding under a table or desk. A foot moves. Rocky bites. It’s like a reflex action when he’s in ‘that state of mind’.
So, it’s ‘that state of mind’ that needs changing for starters. They will keep him as calm as possible and avoid situations that are likely to over-stress him.
Aroused, he will attack feet
The more arousal that builds up inside Rocky, the more he’s likely to attack feet. He’s a classic example of a ‘stress bucket‘ building up and overflowing. In some way it must make Rocky feel better.
In the early part of the day and after a calm night’s sleep, he has a lot more tolerance. He never goes for feet in the morning.
It’s impossible to know for sure exactly why Rocky behaves in this way, but I would guess it’s insecurity and needing to have some control over his environment. Very likely there is a genetic element.
A Yorkie was originally bred to catch mice and rats in mines and later burrowing for badgers and foxes. He’s a little hunter.
Rocky is four years old now and he came to live with them two years ago. His past is unknown.
What is certain is that he has performed this behaviour for so long – probably much of his life – so to attack feet is a learned behaviour. A habit.
Breaking the pattern
The sequence needs to be interrupted to avoid further rehearsal wherever possible. Break the pattern. This could cause Rocky frustration initially so they should be prepared for him to get worse. They should be ready to offer him alternative things to do.
At those times when he’s likely to go for their own feet, they will distract him by dropping hard food like kibble. It worked for me initially. This will roll and hopefully redirect his prey instinct onto something else that is moving if he’s not got too ‘stuck in’.
They can teach Rocky a ‘positive interrupter’ that gets his attention when they see he’s about to have a go. This is a special sound they will make that he knows means food (they will use a tongue-click sound). They know when he’s likely to attack feet. This will be a lot more effective long-term than ‘uh-uh’ and ‘No’.
They may need to pop him behind a gate with something else to do in order to break the sequence. They could try holding something in front of him to block his gaze. He won’t attack feet without staring first.
Not to reinforce the staring and controlling.
At present, whenever Rocky wants something he simply stares until he gets it. He controls them. He stares before his walk and it usually works so is reinforced. On the few occasions when the man doesn’t get up and fetch Rocky’s lead and harness in response to a long stare, the tiny dog, I’m told, sulks. He turns his back on the man and refuses to pay him any attention!
Management is key.
The more people there are in the house, the more difficult Rocky finds it. It’s in this state of mind he’s most likely to attack feet.
They will gate the kitchen door so that they can rotate guests and friends whilst keeping Rocky away from their feet. Hopefully this won’t seem like banishment, particularly if food and good things come from the people the other side of the gate.
‘Attacking’ may be a bit of an exaggeration as he has only once broken the skin. It would, however, be serious and dangerous if he were a bigger dog.
They have come a long way with Rocky over the time they have had him, but progress has now come to a stop. With a few new strategies and some hard work, I’m sure he will eventually no longer feel he must attack feet in order to feel better.