Reasons Why and Solutions for Paw Licking and Chewing Behavior in Dogs

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Joan:

I have a quick question for you. My dog is always chewing on her feet. I’ve heard it’s allergies to grass. Is that true? Also, is there something I can do to make her feel better?

— Emily

Dear Emily:

It’s a quick question, but one with an answer that is not as quick or simple. Regardless of the reason for your dog’s feet chewing, you’ll want to have your dog examined by a veterinarian, and possibly by one who specializes in veterinarian dermatology. That will help rule out any underlying medical causes. The paw-chewing behavior may have started initially because of a medical issue, but has since developed into a compulsory habit.

Allow me to make it clear that Poncho and I are not veterinarians. We’re canine behavior experts and would never work outside our scope of practice. My sidekick Poncho wanted to give his own spin on this subject. You can read his post on dog behavior regarding paw chewing and licking.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I’d like to provide you with questions to help you plan ahead for the visit with your dog’s veterinarian:

  • How long has your dog been partaking in feet chewing? When you say “always,” does that mean from the time she was a puppy or more recently? It would be a good idea to keep a log.
  • Does she chew on all four paws? Or just certain ones?
  • Is the area irritated? Inflamed? Swollen? Is there any hair loss? Drainage or oozing? Lumps or bumps?
  • Have you checked between her toes and around her nail beds?
  • Have you changed your dog’s diet? New medications? Shampoos? Flea medicine?
  • Is she chewing at the same time every day? The feet chewing could be a sign of stress. Maybe before being left home alone?
  • What situations are happening before and after the feet chewing occurs? Is it after she goes out and plays in the grass? After walking on hot concrete or icy walkways?
  • If it arises after she plays outside on the grass, do you use chemicals or a specific fertilizer on your grass?
  • Are there no apparent triggers? Paw licking and sucking also can be indicative of boredom, and it may help her pass the time. Or, she may just find it relaxing, pacifying and enjoyable.

If all medical reasons are ruled out, your vet most likely will encourage you to begin a behavior modification plan. It will take time, patience and consistency on your part. You will need to do the following on a regular basis:

  • Keep her busy so she doesn’t have the time or energy to chew on her feet.
  • Provide items that she would rather put in her mouth and chew, such as bully bones and interactive food toys.
  • Reward her with yummy treats for ignoring her feet and chewing on appropriate items.

Unfortunately, paw licking and chewing is one of those behaviors that can be caused by a multitude of factors, both medical and behavioral. And, yes, allergies to grass can certainly be one cause of this common canine issue.

The thought of irritated paws is unbearable enough for us humans; I can’t imagine how your dog must feel. I commend you for taking the first steps to resolving this issue, instead of ignoring it and thinking it’ll just go away on its own. It can take time and some investigative work to find a solution, but it will be well worth the effort to relieve your dog of any unnecessary irritation.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt that knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail us directly.


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4 Responses

    • Hi Shirley – Thanks for being inquisitive. Sorry to hear your pup Winnie has started foot-chewing. We recommend contacting Winnie’s veterinarian with your question, as this is medically-related and outside our scope of practice. If it turns out to be a behavior-related problem, and she gets medically cleared, we’d be happy to offer online training services. Just let us know.

  • My dog was a stray. The vet figured his age to be a year when he was found. Over a year later, my dog still sucks on his back left foot when going to sleep. Would it have been a comfort thing from when he was loose? Why would he still do it?

    • Hi Laura – thanks for being inquisitive. Good question! Well, we perform behaviors in order to either get what we want, or get away from something aversive. In this case, it sounds like your dog enjoys it. Maybe that’s why he’s still doing it. Or, it could be because of habit and routine. Is it causing him harm? Do you need to speak with your dog’s vet about it? Do you need to redirect his licking energy to a more appropriate dog item, such as a bone or chew? If it’s not causing harm and not getting worse, and there’s no medical reason, then not sure if it’s really a problem?

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