It's not uncommon to see your dog chew on his leg or paw—after all, even dogs get occasional itches that need scratching. But if your dog has become an obsessive chewer of his leg or paw, there may be a serious problem underlying his behavior, and an examination by his veterinarian could be necessary.
How to tell if your dog is a chronic chewer
The most obvious way to determine if your dog has become a chronic chewer is to watch him. If you notice that he is spending an abnormally high amount of time performing this behavior, take a closer look at the area that he's chewing. If the leg or paw has become sore, raw, inflamed, or if the fur has been licked away, you should be concerned.
Medical or physical causes of this problem
Dogs that chronically bite/chew/lick their paws or legs are experiencing more than just a typical itch. It could be that your dog has developed an allergy or is suffering from an insect/bug bite or a fungal infection. Another possibility is that your dog stepped into something caustic or irritating when he was out for a walk. It could also be bacterial pyoderma, also known as impedigo, which is a bacterial skin inefection common in puppies and dogs. Whatever the cause, if the area is sore and irritated, take your dog to the vet for an examination and treatment. The treatment will depend on the diagnosed cause of the problem.
Psychological or behavioral causes
Dogs are pack animals by nature; this means that they need companionship and don't like being left alone for long periods. Often, if pets are left alone too long, they will lick and chew an area of their body until it gets raw and sore. This is most common in pets with high energy levels that are bored, or that aren't getting enough exercise or attention. If this is your situation, perhaps you could ask a friend to walk or play with your dog in the middle of the day.
Hiring a dog walker is also a great idea—and you can also check to see if there's a doggie daycare in your area. Be sure to provide your dog with stimulating toys that will help keep him occupied when you're not around to play with him. Another tip that could work for your dog is to keep the television or the radio on. Sometimes this provides some distraction and "companionship" for your dog when you're away from home.
Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.
The benefits of play
Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:
Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.
How to play with your dog
There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.
When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.
When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.
Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!