Have you ever come home from work, take off your shoes and socks, and relaxed on the couch only to have your dog snuggle up to your legs and begin licking your feet? This odd and uncomfortable behavior may be one you want to train out of your dog, but before you do, you should know why your pet is licking your feet.
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Dogs will lick their owner’s feet to show them they understand the pecking order of the pack. Dogs look at your family as their pack and their owner(s) as the pack leader. Dogs who are naturally more submissive will demonstrate their submissiveness to the pack leader by licking their feet. Your dog is happy in this role and feet licking is part of how they show you.
When your dog wants your attention, they will do everything they can think of to get it, including licking their owner’s feet. Your dog will first indicate they want attention with their body language such as giving you a hard stare, leaning against you, wiggling and vocalizing, but when those tactics don’t work, they may exhibit other behaviors such as jumping, pawing, barking, or licking. Shorter and smaller dogs will often lick or even nibble their owner’s toes to get attention.
Dogs get to know the world around them through the millions of receptors in their mouth and nose. Dogs scent memory is much stronger than their visual memory, and they will remember who you are based more on smell than what you look like. The human body releases pheromones, salt, water, and waste in their sweat. Dogs will often lick sweaty places on their owner’s body, including their feet to gather information about them.
Your dog licking your feet may be an indication that your feet simply are not clean. Did you step in some food? Have you been walking around barefoot outside? Your dog could be licking your feet because there is something on your feet that your dog wants.
Dogs lick things for the same reason they like to chew on things—it’s great stress relief. Licking and chewing releases endorphins in your dog’s brain that helps them relax and deal with stress. However, if your dog is excessively licking your feet or other objects such as the couch or floor, this may be a sign of compulsive behavior that needs to be addressed through training or possible medication from a veterinarian.
Even though licking your feet may be perfectly natural for your dog and a way for them to show affection, the behavior may be annoying or uncomfortable for you. If you want to get your dog to stop licking your feet (or other parts of your body), there are a few ways you can modify this behavior humanely.
Your dog may be licking your feet for attention, and when you give them the attention, they are asking for you are rewarding them. Ignoring your dog shows them that licking is not the best way to get your attention.
Training your dog to understand what no means is essential. When your dog licks your feet, use a firm voice to say “no” then walk away from your dog. Your dog will begin to understand this behavior is undesirable.
If your dog is licking out of boredom or for stress relief redirect them to a toy or bone that is appropriate for licking, biting, or chewing. Redirecting your dog is the best way to train them not to lick people because it encourages their instinct while directing that instinct towards the right outlets.
Dogs who begin licking excessively are probably doing so out of boredom and pent up energy. If you are finding your dog’s anxiety levels are starting to climb, you should start exercising them more. Make sure to get in two walks per day and spend some time at the dog park throwing around a tennis ball. You can also use a dog ball launcher to keep them active when you're not around.
Every pet store has a biting or licking deterrent that contains bitters. Spray or dab on the bitters, and when your dog licks it, the taste will be just as the name suggests—bitter. Your dog will learn that licking these things will never be pleasant. You may be hesitant to spray your feet with anti-licking sprays from the pet store, but if your dog is particular to your shoes or socks, this spray can help your wardrobe last a little longer!
Licking is not typically a health concern for dogs. Dogs, as well as cats, will gather and process information about their world through licking and smelling. Dogs will also lick to get attention or to get food. Unless the behavior becomes excessive or your dog is licking dangerous objects, you shouldn’t worry. If the licking does become excessive, or bothersome to you, call your veterinarian for a behavior consultation.
Every dog is different, and if your dog is licking your feet, the reason may be completely different than something you have read on this list. If your dog is exhibiting licking behaviors that are excessive or new, make sure to talk with your vet or trainer about why this could be happening and what you can or should do about the behavior.
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