You may have the best sleeping quarters or kennel for your dog, but he/she may still choose to fall asleep at your feet. There are many reasons for this behavior. While cats exhibit similar behavior, they aren't necessarily thrilled with the feet. Cats can sleep on top of your head if you let them. Dogs, on the other hand, love their owner's feet. Why is this case? Well, there are many reasons for this discussed below.
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- Reason 1: Dogs view their owners as social partners
- Reason 2: Pack instinct
- Reason 3: Protective instinct
- Reason 4: To seek reassurance
- Reason 5: To find a cool place to nap
- Reason 6: Submission instinct
- Reason 7: Separation anxiety
- Reason 8: He/she is scared
- Reason 9: To mark territory
- Reason 10: To show affection
- Reason 11: To initiate play, a cuddle or a belly rub
- Reason 12: To alert you of illness or danger
- Should you encourage or discourage this behavior?
One of the main reasons why your dog finds your feet irresistible is because of their nature as social beings. Unless your dog’s breed has characteristics of independence or he/she is a loner by nature (which is very rare with dogs), your furry friend is “wired” to be social and eager to be with his owner. Studies have shown that dogs have child-like bonds with their owners.
Domesticated dogs have a 15,000-year history of living in very close proximity to humans. Dogs have been accustomed to humans to the extent of viewing humans as social partners. Dog owners feel the same way, which explains why dogs and their owners both suffer in anguish when separated.
Pack instincts may also be the reason why your dog sleeps at your feet. Before dogs became domesticated, they were part of packs in the wild. This instinctive behavior is still embedded in a dog’s DNA. While he may not be in the wild, he/she will still feel the need to belong in a pack. Since other dogs may not be present, your pup may form his/her own pack with you and your feet. The pack instinct is meant for survival, and you are the leader of your dog's pack. What's more, members of a pack do almost everything together, including sleeping close to one another.
Instinctively, one of your dog’s main role is to protect you. While this may vary slightly depending on dog breeds, dogs tend to sleep by their owner’s feet to assume their protective role. If the answer revolves around their protective instinct, this behavior will tend to be common when the dog owner is around other dogs or other people.
While he/she may assume his/her protective role standing or leaning next to you, your pup may lie down on your feet when tired. Overly protective dogs tend to become stressed when a person or an animal gets close to their owner. Your canine friend may appear to be sleeping at your feet but is alert of looming danger. In fact, they may start growling and barking when a person or other pet comes closer.
Your dog may also have the habit of sleeping on your feet because he/she is fearful of something and needs some reassurance. As mentioned above, dogs tend to develop child-like bonds with the owners. He/she may be sleeping on your feet to resist separation. Like kids, dogs have the tendency to seek their owner for reassurance during times of distress. Your feet can be your dog's safe haven, and he/she is waiting for you to move to (alert him) in case of anything.
Your dog could simply be searching for the coolest place to take a nap. Dogs like to nap in cool places. In your absence, he/she may prefer the floor. However, when you are home, your furry friend might like your feet better.
Besides dogs having a protective instinct and pack instinct, they also have submission embedded in their genes. Dogs are regarded as man's best friend for a reason. Like a true friend, your dog will follow you around, protect you, and even enjoy naps at your feet. This behavior is an indication of his/her submission to his/her pack leader.
Like humans, dogs also get separation anxiety. He/she may feel anxious about being alone and may want to sleep at your feet so that you don’t leave. This gesture is the ultimate reassurance that you are nearby.
If your canine friend tends to sleep at your feet because of lightning or when in the presence of other dogs or people, your pup may be doing so because he/she is scared. Your dog may exhibit other signs like huddling at your feet and appearing insecure or frightened.
When this happens, you should find the source of the behavior. If he/she doesn’t like to be in the presence of other dogs, minimize such exposure among other sources of fear and insecurity. For instance, you can expose him to more people and dogs in a gentle way so that he/she gets use to it. Some exposure and dog training can also alleviate such behavior.
Besides peeing everywhere, dogs can mark territory in other ways, such as ensuring they are always close to the leader of the pack. If this behavior is exhibited at home in the presence of other dogs or your dog gets aggressive when other dogs approach you, this is a sure sign that he/she is marking territory.
Your canine friend may have the habit of laying, sitting, or sleeping at your feet because your dog loves you. Like humans, dogs, and other pets like cats use touch to display attention. If he rubs his body on your feet before taking a nap there, he is trying to show affection. This behavior is common for dog owners who come back after spending some time away. If your dog sleeps at your feet or close to you when you come back home, it's a sign that he has missed you and probably doesn't want you to leave again.
Dogs are smart. They can “pick up” emotions easily. If he sleeps at your feet when you are sick, distressed, or crying, it may be his way of calming you down. He may also just be showing that he appreciates you which means you are doing a perfect job as a dog owner.
Your dog could simply be looking for some attention or play. Sleeping at your feet, especially after running around and exhibiting playful behavior is a sure sign that he needs some playtime. If he needs a belly rub, he might pretend to sleep on your feet then rollover. If he needs a cuddle, he may try jumping on you first. If you don't take his cue, he may sleep at your feet instead. Dogs have many ways of getting attention and communicating. It’s up to dog owners to decipher their dog’s behavior carefully or miss the message.
This may sound far-fetched; however, there are dogs (service dogs) capable of alerting their owners of illnesses. There is research showing that some dogs have the ability to detect a variety of serious illnesses like seizures and diabetes. Such dogs can detect chemicals in the bodies of their owners i.e., ketones in the breath of a diabetic person when their blood sugar is low. For dog owners with epilepsy, service dogs can alert of an impending seizure and get their owners out of harm's way.
Since you have the answers to “why do dogs sleep at your feet” let’s shift our focus to whether you should encourage or discourage the behavior. While your dog may be doing this for valid or good reasons, it can be an annoying habit. If you love it, well and good. If you don’t love the behavior, there are ways of discouraging it without “hurting” your dog’s feelings. Some dog training can get the job done.
Simple actions like ignoring him/her can also ease the behavior. Petting your dog and rubbing his belly whenever he sleeps at your feet will affirm the behavior even if you don't like it. Denying him some much-needed attention will work. You can also reward him when he sleeps at his designated spot.
Your dog may be sleeping at your feet for many reasons, some of which aren't covered above. As a dog owner, it’s your duty to get to the bottom of this behavior if you don’t like it. Your dog may just be showing affection or trying to protect you so, instead of shoving him or shouting commands, understand what he/she is trying to do or communicate.
While dogs sleep at their owner's feet mostly for positive reasons, beware of the negative ones and take appropriate action. Since he won't talk and tell you his reasons, it helps to take time and understand dog behavior. It also helps to consider professional dog training when you want to get rid of annoying behavior instead of reacting harshly. Dogs are intelligent pets that can be taught many things, including dos and don'ts of your household.