Why Do Dogs Sit on Your Feet? Dog Behavior Explained!
The friendship between man, woman and dog is an ancient partnership, that likely arose from the human need for help with herding and hunting. Dogs also served as primitive alarm systems warning humans of impending danger, and in return, Canis lupus familiaris received a steady diet as well as companionship and protection from the people they helped. What though, does this have to do with why do dogs sit on your feet?
Why Do Dogs Sit on Your Feet?
A 2017 study done by a team of Swedish researchers suggests that those early dogs, who were more prone to cuddling up to humans, might have done so due to their sensitivity to oxytocin. Another study in Vienna, Austria concurs, adding that oxytocin has been linked to increased tolerance and reduced fear and aggression, as well as enhanced social cognition and attachment. These behaviors would be consistent with a dog who likes to sit on your feet or lean against you, maintaining a close connection.
So what is oxytocin? Here’s what Psychology Today says:
“Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It influences social interaction and sexual reproduction, playing a role in behaviors from maternal attachment to…empathy [and] generosity.”
For instance, when people hug, oxytocin increases, hence its nickname, “the love hormone.” Sensitivity to oxytocin may explain why some dogs are more affectionate with their owners than others, and may, therefore, be the root cause as to why a dog sits on your feet, hugs your legs, sleeps next to or leans against you.
7 More Answers to Why do Dogs Sit on You
1. Pack Mentality
Dogs are social creatures. Even if your curly-coated, bow-wearing, well-groomed pup has never spent a moment in the wild, he or she still has a pack mentality, so the reason why your dog sits on your feet could be remnants of his or her ancestral DNA. To keep safe, wild dogs travel in packs and work together to survive. When they rest, they huddle together with the pack leader receiving the most ideal vantage point while the others lie near.
2. Guarding Instincts
As a pack animal, your dog is programmed to help protect his pack, which he does when he puts himself between you and any potential threat. He accomplishes this by laying on your feet. We got in touch with Arden Moore, America’s Pet Health and Safety Coach, and here’s what she has to say:
“Some dogs, depending on the breed, are more prone to be in protect mode than others and feet laying keeps them able to survey their surroundings while staying in ‘check’ with the No. 1 hoo-man to protect in the household.”
3. Territoriality (aka Claiming YOU)
Your dog may see you, his person, as a prize, so the answer to why do dogs sit on your feet, lap or other body parts is simple…the dog is claiming you for himself! When your dog lays on your feet at the park or other public areas, he is likely marking his territory, telling other dogs that you’re his leader and that everyone else should back off.
If you live in a multiple dog household however and have dogs fighting over who sits or lays on your feet out of jealousy, then you must seek help from a dog behaviorist to make sure no one gets hurts, canine or human, and to keep peace at home. It may take time, so be patient. To the dog, sitting on your feet is his way of telling the world you belong to them, so power struggles of this kind should be managed wisely and only with positive reinforcement. The solution may be to give each dog a spot near your feet with neither dog claiming both of your feet for himself, but work with a professional and also make sure each dog gets his own one-on-one time with you.
Dogs are very perceptive to our emotional cues. If you are sad, sick or showing signs of stress, your dog will be right there to make you feel better. Family members support each other and although your dog may not speak with words, he offers comfort by his presence. Moore adds,
“Dogs love their people and depending on their size, enjoy the physical connection — be it in a lap or sprawled across the feet.”
A slightly different twist may be that since the top dog (that’s you) is rewarded with the spot of greatest luxury, maybe your dog wants to enjoy the physical comfort of that spot too, so does his doggone best to get near it and you.
Whether canis familiaris or homo sapiens, an insecure being often seeks security from other members of his pack. Changes to your dog’s routine (i.e. strangers in the house, loud noises, rearranging the furniture) can create anxiety, so your dog may sit on your feet to feel secure. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as the human touch that can make your dog feel safe. Whether your dog is submissive or takes on the role of intimidator, when he’s feeling unsafe, he may go to you for protection. On the other hand, Moore says:
“Not sure if a scared dog would lie on a person’s feet. They are more apt to want to hide behind the person or if small, beg to be picked up off the floor and cradled in the person’s arms.”
Some dogs feel insecure around strangers and will lean against their humans in the presence of others. This type of behavior is called a “displacement signal,” but other such signals include lip licking, yawning, and avoidance of eye contact. Leaning may help your dog settle in times of stress, so it’s important to look at the circumstances surrounding the moments your dog leans on you to determine clues as to why he is doing it. Often the simple answer — that he is seeking reassurance from you – fits best.
We do know for sure that every dog is unique, so how they deal with situations may vary. Next time your dog falls asleep at your feet, take note of how he is laying. If your dog is sleeping on his side, exposing his belly, it is likely that he trusts that you are there to keep him safe. This position would be unheard of in the wild as it would put the dog in peril.
Staying warm is a basic need, and one of the most heartwarming experiences is when a dog snuggles close to share your body heat. This behavior is learned early on when puppies pile on mom into a big puppy pile. They quickly learn however, to position themselves near mom’s tail, so that they don’t get crushed should she roll over in her sleep.
Pugs and Shih-Tzus were once royal lap dogs and foot warmers. Some were even referred to as “sleeve dogs,” because they cuddled up in the ample sleeves of royal garments to stay warm as well as provide warmth to their companions.
Studies using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) have shown that dogs favor the smell of their human over anyone or anything else, food included! One might extrapolate from this that dogs love us, and sitting on our feet is just another way for them to get closer. It probably doesn’t hurt that when your dog sits on your feet or leans against you, you reward him with loving kisses and scratches.
Should You Allow Your Dog to Sit on Your Feet?
Whether your dog is sitting on your feet because he is cold, he wants to claim you as his own, or he is feeling a bit insecure, allowing this behavior shows your dog support, love, and reassurance. Your dog looks to you to meet his basic needs, and this feeling of contentment confirms to him that he holds an important position in your life.
If for some reason however, you are not comfortable with having your dog sit on your feet or lean against you, don’t encourage the behavior by cuddling or petting your dog. Moore advises:
“Stand up! Stand up and move, and train the dog to ‘settle’ by going to a cozy dog bed near the person or if approved, jump up on the sofa with the person.”
Alternate training techniques include tossing treats away from you and teaching your dog to stay at a distance. Whatever method you choose, do it with kindness and provide positive reinforcement, as the dog’s motive to be near you comes from a place of goodness.
Whether it’s sitting on your feet, laying on your lap or leaning against you, a dog’s motivation is to provide comfort, feel secure and protected, maybe even protect, and claim you as their own! The love or feel-good hormone definitely plays a role, but most importantly, your dog sits on your feet because he is trying to connect with his best friend, and doing so helps us too.
According to a 2017 study done by Bark Box,
- 85% of dog people say their pup helps them cope with stressful events during the holiday season, including being around difficult family members (46%), arguments among family (33%) or going to extended family’s house (22%).
- 40% of dog people have taken their dog for a walk or played with them to escape family during the holidays.
- 43% are more excited to see their dog or their family dog during the holidays than their human family members.
Be grateful for your canine foot warmer, and as you wonder why do dogs lay on your feet, tell yourself that whatever the reason, it may be one of life’s grrreatest joys!
DENISE FLECK is an award-winning author, animal care instructor and radio show host. She was named one of Pet Age Magazine’s “Women of Influence” for 2018, a “Most Inspiring Story” in 2017 by Voyage Atlanta Magazine and has been nominated for 6 Dog Writers Awards to be announced in early 2019.Read more »