Why Do Dogs Sit on Your Feet?
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Of the many curious behaviors of dogs, sitting on our feet isn't the strangest. It's still peculiar, especially when we consider the dog. Even the largest of dog breeds, some bigger than their human guardians, choose to rest on top of their feet. What is odd is the fact there are many more cosy looking places to rest their canine selves. Why do dogs sit on your feet when there are more comfortable places to rest? AnimalWised looks into this particular behavior of dogs to better understand canine communication. It will both help us to know what they are trying to say to us as well as show us how positively it can affect our bond.
Why does my dog sit on my feet?
We need to first emphasize that there is no single reason why dogs sleep on your feet or on top of their guardians. The behavior of dogs reflects a complex and varied body language, each movement and gesture expressing different meanings depending on the context of the situation. It also depends on the relationship between the individual dog and the human being used as a rest area.
In working out why your dog is sitting at your feet, you need to look at their posture and expression while carrying out this behavior. You also need to know what is happening in the environment and if there is some other contextual consideration you might be neglecting.
This is why we look at some of the different possible reasons why your dog is sitting on your feet. As each dog will have their own specific reasons why they are doing this, you will need to ensure you know your dog well. You should also learn some general background information on canine body language to know what they are trying to say.
Misconceptions about dominance in dogs
It is very important not to get carried away with false myths about dominance in dogs. One such myth is that when a dog sits on its guardian's feet it is demonstrating a show of dominance. However, ethological studies indicate that dominance is intraspecies specific, meaning that it happens exclusively between individuals of the same species. This is why training and education methods based on dominance do not make sense and are not as effective as those based on positive reinforcement. Such education can lead to negative impacts on their upbringing and behavioral problems.
Additionally, the term ‘alpha dog’ is used to refer to dogs which try to dominate all dogs. The assumption is that the dog will be aggressive with all other dogs they come across. In actuality, the social and hierarchical structures are complex and specific to different groups. One dog may take a more ‘dominant’ position with certain dogs, bu not with others.
One of the problems with these misconceptions about dominance is that too many people equate dominance with aggression. Aggression in dogs is a behavioral problem which needs to be treated appropriately. Aggression is more likely to derive from poor socialization, trauma, hormonal changes, etc. A ‘dominant’ dog may be dominant over certain dogs, but not necessarily over all dogs in all situations.
When your dog is sitting on your feet, it is not showing dominance. It is a serious mistake to use aggression or abusive methods to ‘correct’ this behavior. If you do use scolding or even hitting when your dog sits on your feet, you will be exposing them to negative emotions such as stress, fear and anxiety. As you will see, the actual reasons you dog sits on your feet means you are misinterpreting this behavior. The result can lead to a weakening of the bond you have with your dog.
On the other hand, if you feel like your dog is becoming possessive over you and reacts negatively when someone else approaches you, it is likely a problem with protection of resources. In these cases, we recommend you see a canine behaviorist or ethologist who will be able to help your dog relieve their anxieties and reduce problem behaviors. A veterinary visit will also be required to ensure your dog does not have an underlying pathological problem affecting said behavior.
Then why do dogs sit on our feet?
Now that you know the incorrect misinterpretations of dogs sitting on your feet, you will want to know the real impetus behind this behavior. As we stated above, the reasons will be particular to your dog. There are some general reasons why your dog sits on your feet:
- To enjoy your company: there is no denying that dogs are extraordinary companions, always willing to share with us when times are good and console us during more difficult phases. Simply, one of the reasons your dog will want to sit on your feet is because they enjoy spending time with you.
- For warmth and comfort: in the first weeks of their life, it is common for puppies to sleep in close proximity with their mother and siblings. This can even mean they sleep on top of each other, especially if they want to conserve heat. If your dog sleeps on top of your feet, over your chest or even above your head, it could be an extension of this behavior. You should be grateful they feel so safe and comfortable in your presence they treat you like family.
- To support you: dogs can easily perceive changes in our mood, able to interpret changes in our body posture, facial expression, gestures and attitude. Since they use body language to communicate, it means they are also very good at recognizing it in others. Even without uttering a singles word, your dog can interpret your mood and sense you are going through a difficult moment. They may lie on top of your feet, come close to you or find any way they can to communicate their support and fidelity. Dogs are there through good times and bad.
- To communicate your bond to others: a dog's anal glands secrete a unique scent which signals to other dogs that they are present. They may be sitting on top of your feet because they are trying to mark that you are their guardian. It is subtly different to how a cat marks their territory (if a dog was marking you, they would be peeing on your feet). They are simply trying to signal to other animals that you are their guardian, partly to show solidarity and partly to feel secure. They won't necessary rub their glands on you, but they are infusing you with their smell.
- To get your attention: if you spend a lot of time away from home, it is understandable your furry friend might miss you. This can lead to something called ‘separation anxiety’. The symptoms of this can be varied, from uncontrollable barking to even self-mutilation. However, very mild symptoms may manifest in a desire to be close to you. Laying over your feet might be one such mild symptom. Further still, they might simply want one of their needs met. They could want to go for a walk, have something to eat or do something social.
As you can see, the reasons why your dog will sit on your feet are not likely to be due to dangerous or negative behavior. What might be an issue is that you are not paying sufficient attention, but the fact that they want your attention should be a good sign. This is unless they become too possessive. Possessive behavior can be dangerous, especially when young children are involved. If your dog is being possessive, we recommend taking your dog to a suitable trainer for re-education.
If your dog carries out destructive behaviors while you are away and then sits at your feet permanently when you are home, separation anxiety might be an issue. Take a look at our article on separation anxiety to see other symptoms and find some information on what you can do about it.
Does your dog sit on your feet? Is there a reason for it we haven't covered? If so, please leave a comment for the community below. If you want to know some more about these curious dog behaviors, you can also take a look at our article on why your dog lays their head on you.
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- American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior 2009. AVSAB Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of animals.