Why Do Dogs Lick Feet?

The owner in bed with his dog licking his toes

Dogs exhibit behaviors that are innate and normal to them but often leave us wondering why they do what they do. One such behavior is licking feet.

At first, you might think nothing of this act and chuck it up as a form of a slobbery kiss from your precious doggo. However, you might start to experience growing concern when you notice it isn’t just a quirky and uncommon habit but one that has become very frequent.

Why does your dog lick your feet? Should you be concerned? We have provided all you need to understand why your dog fancies your feet.

The mother embracing her daughter and sitting near dog

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Is Licking Normal For Dogs?

Before you make an appointment with your vet because of what seems to be a concerning excessive foot-licking habit, it is essential to remember that licking is typical for dogs. It is an instinctive behavior that you cannot just pull the plug on whenever you like. 

When your dog isn’t busy licking your feet or face, you will undoubtedly catch them exploring the world with their tongue. From using their tongue to groom themselves to groom other dogs and even licking the carpet, a dog uses its tongue as a means of expression and communication with both its owners and other dogs.

Dogs use their tongue as a means of grooming, bonding, relaxing, finding comfort, or getting attention. A dog licking you might mean many things, not just some strange addiction you probably think it is. As we learn to latch on to our mother’s nipples as a baby, licking is instinctive for dogs.

From an early age, puppies learn to use their tongues to explore the world around them. In a way, licking is how a puppy is introduced to the world. During the whelping or dog birthing process, each newborn puppy is enclosed in a sac. After birth, the mother will lick and “chew” on her puppy to clean it and tear open its birth sac to stimulate breathing.

In the weeks after, the mother will also lick her pups’ genitals to stimulate urination and defecation. Essentially, licking is a critical part of a dog’s existence.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Feet?

When you are fresh out of the shower. As soon as you kick off your shoes. While you are sitting and watching TV with your feet propped up.  It doesn’t matter where or when, your dog always finds the time and space to give your feet tender licking and care- pun intended.

For some pet parents, the licking offers a pleasantly ticklish feeling, so they do not complain. After all, their precious pooch seems to be having a good time, and they are too. For some others, the behavior might be a bit odd and even unpleasant. After all, feet aren’t supposed to taste good.

So, why does your dog derive satisfaction and contentment from licking your foot? There are several explanations for this behavior. Some of these include;

1. To Taste You

You might think there is no chance your feet taste good, especially when it’s sweaty. Even when you consider your feet unappealing, it remains a dog’s favorite thing to taste. To you, it might be disgusting, to your dog, it’s probably fine dining. Dogs have fewer taste buds than we do, with the average dog having about 1,700 taste buds. This number is 7,300 less than the human’s estimated 9000 taste buds. 

Like us, dogs can identify sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes. However, because they have few taste buds, they can’t taste or appreciate salt as we do. This explains why they seek out areas of our bodies with strong tastes and secretes sweat like our hands, face, and, unsurprisingly, feet.

Each of our feet has more than 125,000 sweat glands. In fact, the soles of our foot have more glands per square centimeter than any other body part. This means although it might not look like it, our feet are constantly producing sweat. This also means that we carry more salty flavor than we know, and our dogs have managed to discover and enjoy this.

So, what you consider stinky, smelly, and disgusting signifies a field day for your furry friend. 

2. To Self-Soothe

Licking your feet offers your dog a sense of comfort and relaxation when it is having a stressful day. Consider this the canine equivalent of a stress ball in stressful situations that cause them to be anxious. When a dog licks something, its body releases endorphins.

Endorphins are hormones the body releases when it feels pain or stress or during pleasurable activities. Endorphins play a significant role in relieving pain, reducing tension and improving your pup’s sense of well-being. Licking your feet is something a dog finds comforting, relaxing and enjoyable. 

3. To Show They Love You

Licking is an instinctive act for our canine friends. To dogs, licking is a love language used to display and communicate affection for their kind and human family. Slobbery kisses are a dog’s way of telling us it loves us. From licking our faces to our hands and feet, a dog isn’t afraid to use its tongue to show his family that they love and cherish you.

Although you consider the act to be disgusting, chances are that your dog licks your feet to show you they love you. After all, to a canine mom, licking and grooming her kids is a show of affection that the kids quickly learn to use. To your doggo, it isn’t feet licking but a form of puppy kisses. Think of it as an act of bonding dedicated to strengthening your relationship with your canine best friend.

4. They Are Grooming You

It is no secret that a dog’s biggest and most versatile grooming tool is its tongue. From paw licking to licking its genitals, a dog uses its tongue to clean itself, self-soothe during pain, and keep an injury site clean. As we previously mentioned, grooming and licking are standard amongst dogs that fancy each other, usually in a pack.

They use licking as a medium to encourage bodily functions, maintain hygiene, and show love. If your dog licks your feet, chances are it is grooming you. This shows that it respects you as a member of its pack.

5. Submission

Another reason your dog might lick your feet is to show respect. It does this as a submissive gesture to show its respect for and acceptance of you as its master. Before you panic, this should not be compared to an act of fear or forced submission. Instead, it can be likened to a situation of someone acknowledging a higher power, showing you the kind of respect that you show your parents.

A great way to know if the foot licks you get from your dog can be translated to mean submission is by watching for other behavioral signs. When feet licking is combined with submissive postures like the bow or tail wagging, it can mean an act of submission.

cute dog licks man's feet

6. Seeking Attention

Your pup might also consider licking your feet as an act to grab your attention. If licking your feet often triggers a response from you, your pet might have translated this to mean that licking your feet is an easy way to grab your attention fast. Since they cannot precisely speak up to get your attention, we can’t exactly fault them for adopting this easy way out. 

If you are very reactive to your dog licking your feet, your dog might think licking your feet is a great way to get you to react to its needs faster. Every time you laugh at its little feet-licking act or quickly jerk away and attend to its need, you might encourage your dog to exploit feet-licking as a means of seeking attention.

7. Greeting

If you walk in after hours of being away from your dog and it rushes up to lick your feet, it is simply coming over to say hi. The “hello” feet kisses are synonymous with a welcome greeting that dogs use to tell their owners that they are glad to have them back.

But why the feet in this case? Pretty simple. Although many dogs prefer to lick the face as a greeting, they are not very picky. This is primarily because the feet are closer to the ground than your face is. So, if you get home from work and your dog rushes up to lick your feet before you get the chance to scoop them up, it is simply saying hello in canine language.

8. Anxiety

Although licking a person’s feet is a normal self-soothing behavior among dogs, when done excessively, it can be a sign of a behavioral or mental disorder. Licking your feet might be your dog’s response to anxiety. Since it is obsessive behavior, you might need to take your dog to the vet as soon as you discover your dog licks your feet as a response to anxiety.

Anxious dogs are overly stressed and will often crave external stimulation to help calm their frayed nerves, much like a nervous person bites their nails. If your dog frantically licks your feet every chance you get, you must get it the help it needs fast.

9. To Smell Better

As absurd as it may sound, licking your feet is an excellent way for your pup to get to know and smell you better. Our feet are packed with loads of pheromones which may not seem of much relevance to us but are a source of enjoyable biological information to our dogs.

Pheromones are chemical substances produced and released into the environment by an animal- or human in this case- and have the power to affect the behavior or physiology of other animals- human or not. Simply put, your feet may look stink-free, but in reality, it drives dogs crazy in a good way.

Why? Dogs have a sense of smell between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than ours. Essentially, even if you can’t smell it, your dog can. Dogs have a sensory organ called the Jacobson’s or the vomeronasal organ. This organ connects its nasal cavity to the roof of the mouth, making it possible to taste and smell simultaneously.

So, chances are your dog enjoys licking your feet because the pheromones in your feet enjoyably overload its Jacobson’s organ, feeding it biological information through its tongue and nose.

10. To Show empathy

Having a dog to lift your spirit is one of the many benefits of having a dog. Have you noticed how your dog often cuddles or kisses you when you are sad or in a bad mood? It is its way of helping you feel better. Although dogs typically lick their human’s face to make them feel better, they can also lick your feet if it is within reach. 

Should You Be Worried?

Not necessarily. Although many vets will encourage you to discourage your dog’s licking habit, it is essential to know that licking is an expected behavior with dogs. If the act doesn’t disturb or disgust you, there is no reason to punish your dog.  However, frantic and excessive licking might be a problem.

Just like the excessive licking of a dog’s body might signify a flea infestation or food allergy, an obsessive need to lick feet may be bad news. If the act looks constant and repetitive, it might indicate an underlying mental problem like anxiety disorder.  When you notice your dog’s compulsive need to lick your feet, we recommend seeing a vet.

How To Stop Your Dog From Licking Your Feet

If you are uncomfortable with your dog’s foot-licking behavior, there are measures you can put in place to distract them from your feet. However, whatever you do, it is essential to remember that you should never punish your dog for licking your feet. So, what can you do instead?

  • Keep your feet clean: clean feet mean less sweat and oil. Less sweat means you have a higher chance of your dog being slightly uninterested in your feet due to less nasal stimulation. So, washing your feet offers both hygienic benefits and acts as a foot-licking deterrent.
  • Be unresponsive: If your dog licks your feet to get your attention, a great way to discourage this behavior is not to react. Although this might seem difficult, especially if you are ticklish, when your dog sees that you do not respond to these licks anymore, it will be forced to find a new method to get your attention. Hopefully, this new method doesn’t involve its tongue.
  • Prevent access: Wear socks. Keep your feet in indoor slippers. Do anything to restrict easy access to your feet, especially if your dog is one determined feet-licking pooch.
  • Redirect their attention: When you notice your dog licking your feet, give it something else to do. You can provide external stimulation, lick mats and toys to distract him from the act.
  • Use positive reinforcement: Don’t scream at your dog to stop licking your feet. Instead, use treats and positive words to encourage it to stop.

When you do these consistently, you have a higher chance of helping your dog learn not to treat your feet as a toy specially made for its tongue.

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Michael Brady

Michael is an animal-lover who specializes in marketing. He started running Dog Food Care with his mother, Sarah, after leaving his office job. Michael gained enough flexibility in his schedule to be able to adopt a dog of his own and welcomed Emmie the dachshund into his home in 2020.