Why Do Dogs Lick Feet? An Exploration Into Canines Licking Feet & Toes
At first it was funny and cute, then it got weird, and now it is obnoxious. You're asking yourself, "Why is my dog licking my feet?" We'll explain why and how can you make them stop.
First, let’s look at some common theories about why some dogs lick tootsies. Then we will suggest some training techniques for stopping this behavior. Finally, we will recommend some tools to help with your training.
Canine Licking: Submissive Behavior
Some trainers think that all canine behavior can be reduced to dominance or submissive posturing. These folks think foot tasting behavior as a clear sign that your pup is showing submission and respecting you as dominant.
Dogs are concerned about pack dynamics, however, modern day trainers have somewhat debunked dominance theory. It is over simplified. Canines have complex emotional lives just like all other social animals.
If we want to get to the root of this or any other canine behavior, we have to look deeper.
Persistent Behavior is Being Rewarded
Professional trainers understand that repetitive behaviors in dogs, whether they are desired by humans or not, are being rewarded in some way. Sometimes the reward is intrinsic in the action, and sometimes the human is adding reward to a situation. Let’s look at both cases.
They just taste so goooood!
We know, It’s gross. But the reason your pooch likes to taste your tootsies might be as simple as the reason you go back for a second helping of dessert: it just tastes so good! Clearly, they have different ideas about what is delicious!
Part of this may be as simple as the salty taste of sweat on your toes. Believe it or not, your foot has a high concentration of sweat glands, about 250,000 in fact. But, it is probably more complicated than just that salty flavor.
Let’s exchange business cards!
Canines use taste and smell for communication and information gathering. Endocrine glands on the foot express a complex mix of hormones that can be giving dogs a great deal of information about their humans.
What you are feeling, where you have been, and what you have been eating are “visible” to your pup through smelling and tasting your foot.
Moreover, just like polite dogs smell each other’s anal glands in a standard greeting, such information gathering is likely part of how canines bond with members of their pack by displaying trust and affection.
Social bonding and Oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, are closely linked. It is likely that part of understanding why your dog licks your feet is that they are self-rewarding….it produces feel good hormones to bond with you in this way.
Even more interesting is that canine and human bonding interactions can provide a feel good feedback loop. You might be benefitting from such interactions!
Okay, maybe not. If you are reading this article, it is likely you have decided that having your pooch taste your feet is gross or annoying. If you want to curb the behavior in a way that won’t damage your relationship with your pup, then read on.
How To Curb Doggy Licking Behavior
1. Have you made it a game?
We discussed above a few of the reasons why canines might be self-rewarding by licking feet. Now it is time to look at ways you might be contributing the problem.
Ask yourself: Am I making foot tasting a fun and irresistible game for my pooch?
Everyone knows that dogs are prone to engage in games like “Keep away!” and “Let me get my human all riled up!” Canines like excitement. If licking your foot gets a desired reaction out of you, then you are rewarding their foot tasting behavior.
Do you giggle and pull your feet away with a high-pitched voice? Do you get agitated and tell them “No!” but then leave your foot available for another go?
Chances are, if you are doing these things, you are communicating to your fur baby that licking your feet is a fun game. If something is fun for your dog, you can count on the fact that they will keep doing it.
If this applies to your situation, the first plan of action is to stop playing the game. Get up, ignore your pup, walk away and put your focus somewhere else.
2. Manage the environment.
Every time a dog practices a behavior that results in reward, that behavior gets reinforced. If you want to stop your pooch from tasting your feet, then stop giving them chances to do it.
Managing your dog’s environment is the easiest form of canine training. It involves simply removing opportunities for your furry pal to engage in undesired behavior. That is why many trainers recommend you start here.
In the case of foot licking this can be as simple as covering them with socks or shoes when your pup is around, or tucking them under the covers.
Looking for opportunities to manage the environment is just part of the solution. It needs to be paired with other techniques for full effectiveness
3. Train alternative behaviors that satisfy your dog’s needs.
If you suspect your dog is trying to bond by gathering information from your sweat glands or giving you affection, then find an alternative way for them to express that in ways you actually enjoy.
Great ideas include:
- Encourage your dog to lick your hands, then make a game of it.
- Teach your pup to give you a kiss on the lips.
- Train them to do a trick like nuzzling the nape of your neck or giving you a hug.
- Play a game of tug or fetch with your pooch.
Make sure the alternative behaviors you train are fun and engaging for your dog.
After you have alternative behaviors on command, you can then phase in some naked feet, and redirect your dog to the alternative behaviors you have trained. Don’t wait for them to go for your foot before soliciting the new behaviors (because then you are just adding another reward to foot tasting).
Instead, solicit the alternative behaviors BEFORE your pooch has a chance to go for your toes. Practice short training sessions of alternative behaviors around naked feet to set your dog up for success. Over time you can extend your sessions.
Instead of thinking "Why does my dog lick my feet?" Think why aren't they licking that tasty bone over there!
4. Punishment: The last resort in changing behavior.
The problem with going to punishment first is that you are cutting off a bonding and connection point for your relationship with your dog without giving them an alternative. If you give your pup an alternative FIRST, then apply some humane punishment after those are learned and reinforced, you will find that they will choose the rewarding alternative behaviors more easily.
Here are some ideas for adding punishment to stop your pooch from licking your tootsies:
- Yuk! Use bitter apple spray on your feet to make licking an unpleasant experience.
- Time out! Every time they go to taste your feet give them a short “time out” in the kennel or in a room without people. More than a few minutes serves no purpose since the dog has long forgotten the action that got them in time out. Expect to have to repeat this often at first and less over time.
- Ignore then redirect. Make tasting your feet come with the penalty of complete lack of attention. Then, reengage after a few minutes with one of the alternative bonding behaviors.
- Stern “No!’, ask for a sit, reward the sit. Training a strong “sit” is a great tool for redirecting away from problem behaviors. The sit needs to be long enough that the canine is clear they are being rewarded for the sit, NOT the licking. 30 seconds or more is ideal.
If you have tried all of the training tips recommended above, and are still not getting the foot tasting under control, then consider contacting a local professional dog trainer that can lend their expertise in helping you to find a strategy for safe training techniques.
Why Does My Dog Lick My Feet?
- Yum! They taste good! – Canines like the way salty sweat tastes on your foot.
- What did you have for lunch today, where have you been, and what are you feeling? – Canines gather information that is valuable to them from scent and taste.
- We are best pals! – Dogs are trying to bond with you in a way that makes sense to them.
- You are so much fun when we play the foot tickle game! – You may be rewarding your pup by making foot licking a fun game.
How Can I Stop My Dog From Licking My Feet?
- Manage the environment. – Cover your feet to prevent them from practicing this self-rewarding behavior.
- Train alternative bonding/information gathering behaviors. – Recognize that your dog has emotional needs and teach them alternative ways to express them.
- Practice naked feet around already trained alternative behaviors. – Give your pup a chance to practice other rewarding behaviors while ignoring your delicious foot.
- Time out! – Use the power of withdrawing your affection to make foot licking have a negative consequence.
- Consult a trainer. – If feet licking is obsessive or it is really bothering you, and the above techniques applied consistently are not helping, then consult a local professional.
Helpful Tools To Train Your Dog To Stop Licking Your Feet
This non-toxic formula is designed to discourage canines from chewing on furniture as well as their own fur. However, if you apply some of this nasty tasting liquid to your feet, and your dog goes in for a taste, they won’t enjoy the experience. This effectively removes the “reward” factor.
Keep them covered with socks or shoes until you are ready for a training session. Apply and then just do the things that normally get your pup to lick your feet. Don’t go out of your way to encourage them to lick. (This can make your dog distrust you.)
It will take a few bad experiences to overcome all the good experiences they have already had tasting your feet. However, be patient and consistent.
The Kong line of toys comes in many shapes and sizes so that you can find something perfect for your pooch. We love this design because you can really wedge some kibble or treats deep into the grooves, keeping your dog’s nose, mouth and attention occupied for a long time.
Get them interested in this toy stuffed with some of their favorite treats. Then get your toes out! If your dog leaves the toy to come lick your feet, then they lose the toy for a few minutes. Too bad! Your dog will figure out soon enough that tasting your toes just isn’t worth it.
Besides having some dental benefits, this high-quality floss tug is a great way to engage your pup in some bonding tug-of-war. It is an excellent device for helping your pooch to express their need to bond, without licking your feet.
Remember the rules of tug games with Canines:
- If your dog’s teeth touch your hands, game over.
- Put “Tug it!” on command. If your pooch goes to tug without permission, game over.
- Teach “Drop it” while playing tug. If your pooch fails to drop the tug, game over.
- Make sure tug is a fun game and you will find that your pup won’t be worried about licking your feet. All dogs know, tugs are way better than toes!
If you have any theories as to why your dog loves licking your feet we'd love to hear about it in the comment section.
Sharon Elber (M.S. in Science & Technology) - Professional Dog Trainer
Sharon is a professional dog trainer with over 10 years experience. She is also a professional writer that received her M.S. in Science & Technology Studies from Virginia Tech.
For more info on Sharon click here