It’s a common scene: You’re sitting at your desk, working, while your dog lays on your feet underneath. Or, you’re reading in bed and feel your pup curl up against your legs at the end of the mattress. It’s no surprise that dogs adore being near us (and vice versa). Yet, is it healthy and “normal” for them physically lie on their human’s feet all the time? Could this behavior be a sign of something negative? Whatever the reason, cuddling with your dog is never a bad thing, especially on cold winter nights.
Here are some considerations regarding the behavior though:
The Cause For Cuddling
Like so many of our dogs’ behaviors, laying on your feet has its roots in the instinctual pack mentality. Dogs are born into and raised in groups, needing little to no space from one another. Instead, they thrive while cooperating, communicating, and—yes—cuddling together. That stated, dogs may give their humans the preferential spot on the bed or couch as they view them as their pack leader. This respectful deference is often the reason why dogs sleep at the foot of the bed instead of, say, sprawled out across the pillows.
Furthermore, from the time they’re puppies, dogs follow their mothers closely, often directly underfoot. The desire to lie on your feet not only stems from an instinct to be close with loved ones, but to seek protection from pack leaders. If your dog continually places themself at your feet, it’s possible that they feels safest there. The fact that they also makes a wonderful foot warmer is just another bonus for you.
Despite the naturalness of touch between dogs and humans, reading your own dog’s cues is vital to understanding the reason for their behavior. A dog that cowers or huddles at your feet—meaning, they looks and feels tense, as well as appears insecure or frightened—may be in need of some help. While it’s important that you’re, first and foremost, your dog’s beacon of protection, it might not be healthy for your pup to constantly use you as a safety blanket. Taking these moments to work on positive training, or leashing your dog to take them for a short walk, may help ease the anxious mindset he’s stuck in. By taking positive steps towards having your dog lessen their fears or insecurities, you’ll be doing your dog (and their self-esteem) a longterm favor.
Similarly, if your dog is tense as they lays at your feet but in a hostile or aggressive way, it’s advisable to take positive steps to correct this behavior as well. Some dogs will sit or lie on their humans in order to express dominance or territorial feelings. If it feels as if your dog is “owning” you, then consider signaling to your pup that you’d like more space. Dogs that are rewarded for protecting you when you’re not in need of protection may continue this behavior to the point that it becomes problematic.
Separation anxiety can also turn a “velcro” dog into a dog that feels unsafe leaving your side. (Or, in this case, your feet.) While it’s natural for your dog to want to spend the maximum amount of time with you, if your dog appears anxious if he’s not touching you, then the behavior may not be healthy. Think of ways in which you can help your pup grow their self-confidence. Taking long walks, going running or hiking, exploring new places, hitting the agility course, trying new exercises or tricks, or meeting other people or dogs might allow them to develop a stronger sense of self, as well as feel more relaxed in the world.
If your dog laying at your feet is an enjoyable and natural state of being for both dog and human, keep the cuddles coming! For dogs that may be exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, fear, or dominance, consider working on establishing healthy and happy boundaries. That way, physical closeness with your dog remains a loving, comforting, and even joyful experience for everyone.
Lastly, as always, when in doubt about a behavior that seems troubling, consult a professional.