Our furry friends have some weird and wonderful habits, whether it’s chasing their tails, howling at sirens, rolling around the grass, or licking every inch of us. Plenty of people have pooches who like to lick, but why do dogs lick feet specifically? To us humans, it can seem gross, yet our dogs seem to love slobbering on our toes.
There are loads of theories about why dogs lick feet, and we humans might never know for sure exactly what compels our canines to slobber on our toes. You can read through the reasons why dogs lick feet and probably figure out why toes make your own pup tick.
Whatever’s behind it, licking feet is pretty normal behaviour for dogs. Licking someone’s foot is a bit far-out for most of us humans, but for our hounds, it can be an important bonding ritual, a calming exercise, and it might even be tasty. So let’s take a look at why dogs lick feet.
There are two main social reasons to explain why dogs lick your feet. The first of these reasons is that a dog licks your feet as a way of showing you that they love you. We already know dogs lick us to show affection, and lots of us call those licks “puppy kisses”. Dogs often aim these slobbery smooches at our faces, hands, and feet. For some little dogs and puppies, your feet might be the only place they can reach! To dogs, licking and grooming family members is a way to show their love and strengthen their bonds.
The other reason why that tongue is aimed at your toes is that it’s your dog’s way of showing that they respect you. Dogs will often lick more dominant dogs to show them they are submissive and not a threat, and your pooch might be licking your feet for the same reason. By staying low to the ground and licking you, it’s like a double whammy message of “I respect you.”
A mother dog licks her puppies to keep them clean, show her love, and help encourage bodily functions like pooping. Even adult dogs will lick their wounds or each other’s injuries because their saliva can help to keep the cut clean, prevent infection, and improve healing. Plus it’s a comforting act and shows their friends some love when they’re not feeling their best.
Even amongst us humans, there’s plenty of folk medicine and legend that says having a dog lick you will cure you. For instance, the ancient Greek god of medicine had a canine companion, and his shrines had sacred dogs that would lick people and allegedly cure them.
Your pooch might be licking you if you’re unwell to try and make you feel better, and they will certainly lick your cuts to try and keep you clean. In their head, they’re helping! They’re probably also trying to comfort you too.
We all know dogs will happily roll in and eat things that are pretty disgusting, and sometimes your stinky, sweaty feet are irresistible for your furry friend. Whether it’s the salt from your sweat sticking to your toes, or you’ve accidentally stepped in some crumbs in the kitchen, your pup can taste and smell everything you’ve walked in and probably finds it all pretty tasty.
If your dog seems obsessed with licking your feet or arms when you’re sweaty, they might just enjoy the salty taste or perhaps have a mineral deficiency. However, it’s much more likely they just think it tastes good!
Some dogs are just much more prone to licking than others. If your dog licks your feet, it could just be that they are a licky dog, and your feet happen to be an easy-to-reach place to slobber.
It’s hard to ignore a dog licking your feet, isn’t it? So your pup might have learned that if they need something, or want to steal your attention, licking your feet is one way to do it. Most dogs will stare at you to try and communicate, and if it doesn’t work, they will add in a physical way of getting your attention whether that’s pawing at your arm, booping their nose against your leg, or even licking your hands and feet.
This reason is linked to the theory that dogs lick your feet for attention. The last time your dog licked your foot you probably flinched away and told them off, or giggled as they licked your tickly toes and gave them a fuss. Either way, you fixed your focus on your dog and they will soon realise it’s an effective way of getting your attention (they don’t care if it’s positive or negative attention!). Their goal is just to get you to focus on them, and licking seems like a great way of doing it.
Not to mention, if you are ticklish, your dog probably heard your laughter and thought you enjoyed them licking your feet because giggling is a positive reaction. Wriggling your tickly feet around probably seemed fun too, and they might have thought it was a bit of a game.
More often than not when a dog licks you, you’ll start cooing over them and give them a cuddle, since they’re apparently kissing you and showering you in puppy love. Obviously snuggling them is positive so they’ll think licking your feet means a fuss, and they’ll start to do it more often to earn a quick cuddle.
When a dog licks something their body releases endorphins, which is the hormone that relieves pain and stress. If your dog does a lot of licking, whether that’s your feet, their own feet, their toys, or even the floor, then they might be doing it as a self-soothing behaviour.
If there have been some fireworks, or you’ve been away from home for the weekend, your dog’s foot-licking might be their way of calming themselves down after a stressful period.
Lots of licking can help to reduce stress and pain, so consistent licking could be a sign your pup is agitated or uncomfortable. If the behaviour continues, or they show any signs of illness or pain, you should get your vet to examine them to make sure there is no underlying problem.
If your dog seems to be licking your feet at every opportunity and does it for extended periods of time, it could be a compulsive behaviour. Some dogs feel a near-obsessive need to lick and your feet may be the target or something else.
“Excessive surface licking” is one of several repetitive behaviours seen in dogs. These behaviours can be rooted in medical conditions or other behavioural disorders, so it’s always best to consult with a vet and perhaps a behaviourist to examine what’s causing your dog’s strange behaviour.
This sounds super specific, but it’s actually really common! Dogs will often lick our feet after we’ve had a bath or shower, or even after you’ve rubbed something on them like moisturiser. It’s possible that something you’ve used to wash smells and tastes interesting to your pooch, and they’re licking your feet to see what it is. (Dogs explore a lot of the world with their mouths and noses after all).
After a shower, you no doubt smell different. Your dog licking you might be to try and find your usual smell lurking under the perfume of your shower gel. Dog’s will rub themselves all over the floor after a bath to get a familiar smell on them, so maybe they think your feet are worth licking and rubbing against to get their own smell back on you to remind you of home.
As weird as it can seem, licking is a very normal dog behaviour, and licking feet is equally normally no matter how gross! Most dogs seem to enjoy licking feet as well, so there’s no real need to stop it unless it is becoming a compulsive behaviour, or if it’s really annoying you.
If you want to stop your dog from licking your feet, use positive reinforcement and redirection to encourage them to do something else, like lying down, or playing with a toy. Give the new behaviour a big reward and lots of fuss and praise, so your dog learns to do this to get your attention rather than licking your feet.
You should try to redirect feet licking if it seems to be becoming a compulsive behaviour for your dog. Although if you are having trouble putting an end to their obsessive foot licking, you should get some professional help from your vet and a canine behaviourist to check there’s no underlying problem and to tackle the problem behaviour.