Many dogs’ Achilles heel is … our heels. Licking our feet — no matter how sweaty — is among some pups’ favorite hobbies. Yes, dog lovers know that pups can be drawn to things we’d rather avoid, like pungent smells and mud. But the reasons dogs lick your feet are more multifaceted than you might think. We asked veterinarians why dogs lick our feet so much, what you can do to make them stop and when you should consult a vet. Keep scrolling to learn more.
Why do dogs lick your feet?
So what’s the deal with dogs licking our feet, anyway? It’s deeper and more nuanced than just dogs being a little bit gross. Here are the most common reasons that pups are drawn to our piggies.
1. They smell good (to her)
Feet aren’t known for having the most pleasant scent. However, if you’ve ever seen a dog roll on a dead fish, you know that dogs and humans seem to have different tastes in the perfume department. They’re drawn to pungent smells, and the smell of foot sweat is no exception. “Dogs have an incredibly keen sense of smell, and with all the sweat and unique odors, our feet provide much information about us, our environment and even our emotional state,” says Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM and veterinary contributor at We Love Doodles. “It’s like reading a daily newspaper for them!” (Click through to learn more about why dogs roll in poop.)
2. They taste good
A lot of dogs will eat just about anything. Yes, eating is tied to their reward centers, so they see all treats as a good thing. But dogs also have extensive palates because they have fewer taste buds than humans, so they’re naturally less, well, discerning.
While humans have about 9,000 taste receptors, dogs have fewer than 1,800. They can identify bitter, sweet, sour and salty flavors, but not to the same extent as humans. Our feet are naturally sweaty, and sweat is full of salt. “Dogs like to lick our feet because they taste salty, and dogs like salty things,” says Dr. Alex Crow, MRCVS and veterinary contributor to Pet Health Guru.
3. It’s comforting
“Licking, in general, is a comforting and instinctual behavior for dogs,” says Dr. Kong. If your dog is settling down, she may lick your feet as a relaxing activity since it naturally produces feel-good chemicals in her brain. “The simple act of licking can bring comfort to our furry friends, thanks to the rush of endorphins it triggers,” Dr. Mollie Newton, DVM and founder of PetMe Twice. If she’s licking your feet, she may find nearness to you extra comforting — it’s like combining two of her favorite things at once!
4. She wants your attention
When your dog licks your feet, you notice. This might mean you speak affectionately to her, scratch her ears or pick her up to make her stop. Whatever you do, you’re showing her affection, and she learns through repetition. If she gets your attention every time she licks you, she’s learned to get your attention this way.
5. She loves you
Another reason dogs lick your feet is because they love and care for you, and they respect you as their leader. “They might do it to show love and bond with us, like a hug,” says Dr. Crow. Because your dog loves you, she wants to make sure you’re cared for, so the licking behavior might be her way of grooming you. “Dogs naturally lick themselves and others to stay clean, so they might see our feet as needing some cleaning too.”
6. She respects you
Because she loves and trusts you, she sees you as her superior, and she wants you to know it. “Licking our feet can be a submissive gesture, signaling that they acknowledge us as the pack leader,” notes Dr. Kong.
Do some dogs lick feet more than others?
While many dogs love to lick their humans’ feet, not all dogs do. Just like humans, dogs have a vast array of personalities and proclivities. “It often comes down to individual personality and breed tendencies,” adds Dr. Kong.
Beyond personality, there are some types of dogs that are more likely to lick. “Some dog breeds are more prone to certain behaviors, including excessive licking,” says Dr. Crow. “For example, Labradors and retrievers are known for their oral fixation and may lick more frequently.” Hound dogs are also common culprits. “For instance, breeds known for their strong scent-tracking abilities might be more inclined to explore the world with their tongues,” notes Dr. Kong. (Click through to see which hound dogs make the best family pets.)
When is foot licking a cause for concern?
Because dogs love us and they love to lick, it makes sense that they’d lick our feet. It’s a natural behavior, so it isn’t an immediate cause for concern. If your pup is licking excessively or she becomes obsessed to the point where she doesn’t stop, it might be an indicator of one or more of the following health or behavioral issues.
1. Pain, discomfort or nausea
“Excessive licking could mean your dog is in pain or uncomfortable, which might be due to an injury or other health issues,” says Dr. Crow. “If your dog’s stomach isn’t feeling good, they may also lick a lot.”
Because licking is so comforting to her, your dog might be licking your feet excessively to quell her fear or anxiety. “Anxious or nervous dogs may be more inclined to engage in compulsive behaviors like excessive licking,” says Dr. Crow.
How to get your dog to stop licking your feet
A dog licking your feet till they’re wet and covered in slobber isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time, much to your pup’s dismay. Yes, you can wear socks or shoes around your dog, but that doesn’t really fix the behavior. Here are some ways that vets suggest may stop this behavior (unless you like it — then more power to you both).
1. Rule out any issues
First, make sure your dog’s foot licking is just a hobby, per se, and not an obsession. If you suspect she might be under any kind of mental or physical duress due to excessive licking, consult your veterinarian for the best course of action.
Dogs love to learn new tricks — it makes them feel closer to you. Turn your distaste for their foot licking into a game. “Train your dog to stop licking when you say ‘leave it,” says Dr. Crow. “Praise and reward them with treats or petting when they listen.” Just remember that positive reinforcement is vital. Punishing your dog or raising your voice at her will only confuse and scare her.
You can also ignore it, and show your dog that she doesn’t get attention when she licks your feet. Reward her when she interacts without licking your feet. Check out the video below for step-by-step instruction:
Once your pup starts licking, distract them with something more appealing or engaging. “If you want to curb this behavior, redirection is the way to go,” says Dr. Kong. “When your dog starts to lick your feet, redirect them to a toy or give them a command like sit or stay.” And be consistent — repetition is how dogs learn.
Click through to learn more about dog behavior: