At the end of the day, there’s nothing a dog owner loves more than coming home and spending some quality time with their pup.
And from what we can tell, there’s nothing better for a dog, either!
But when it’s time to get off the couch and head to bed, your dog’s desire for closeness can end up being more of an obstacle than anything else.
It’s not just those puppy-dog eyes or that subtle little whine that compels you to bend to his will. No, in many cases, your dog physically prevents you from getting up by sitting on your feet.
Though at first this behavior is cute and charming, feet-sitting can quickly become annoying. It certainly doesn’t help that it’s not always clear just why your dog is doing this!
We may not know exactly why dogs sit on feet, since we’ve yet to perfect the art of canine telepathy. But there are a few prevailing theories — let’s break them down!
Dogs Sit on Feet Because They’re Anxious
Dogs get anxiety just like humans — that much is obvious. All it takes is one look around the vet’s office waiting room to observe all the different ways anxiety can manifest in dogs.
Wide eyes, trembling bodies, tucked-away tails and nervous glances are all telltale signs of an anxious dog.
But so is the dog’s position in the room.
An anxious dog will instinctively seek out comfort and security anywhere it can get it. At home, this may mean curling up in a favorite corner or retreating into a dark, quiet room.
But when you’re around, your dog will probably turn to you for reassurance and comfort during anxiety-provoking situations. And often, the easiest way to obtain these things is by sitting on your feet.
No jumping, no crying for attention, no risk of getting in trouble for being on the furniture. Just take a seat on your owner’s feet and start reaping all the benefits of close contact — easy peasy!
Physical touch plays a huge part in alleviating anxiety. We humans tend to calm down when we get hugs from loved ones, and dogs tend to calm down when touching their favorite people too.
And even in non-anxious situations, your dog just wants to be near you out of love. That obsession with your feet may actually be an expression of devotion, canine-style.
Dogs Sit on Feet Because They’re Cold…
Though they’re covered in fur, dogs still get cold from time to time. As the saying goes, if you’re cold, so are they!
And believe it or not, dogs have devised many of the same ways of warming up as we have.
They’ll burrow into blankets or under rugs, seek out emanating warmth from fireplaces or radiators and curl up into little insulated balls. Physiologically, they also shiver and chatter their teeth, just like we do.
But dogs also instinctually seek out other sources of body heat when they’re cold.
We can observe this behavior in wolf packs, which huddle together when it’s nippy outside. The large mass of warm bodies conserves heat far better than a lone wolf, boosting the pack’s ability to survive in subfreezing temperatures.
…And to Keep Their Leader Safe and Warm
When wolves get together, the leader of the pack usually gets the prime spot in the huddle: the center.
It’s the warmest, best-insulated spot, and it’s reserved for the head honcho.
And the center of the group is the safest place as well — any attackers would need to fight through several layers of wolves before getting to the most important and/or vulnerable members of the pack.
But it doesn’t end with wild wolves. This behavior has clearly carried over to domestic dogs too.
As the pack leader, you’re the VIP of your dog’s world. His instinct is both to protect you and to rely on you, and feet-sitting fulfills both of these drives.
By sitting on your feet, your dog gets to combine his body warmth with yours, which warms him right up. But he’s also curling up at your feet in an act of deference to you and your leadership.
And whether or not he knows it, your dog is warming you up too! His dense coat of fur and warm skin turn him into the world’s most lovable foot warmer.
Dogs Sit on Feet Because They’re Too Warm
Conversely, your dog may sit on your feet because he’s too warm and needs to cool down a bit.
It seems counterintuitive, we know. After all, we just learned that dogs often rely on feet-sitting to warm up when they’re chilly — and now they do the opposite too?
But your dog wants to be near you whether he’s hot, cold or anywhere in between. It’s just that his body temperature doesn’t always match up perfectly with yours.
When you’re curled up in bed under tons of blankets, your dog may get overheated if he joins in.
But since he still wants to be close to you, his best bet is to lay down at your feet. They’re the furthest things from your core, and thus they’re the coolest parts of your body.
The same holds true in other situations, like when you’re sitting on the couch. Hard floors tend to be cooler than carpets and upholstery, so feet-sitting lets your dog get the cuddling experience without overheating.
Dogs Sit on Feet Because You’re Their Territory
Much of a dog’s behavior is driven by the instinct to define its territory. In fact, there’s a territorial basis for nearly every action (or inaction) a dog takes — including feet-sitting.
If your dog tends to sit on your feet at the dog park, in the vet’s office or at doggy daycare, chances are it’s a territorial move. When there are other dogs or animals around, defining his territory and staking his claim is your dog’s top priority.
And what better way to communicate ownership of someone than by sitting on their feet?
Well, we can think of a few, but dogs clearly can’t. So when it’s time to tell the world that he belongs to you (or, more likely, vice-versa), your dog is likely to head for your feet.
Feet-sitting can be territorial even at home, especially if there are multiple dogs in your home.
Ever witnessed your dogs quibbling over who gets to sit on your feet? It’s not just a matter of wanting to sit there for comfort — it’s a matter of who actually owns the feet, a much more serious issue.
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And Why Do Dogs Sit Near — Not On — Your Feet?
So feet-sitting has a number of root causes.
But what about when it’s almost, but not quite, feet sitting? What does it mean when your dog lies down next to or in front of your feet, not touching them but coming close?
Well, it could mean any of the previously-mentioned things, depending on the situation and other behaviors. But there is a reason for the lack of contact, and it goes back to your dog’s first days on Earth.
Puppies instinctually sleep a little ways away from their mother, not curled up right against her. They’ll pass out in a huddle together, but the huddle will be positioned near the mother’s tail or a couple of inches from her feet.
This is a protective measure that’s taken to prevent a tragedy: the mother rolling over onto the puppies in her sleep.
A puppy atop another puppy won’t do any damage, but a full-grown dog certainly will. Depending on the breed, a mother dog could weigh well over ten times what her puppies weigh.
So to mitigate this disaster, puppies have evolved to sleep a little ways away from their mothers. And this instinct persists into adulthood, giving rise to the peculiar phenomenon of next-to-feet-sitting.
Don’t be offended if your dog only sits next to, not on, your feet. It’s nothing personal — he’s just still a puppy deep down inside, doing what nature tells him to do to stay safe.
"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret