Some dogs seem to be particularly fascinated with human feet, as revealed in the behaviors like licking, biting, or nosing your feet. This type of behavior can be an indicator of some greater physiological and social needs.
What’s the Root of the Behavior?
Dogs rely heavily on their highly receptive senses of smell and taste. There are several ways a dog could be using these senses so obsessively with your feet.
For some dogs, licking your feet could be a very efficient way to learn about you. The sweat and oil on your feet can give a dog a lot of information– as can pheromones.
There’s not much research out there on pheromones, but it’s reasonable to theorize that a dog that frequently steals and chews your socks and shoes, or licks your toes compulsively is attracted to your pheromones.
For other dogs, licking or nosing at feet could be an indicator that it’s directing your behavior as a member of its pack. Interacting with your feet could be a signal that your dog wants to feed it, play, or interact with it in a way that meets its needs. If the dog is a herding breed and licking and nipping at your feet, it could be trying to herd you.
Dogs also may lick feet because they are stressed and feel soothed by the endorphins released while licking your feet.
And some dogs lick feet simply because they like the taste of the salt in your sweat. If the dog is lacking in nutrition, it could be specifically seeking out salt for nutrients.
What To Do About Foot Licking
Veterinarians recommend kindly discouraging this behavior without punishing them or shouting. Remember that licking is a natural instinct in dogs and punishing them for this instinct could make them feel less safe around you.
Instead, redirect the dog’s behavior to something more preferable like sitting or laying down and reward the behavior with positive reinforcement. You’ll especially want to redirect behavior if the dog is a foot-nipper. If you keep a toy in your pocket, you can draw the dog’s attention away from your feet and more easily redirect the behavior from there.
While there are still some mysteries to be uncovered about why your dog chooses to focus on your feet, you can rest assured that it’s a fairly natural behavior. And as long as your dog is healthy, there’s nothing to worry about. Just make efforts to redirect the behavior if it becomes a problem.
My 13-months-old Golden Retriever puppy loves to lick my toes, but only after I’ve been to the gym and removed my socks and shoes. He also will lick them after I’ve worn a certain pair of hiking sandals that are mostly rubber and make my feet stinky. I’m thinking that he just likes when my feet are particularly sweaty and/or odiferous. Since it’s not an obsessive behavior, I haven’t discouraged it.