Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Many dogs lie on their owner's feet, and as a curious dog owner, you may have wondered at one time or another why your dog rejects his plush doggie bed and chooses to curl up on your feet instead.
And it's not like it all stops there with your dog just peacefully sleeping by your feet. Most likely your dog ends up hijacking your ability to move around freely as you would like to for fear of waking up sweet Rover. Not to mention when Rover ends up drifting into dreamland, with his tail wagging and paws moving as if chasing imaginary balls.
If your dog loves to sleep with his head laying on your feet, rest assured you are not alone. Countless dog owners report feet being their dog's favorite resting area.
Of course, because dogs can’t speak the same language as us, we can’t just ask them why our feet are their perfect spot to sleep, but at least there are some educated guesses we can make.
Feeling a Social Connection
By now, we’ve established that dogs, like humans, are social creatures by nature. They are curious and eager to interact with other dogs and people around them. They like to make new friends and stick by their humans.
There’s a reason they are called “man’s best friend”, after all. And that can be part of the reason your fur baby may be choosing to use your feet as their preferred sleeping spot.
Given the 15,000-year history of humans living domesticated dogs, it’s ingrained in both our beloved pooches and us that there is a bond that develops. We’re their social group, their family.
How often do you hear people literally calling their dogs their children? There’s some truth to that analogy. According to a recent study, dogs were found to undergo the same “secure base effect” observed in children when they bond with their parents. It's therefore very likely that your dog sees you as a parent, providing shelter and care and food. Dogs, therefore, come to depend on you, and in return, they want to be close to you.
Now, sometimes they might become overly dependent on you to the extent that they become "Velcro dogs" and may suffer from separation anxiety, even if you’re in the next room. But that can be addressed with a behavioral specialist if necessary.
The point is, your dog views you much in the same vein as a small child views its parents. Therefore, they can’t help but want to be close to you.
One of the things that really surprised us is that adult dogs behave towards their caregivers like human children do. It will be really interesting to try to find out how this behavior evolved in the dogs with direct comparisons.
— Lisa Horn, lead researcher
Keeping Tabs on You
In a similar vein, your dog takes great pride and a sense of security from being near you. They want to be where you are because you give them a sense of safety and connection. Sleeping on your feet or very near you means that they have that physical reminder that they are not alone. They know where you are so that they can sleep in peace.
And if you do have to get up, they’ll be the first to know that you’re going somewhere. And yes, that likely means you’ll have a late-night bathroom companion. But that is just the nature of most dogs who aren’t loners. They have a need to know where you are because without you, their world would be a lot scarier and uncertain.
You may also notice that dogs who aren’t allowed on furniture routinely might be more prone to sleep on your feet as they want to keep in close contact with you and keep tabs on your whereabouts. Given the chance, these dogs would curl right up against your body in bed if there’s allowed that close. Some might even snuggle up close to your head. But if lying on the bed or on the couch with you is not permitted, then they'll just stick to your feet.
A Protective Role
Much like needing to know their owner's whereabouts or to achieve a sense of safety, some dogs may cuddle up on feet as a way to ensure that you are safe from all the things that go bump in the night.
As we already discussed, dogs are social creatures and they become attached to their humans. Some breeds are more prone to having a guarding or protecting instinct, and therefore, they may be more inclined to hunker down near their owner to keep them under surveillance.
If you have a dog who is overly protective of you, then maybe you’ve noticed they often press up against you while you’re walking or standing. In other situations where there are unfamiliar pups or people, they may not leave your side or even lay down across your feet to guard you. If their personal space gets invaded, they may react by growling, barking or even lunging in hopes of sending the intruder away.
Planning an Escape
Another possibility is that dogs who sleep on their owner's feet may want to make sure there’s an escape route. After all, as with humans, dogs want to be able to keep an eye on the door.
One study years ago revealed that with couples, men tend to sit facing the door to ensure they can see what danger is coming. Similarly, dogs will sleep on their owner’s feet facing the door. The better to defend against the dangers that might be coming.
If your furniture is laid out in such a way that your feet are facing the door and you want to see if the room’s orientation affects where your dog chooses to sleep, switch up where you lie down or sit and see if your dog will still stick around your feet.
The Bottom Line
So, while we aren’t doggie mind readers, we have some ideas on why your pooch might be planting himself on your feet to sleep. Remember, there’s no right answer to this age-old question.
They may be craving that social connection and the sense of security you as their fur parent provide to them. Remember this has the potential to get out of hand so contact a behavioral specialist if your dog starts getting too clingy to the point of suffering when you must leave the room or head outside.
They may be trying to make sure they know where you are at all times as an added sense of security and out of a sense of protection
They are being the protector in the relationship and may often sleep facing the door to be alerted to any dangers that might pop up while you sleep. They dislike their personal space (and therefore yours) being invaded so don’t be surprised if they get a little territorial with strangers or unfamiliar dogs approaching. If that's the case, you may find it helpful to consult with a dog behavior professional.
Whatever reason may be motivating your pup, try not to worry too much (unless it's getting out of hand) and just enjoy the snuggles.
- The Importance of the Secure Base Effect for Domestic Dogs – Evidence from a Manipulative Problem-Solving Task Lisa Horn, Ludwig Huber, Friederike Range Published: May 29, 2013
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Does your dog sleep on your feet? Share your stories in the comment section.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on July 13, 2020:
A number of our dogs have wanted full body contact in bed with us. But not all the time. Sometimes we noticed that if they're not feeling well, they'll be more inclined to do that. Makes sense given the security issue.
Our girl has to check in with me, then she goes to her usual spot on the side of the couch. My boy will usually want to share the couch with me. Actually, before our last golden girl passed, she and my boy would both want to be on the couch, all of us squeezed in. That might have been some competition thing with them to see who was the favorite. ;) But our kids (that is okay to call them that, right?) have always liked to be near us.
Interesting about facing the doors and such.
Thanks for sharing your vast knowledge of our fur kids!
Ed Palumbo from Tualatin, OR on July 13, 2020:
One of our two adopted mutts is a 10 yr-old female fox terrier mix with a history of abuse. We adopted her when she was 3 or 4. When we sleep, she leans or maintains a physical contact with my wife or I and is attentive to our movement. While we sit and read, she sits with either of us that is available (preferably my wife) and she's very good to us but barks incessantly at strangers and reacts to any knock on the door. In six years, she hasn't gotten over that reaction.
My wife and I have been blessed with great dogs for 25 years and I count this terrier as one of them. I wish I could help her feel more secure or less easily disturbed but she seems to be getting a little cranky with the passage of time.
By the way, I do purposefully sit facing the door when we're in a restaurant or place of business, but that is a product of my training. Our dogs do not accompany us to restaurants, but I want to see everyone that enters and I guess that's a threat assessment. I make no apologies for that.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 13, 2020:
Hi Devika, it's so sad to see dogs chained up. All dogs want is to stay close to their families, especially German shepherds. I hope once day chaining dogs will be illegal in all countries.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 13, 2020:
Fluorish Anyway, it's surely interesting. Given the choice, my hubby almost always chooses the seat facing the door when we dine out. My Rottweiler dogs as well had to always face the door when sleeping.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 13, 2020:
Adrienne Farricelli I find that such a moment for me when a dog would do that. It makes me feel a connection and off-course you told me other reasons too. My neighbor has a German shepherd and this dog often cuts lose of his chain. It is cruel to have this a dong on the chain but the law here doesn't say other wise.I feel bad for the dog as its owner doesn't care to treat it well. Thank you for this information.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 12, 2020:
It seems to me that dogs are part of the family, so sleeping on our feet keeps them close and maybe wathing the door. They will hear someone coming long before we will. I don't have a dog right now but I have had several over my lifetime. This is a very interesting article, Adrienna.
FlourishAnyway from USA on July 12, 2020:
This is very insightful. I’m going to start noticing placement of people and their dogs vis-a-vis the exit.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 11, 2020:
We have owned and watched many dogs who enjoyed lying on people's feet. Small dogs is not really a big deal, large dogs can hurt though!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 11, 2020:
Your reasoning makes perfect sense as to why some dogs might like lying on their people's feet.