You are sitting in your favorite chair on a Saturday night and your dog has perched himself right by your feet. I bet this is a scenario that is often seen in your household. Dogs love to lay at the feet of their owners. Why is this a sleeping habit in dogs? Is there any particular reason why a dog will lay at a person’s feet? Does this have anything to do with instincts? No matter what the reason is, it is a cozy feeling to have your pup so close to you as you wind down for the night. Some nights I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Root of the Behavior
The main root cause of this behavior in dogs is in their ‘pack’ instincts.These behaviors can still be exhibited in domesticated dogs. Dogs who grew up in the wild live in packs and sleep closely together in order to protect themselves and leader, as well as, to stay warm. These instincts also draw on the fact that the leader has the more ideal sleeping spot, hence why they lay at your feet or sleep at the foot of your bed. You are perceived as the leader of the pack.
Also, in puppies, the instinct is to sleep by the tail of the mother or a couple feet away from her in order to not to be crushed by the mother should she get up or roll over while sleeping. This was a protective instinct learned. And as you can tell in puppies, they sleep closely together, in this case more for warmth while they are so little.
If you look at this behavior a little more closely you can see there are other reasons for this behavior. Some dogs look for cooler places to sleep, like the floor by your feet. Sleeping by your feet can also be a sign they need reassurance or are fearful of something. This is also a sign of a submissive dog. Your dog may feel the need to protect you or guard you. If you dog has separation anxiety, he may also lay at your feet when you are home to reassure himself you are nearby. Dogs may also lay or sit on your feet as a sign of marking their territory to other dogs. There are many causes to this behavior. As stated above, the main reason your dog shows this behavior is due to naturally instincts related to ‘pack’ behavior. You should not let this behavior bother you too much. Like the saying goes, “You should let sleeping dogs lie.”
Encouraging the Behavior
While sleeping or laying at your feet is not really consider bad behavior or a bad habit, it can be a nuisance if your dog is always underfoot, so to speak. If you are okay with this type of behavior, let it be. Dog cuddles are always the best anyway. However if lying on or at your feet is not desirable behavior for your dog to have, there are a few training tips to encourage more appropriate behavior. Don’t pet your dog when he lays on your feet. That will only encourage the behavior to continue. Don’t give your dog any attention when he acts this way. Train your dog to sit a bit farther away by throwing a treat a little ways from you and when he goes to get it teach him to lie in that area. Give positive reinforcement and praise when he does lie down farther away from you. Retrain your dog the word ‘lie’ or ‘lie down.’ Show him the exact spot you want him to lie at. Reward him for accurately following directions with a treat and praise. When training your dog consistency is key. Don’t give in so easily to him. Before you know it, he will have learned to lie farther away from you.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Your dog may be laying on your feet if he is cold or even possibly scared of something, such as lightning or another animal. If either one of these are the case, show your dog support with lots of love and reassurance. If he is cold you might want to give him a warm dog bed to lie in. Your dog looks to you for love, support and to meet his physical needs. By meeting his needs you are reassuring him of his position in your life. There is no need reprimand him for this type of behavior.
A dog laying at your feet is pure instinct and often times a protection mode. There is nothing wrong with it unless it bothers. Try some of the training methods listed in this article if your dog behavior is too much for you. Otherwise, let him be, pet him and love him. Your dog will love the cuddles received.
Written by a Shiba Inu lover Patty Oelze
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/07/2018, edited: 01/30/2020