Having a canine companion (or two) is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The fact that you will receive unconditional love and a wagging tail on your return home is the perfect antidote for everyday stress – and in a world as complex and fast-moving as the one that we must cope with each day that can be invaluable.
However, having a dog means responsibility and tolerating their little quirks as well. As per owners, we need to come to terms that some of the behaviors exhibited by our dogs are not as simple as we might think – and that even those that we find trying at times may be part of the parcel of what makes our dogs’ such unique companions.
Take for instance the fact that many dogs seem to make a habit of licking their owner’s feet. It can be a bit disconcerting when it seems to be happening on a regular basis. Watching your regular television series on the couch, or making a cup of coffee while a dog tries its level best to lick for feet can become irritating. But why do dogs engage in this behavior and is there something that we can do to control it?
Firstly it is important to know that there can be a number of reasons that a dog engages in foot licking behavior – and each dog may be doing it for different reasons.
The first is the reason that most people find almost intuitive – that the dog is licking our feet because it simply enjoys the taste of the salt of salt which is left on our skin when sweat evaporates. It stands to reason that if we are walking around barefoot on a hot summer’s day the feet are the most accessible parts of our bodies – and we may have been sweating more than usual.
Your dog may also simply be bonding with you as part of a perceived group or pack. There have been studies conducted that many pack animals engage in mutual grooming that includes licking behavior. Most often this behavior is aimed at encouraging you to take part in goal-orientated activities. These activities can involve play, exercise, or the pursuit of food. Your best friend might be asking if you both could work together to achieve a specific goal.
The third reason that your dog may be licking your feet is out of simple love and care. A dog cannot verbalize its feelings – and research indicates that in social animals mutual grooming is a sign of shared affection that brings family and pack closer together. There may actually be a chemical component to this. Licking releases oxytocin into the brain, a natural chemical that is associated with bonding. Licking your feet is a way for your dog to show that it cares for you and that you are an important part of its life. Research also indicates that being licked releases that same chemical – so your dog is acting instinctively to make you feel a part of a close-knit group.
Whatever the reason the correct way to address foot licking – if it has become an issue is with patience and understanding. Attempt to distract the dog by providing a chew toy or by encouraging him or her to sit calmly. Never lose your temper – your dog is only doing what comes naturally – and punishing it can damage the bonds between the two of you and cause a loss of trust.