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Jack Russell dog licking a person‘s feet

The essentials

  • Dogs lick your feet for different reasons — Your dog might be seeking attention or comfort, or they may simply love the taste of salt.
  • It’s usually harmless unless you’re wearing something toxic, like nail polish — Toe licking is a common behavior that usually isn’t anything to worry about as long as your feet are free from toxic substances. However, people with health problems such as diabetes or foot injuries shouldn’t let dogs lick their feet.
  • Dogs who incessantly lick or chew their own toes may need help — While it’s perfectly normal for dogs to lick human toes, an obsession over their own paws may indicate that they have an injury, infection, or allergies.

Licking is a canine behavior that’s especially persistent in puppyhood but commonly carries over into their adult life. Your face, hands, and feet are all popular targets for a dog’s tongue, but the feet are usually the most easily accessible and the hardest to protect from your furry friend.

While it might feel funny—especially to pet parents with ticklish feet—it’s very normal for dogs to want to lick people’s toes. Even so, the strange behavior seems foreign to our human understanding. Why do dogs actually want to lick us? And, especially for the ticklish dog owner, is there any way to curb the unwanted behavior? Let’s take a look.

Why do dogs lick your feet? 

From adoption day forward, your dog trusts you to be their protector, provider, and friend. Licking your feet is an instinctual behavior that could be a sign of submission, affection, or even a plea for mercy if they’ve been naughty.

Before they were adopted, your dog likely belonged to a litter of brothers and sisters who were taught by their mother to mutually groom each other by licking. When your dog licks you, they may think they’re letting you know that you’re one of the pack, or they’re doing their part to take care of you. Puppies also lick their mother’s face in order to receive food and attention, and may transfer the behavior to you. Basically, it’s a sweet gesture, even if it’s a little too slobbery in practice.

5 reasons why dogs lick your feet

While you may not receive the action with equal gusto, your dog believes they are being kind by licking your feet. It’s important to never punish your dog for licking you, even if you don’t like it. If you want to make them stop, you can redirect their attention or employ positive reinforcement training techniques to build new behaviors. However, it’s always best to learn the root reasons behind behaviors before you attempt to change them. Some potential causes for toe licking include:

A sign of affection

Before you grab the disinfectant and iodine, realize that this natural behavior is an instinctual part of your dog’s upbringing. Mothers lick their puppies to groom and soothe them, especially before their eyes are open. Puppies mutually groom their littermates as they grow older, so your dog is basically continuing what they’ve been taught. Plus, studies have shown that your dog’s brain releases endorphins or “feel good” hormones when they lick you. In a sense, licking is basically your dog’s way of giving you a kiss. Speaking of iodine, some dogs actually crave the taste of salt, so they may also be more likely to lick you if you’re sweaty.

A need for attention

A hungry puppy licks their mother’s face to ask for food, so it only makes sense that our dogs translate that behavior into an attention-seeking mechanism as they get older. When you react to your dog licking you, whether positively or negatively, you’re reinforcing the idea that this behavior grabs your attention. It’s a genius plan that takes an incredible amount of intentional training to break.

A grooming behavior

If your feet are downright dirty, your dog probably believes they are trying to help you take a bath. In their minds, they’re behaving in a similar way to how their mother and siblings bathed them when they were a puppy, and how they continue to clean themselves as adults. This is especially true if your foot is injured. However, given the bacteria population in your dog’s mouth, you should always keep any open wounds covered. A new study warns that people with diabetes should always keep their toes and fingers covered while they’re sleeping to avoid potential bites.

A soothing behavior

Licking releases endorphins, which have a naturally calming effect on your pup. An anxious dog may lick your feet as a coping mechanism to comfort themselves, especially if they’re in an unfamiliar situation. In this case, both your scent and their endorphin release from licking relaxes them.

Pure curiosity

If you come home from work with sweaty feet, your dog is likely intrigued by the odors. With their proclivity to snoop through the trash, nothing is too gross for dogs. The smellier your feet, the more their curious nose has to work with. With an incredible sense of smell roughly 10,000 times  better than our own, there’s no limit to what they can pick up on a single sock. While it’s generally harmless to let your dog lick your feet, keep them away from your feet if you’ve just applied lotion or any other potentially toxic ointments or cosmetics such as nail polish.

Why do dogs lick their own feet? 

While it might be normal for dogs to incessantly lick your feet, they shouldn’t obsessively lick or chew their own paws. Some licking is okay, as dogs are supposed to groom themselves. However, excessive paw licking or chewing can create blisters and infections. Constant licking can break the skin and cause bacterial or fungal infections from germs and moisture, so it’s best to curb your dog’s behavior before it becomes a new habit.

Some underlying causes of dogs incessantly licking their feet include injuries, allergies, anxiety, or boredom. Skin irritation can be caused by foreign objects lodged in between their paw pads, environmental allergies or even fleas, so be sure your dog stays on a flea prevention method to stay safe. It’s always a good idea to monitor your dog’s paws for any injuries or potential medical issues. If you notice any changes or irritation, it’s time to schedule a vet visit.

How to get your dog to stop licking your feet

Even though your dog believes they are doing something nice, licking feet may not always go over well, especially if you have family members or other people in the house who may not appreciate the behavior. Remember to never punish your dog for licking people’s feet. Instead, try to address the underlying cause. Here are some ways you can curb the behavior while meeting their needs for attention and comfort.

1. Remove the temptation

Bare feet poking out from under a blanket may be too much of a temptation for your dog to resist. Out of sight, out of mind sometimes works for our pets, so keep your feet covered with socks or shoes if you can. If your dog starts licking your feet without warning, hide your feet and firmly tell your dog a command word such as, “No.” The exact word doesn’t matter as long as you’re consistent.

If you feel like your dog is licking your feet as a way of grabbing your attention, you might try moving your feet and ignoring them instead of saying the command word. This way you’re teaching them that their behavior isn’t going to be rewarded with attention–positive or negative.

2. Redirect the behavior

As with toddlers, sometimes simply removing the problem isn’t enough. If your dog already has your toes ingrained in their head, you’ll have to distract them with something else pleasant to convince them to switch gears. Treat puzzles or other problem-solving toys are brilliant alternatives to your feet because they require your dog to work their brain and mouth while focusing their attention on something else. A salty snack such as a piece of a jerky treat may also help satisfy any sodium cravings.

3. Reward new behavior

Once your dog has abandoned your feet in favor of the new toy or treat, reward them with praise. Repeat the steps as often as needed until your dog finds a new hobby.

It’s normal for dogs to want to lick your toes. Unless you have diabetes, open wounds or use toxic lotions, it’s okay if they lick your feet and it might even feel good to you. However, you don’t have to let them, especially if you’re ticklish or worry that the licking could turn into playful bites. If you want them to stop, take your feet away from your dog and replace them with a toy that’s safe for your dog to lick and chew.

Making sure your dog’s needs for attention are met can curb undesirable and destructive behaviors on the whole. Spending time playing with them and making sure they receive plenty of exercise everyday helps them feel loved and secure (and gives your feet a break).

Frequently asked questions

Is it normal for dogs to lick your feet?

Yes. Dogs are nosy creatures who love to sniff. You obviously take your feet with you wherever you go, and pick up a library of smells for your dog to devour once you come home from a long day of work. Licking your feet releases endorphins or “feel good” hormones in your dog’s brain, which encourages the behavior further. Plus, licking your feet can be a way to fulfill some of their needs for attention or comfort, or they may believe they’re doing you a favor by giving you a bath.

How do I stop my dog from licking my feet?

If you don’t enjoy your dog’s ticklish pedicure, you can remove your feet and gently but firmly tell them to stop using a consistent command word. Distract them with a treat puzzle or something positive to occupy their attention and give them praise. Alternatively, if you believe they’re licking your feet to grab your attention, hide your feet and ignore them until they move on to something new. Once they switch gears, give them the attention and praise that they desire.

Is it normal for dogs to lick their own feet?

Dogs groom themselves, so a little paw licking is normal. However, excessive paw licking or chewing can create sores and infections. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your dog’s paws for any injuries. Talk to your veterinarian if you notice sudden unusual behaviors, such as obsessive paw licking.

Is it okay if my dog licks my feet?

Unless you have open wounds, wear foot lotion, or have diabetes, it’s usually harmless for your dog to lick your feet. If you don’t like it, though, you can train them to leave your toes alone by hiding your feet and distracting them with something else.