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You decide to sit down in the evening to read your book or watch some Netflix, and your dog decides to sit down with you as well, lying down next to your feet or even sitting on top of your feet. It might be their favorite place to curl up for a snooze.
But why does your dog do this, and is it something you should be worried about?
The short answer to this question is that it is instinctive pack behavior in response to various situations. For your domesticated dog, you are their pack, which is why they want to do this with you.
But in this article, we will dig into the detail of exactly when and why your dog might be doing this, whether they are behaving territorially, or if they are just trying to keep warm.
Generally speaking, keeping close to your feet is normal dog behavior and isn’t something you should be worried about.
But it can become a problem if it is a sign of fear or stress, if it is accompanied by aggressive behavior, or if they take it to excess and you find yourself tripping over your dog as they try to stay close to you.
So we will also look at what you can do to discourage this behavior if necessary.
Why Do Dogs Sleep At Your Feet [6 Reasons]
Let’s take a look at the six primary reasons why your dog might decide to sit or lie down at your feet.
1. The Dog Pack Instinct
While your only-child pet might never have been part of a pack of dogs, pack behavior is still instinctive. All dogs are still often compelled to behave as they would if they were traveling with a pack.
While we will go on and give a number of other reasons for why your dog sits at your feet, they all relate back to this pack instinct. Dogs have the natural instinct that staying close to their alpha is the right thing to do in a variety of situations.
You can clearly see a mirror of this behavior when you observe dog packs. When the pack stops to rest, the leader of the pack will lay down in a prime position with a good view of the surrounding area. The other dogs will sit or lie down around the leader.
This is done for a variety of reasons. They huddle for warmth, they stay close together for safety, and they arrange themselves in a way that reflects the hierarchy and the connectedness of the pack.
In your home, you are the pack leader, so your dog will be compelled to display many of the same actions they would toward a pack leader, toward you instead.
This is also why your dog is more inclined to behaviors like sitting at the feet, with some members of your household more than others. Not everyone in the house is always a pack leader.
2. Seeking Protection
One of the main reasons that dogs sit around the pack leader is for protection. They like to stay close to the alpha, who tends to be the biggest and strongest of the dogs and has earned their position by protecting the pack.
Your dog has probably come to see you are their protector, and they have learned that you are the one who will offer them help when they need it.
So, sitting at your feet makes them feel safe and therefore often better able to relax. Sleep is often the most vulnerable time for dogs, as their awareness of their surroundings is diminished.
So, when they sleep at your feet they will feel like they have “backup.”
For this reason, you might notice your dog doing this more often when something has made them nervous. This could be the presence of a stranger (animal or human), a thunderstorm, or even a smell in the house that’s a bit different than usual.
But this protection is also reciprocal. Dogs not only enjoy the protection of their pack leader but have an obligation to protect them as well.
So your dog might also sit at your feet if they think you need protection, perhaps from the presence of another human or animal.
This behavior is fine if it is limited to sitting and paying attention to what is happening in the vicinity. But it can be a concern if they are also prone to a bit of aggression toward these threatening presences.
3. Marking Their Territory
While you might see your dog as belonging to you, they probably see you in the same way. You are their human, and they don’t necessarily want to let other dogs, humans, or cats get too close.
This is one of the many reasons why dogs need to be properly socialized as part of their training, so they can learn to share you with other inhabitants of the house and not to get aggressive or overly territorial when other entities get too close.
If you have multiple pets, you might notice that if your cat jumps onto your lap, your dog will come over directly to remind everyone of their connection with you.
Again, this territorial behavior is nothing to worry about if it is limited to sticking close to you as a form of signaling. But, some dogs can also tend toward aggression at these times, and this is a negative behavior that needs to be dealt with.
4. Seeking Warmth
Your dog might want to be close to you when they curl up simply because they are feeling a bit chilly. The body heat they can get from you, even if it is only your feet, can give them some much-needed warmth.
Chances are if this is their motivation, they will try and get as close as possible, so they will nuzzle and move around quite a lot while settling down in order to get as much skin contact as possible.
This is especially common with smaller breeds, as they find it much more difficult to maintain their body temperature in the cold.
When we bring home our puppies we always have them sleep with a Snuggle Puppy which comes with a heartbeat, heat packs to keep our puppy warm, and we rub the Snuggle Puppy on littermates so it smells like our pup’s siblings.
5. They Love You
Sometimes dogs want to snuggle up to you for the same reason that other humans want to snuggle up to you: They love you and just want a bit of intimate contact.
Again, this will probably be characterized by more than just sitting at your feet. They are likely to want to jump up, nuzzle you, and maybe give you a few friendly licks.
But if none of that is possible, they will settle for just sitting at your feet in order to get a bit of closeness.
6. They Think You Need Them
Dogs are very sensitive and very good at picking up on how we are feeling. They know when we are in command when we are scared, and when we are amused, and they might be able to push our boundaries.
If they sense that we are sad or unhappy in some way, they will probably want to help. They will try to make us feel better by being present and giving us some affection.
They know that just being nearby can help you in a moment of need, so they will make sure that you can feel their presence.
Linus always knew when I needed him emotionally. If I was crying, sad, or depressed he’d always start nudging me with his nose. Reason number 6 shouldn’t be “They Think You Need Them”, it should be “They Know You Need Them”.
Should You Let Your Dog Sit At Your Feet?
Regardless of their motivation, if your dog wants to sit at your feet, this is not a habit that you should be worried about. It is a natural instinct for them and is not generally a reflection of anything negative.
In fact, it can be an important part of your bond, and a good moment for you to give your dog some love and attention with a nice scratch behind the ears.
However, if you find that they suddenly want to spend all their time at your feet, it might be that they have suffered a significant scare. This has reduced their confidence, which is a problem if they don’t even feel safe in their own home.
If this is happening, you will want to look for the root cause of whatever is scaring them and try to resolve it.
This behavior can also be a problem if their territorial or protective mode spills over into aggression and they begin to bark at others, or worse.
If this is what is happening, they will require additional socialization training to learn how to respond to the presence of others.
Also, your dog may have a tendency to take this to excess, and you may find they want to sit at your feet at inconvenient times, such as when you are cooking, and that you are practically tripping over them as you try to move around.
If this is the case, you might want to discourage this behavior, and there are some things you can do.
How To Discourage Your Dog From Sitting At Your Feet
If you do decide that you don’t want your dog to sit at your feet, there are some things you can do to discourage the behavior.
First, refrain from giving them any kind of reward when they are engaging in this behavior.
If you give them a nice scratch behind the ears or other types of reward or affection while they are sitting at your feet, they will learn that this is the positive outcome of this behavior and will be inclined to do this more often.
Instead, you need to encourage them to move off your feet and to a more appropriate location.
It is a good idea to have an appropriate place ready, such as a nice bed, especially if you think they are snuggling up for warmth. If they do move from your feet to the bed, you can then reward them for this positive behavior.
Make sure you place the bed somewhere close to you because your dog is sitting on your feet in order to be close to you. If you banish them to another room, this will feel like a punishment for completely natural behavior.
Why Does My Dog Sleep At My Feet?
Dogs will like to sleep at your feet for instinctive reasons. Dogs are pack animals, and they are programmed to stick close to the pack for safety and protection. In a domestic situation, you are the pack leader, so they will want to stick close to you.
Being by your feet lets them feel more secure, so they are better able to relax and sleep. It is also a territorial and protective position. You belong to them, and they need to be close by to protect you from any threat.
Why Does My Dog Sit On My Feet?
Many dogs love to sit on their owner’s feet, as part of an effort to stay close. This can feel like a safe place, as close to you as possible, but more likely they are displaying territorial behavior.
Just as you think of your dog as belonging to you, they think of you as belonging to them. Sitting on your feet lets them signal to others (humans and animals) that you are their human. Others shouldn’t get between the two of you or try to threaten you in any way.
This behavior is completely natural and innocent, as long as it is not accompanied by any aggression toward others.
Should You Sleep With Your Dog?
Generally speaking, it is not a good idea to let your dog sleep in your bed with you.
This is mainly for health reasons, as they can transfer illness, especially fleas and other parasites, to humans with this kind of proximity. If they are shedders, the amount of hair that you will be inhaling is not a good thing.
But on top of that, a dog is likely to disrupt your sleep. Rather than sleeping through the night, they are likely to wake and be restless for a period of time, which may disturb you.
Also, most dogs are bed hogs and are likely to slowly expand over the course of the night, until you wake in the morning curled up in the tiniest corner of your bed—or falling out.
NOTE: This doesn’t stop us from allowing our dogs to sleep in the bed. Linus and Stetson both slept in our bed for years.
When they passed, Raven took over the spot on the edge (who am I kidding, she sprawls across the middle taking up the majority of the king-sized bed).
However, since we had kids we stopped allowing the dogs on the bed because our 3 year olds were climbing on to the bed and we were afraid our dogs would knock them off.
Why Does My Dog Sit In My Spot When I Get Up?
There are a few reasons why your dog might sit in your spot when you get up. The first is that it is warm, and they might be able to pick up a little bit of heat from it.
The second is that they are being territorial and saving your spot for you for when you return.
Thirdly, it can be a prestige thing to sit in your spot, so they may be especially inclined to do this if there are other animals in the home.
Your dog’s urge to sit or lie down at your feet is one of their natural, instinctive behaviors.
They like to stick close to you as their pack leader. It makes them feel safe, and it is also important for them to maintain their “ownership” and connection with you. Closeness lets them mark their territory.
They might also want to be close to you for more mundane reasons. They could be chilly and seeking your body heat, or they might just want a little of your love and affection.
They might also want to reassure you that they are there for you if you are feeling down—dogs are surprisingly sensitive to our emotions.
This behavior is not generally a problem, and you might even welcome it as part of your bonding experience with your pup.
It only becomes problematic if they are doing it because they are suffering from fear or stress, if it is accompanied by aggressive behavior, or if they do it at inappropriate times and are constantly tripping you up.
When this happens, you can discourage the behavior by giving them an alternative place to curl up and training them to use it through positive reinforcement.
But whatever space you create, it should be close to where you are; after all, what they are looking for with this behavior is a bit of closeness.
Do you have a dog that likes to stay close to your feet?
What do you do about it?
Share your experience with the community in the comments section below.
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