Your dog probably has some pretty adorable (and equally annoying) behaviors that might seem odd to us humans. Maybe your pup is always beside you, or perhaps your dog constantly licks your face. For every seemingly strange action, there is at least one possible explanation. Woman's Day spoke with veterinarians, animal advocates, and expert columnists to help demystify these dog behaviors. So, if you have ever wondered: 'Why do dogs lay on your feet?', then this is the perfect article to read (with Fido curled up by your slippers, of course).
When you adopt a dog, it's important to familiarize yourself with the breed's tendencies and behaviors so you are equipped to respond when your dog is trying to tell you something. After all, they may be laying on your feet for a totally cute and lovable reason, but they may also be trying to tell you something critical, like they are overheating or sense something bad is about to happen. You want to know the meaning behind your dog's behavior so you can adjust how you are training them if needed, or show them some extra love.
Dogs are incredibly smart creatures that act with intention — even if that intention is to catch a ball. When a dog lays on your feet, he or she is trying to tell you something important. Just like he or she is trying to tell you something when chewing up your favorite chair or urinating on the rug. No one said training a pup is easy, but this expert insight can help clue you in when it comes to your dog's brain.
If your dog lays at your feet, they're feeling protective.
You may think your dog belongs to you, but you also belong to your dog. This means that your fur baby is going to claim you and protect you. "When he's sitting on your foot, it's an ownership thing. If his [bottom] is on you, he's marking your foot," says Jennifer Brent, animal advocate and executive director of California Wildlife Center.
"It's not just that he wants to be close to you. He's saying, 'This is mine; now it smells like me, don't go near it.' He does this for three main reasons: to feel secure about his place in your life, to warn other dogs that you are spoken for, and because he wants to protect you," Brent says.
To ensure your protection, dogs will also bark at guests, growl at other dogs when outside, and pull on the leash while out for a walk. "There's a line of thinking that the dog is your scout. He sees himself as a member of the pack, and he wants to make sure everything is cool before you get there," explains Brent.
If your dog seems stressed, they may be mimicking your mood.
Whether it was a stressful day at work or a fight with your significant other, your dog will pick up on how you feel — and feel it, too. "It goes without saying, when you're stressed, they're more stressed; when you're happier, they're happy. They match up moods with you better than a spouse or a partner," says Marty Becker, DVM, pet expert at Vetstreet. "They sit there and study you." This relationship works the other way, too: If you want to make your pooch relax, then give him a few pets. "You can, like a gas pedal, change that dynamic with your dog," Dr. Becker says. A little love goes a long way.
If your dog is destroying furniture, they could be bored.
Your pup can act crazy when she's not getting enough playtime. If she's urinating on the floor, chewing the furniture, or running circles around the coffee table, your dog is probably trying to tell you she needs more activity in her life. "That's where we see a lot of behavioral issues with dogs in households," Brent says. This is particularly true for active breeds, such as herding or hunting dogs. "The Dalmatian was trained to be a hunting dog. You can't take an animal that's used to running eight miles a day, put it in an apartment, and expect it to be OK. If your dog's destroying stuff, he's saying, 'I'm bored, you need to give me something to do.'"
While exercise is important — dogs should receive 45 to 60 minutes of physical exercise and 15 minutes of behavioral training per day — Dr. Becker says you can also play mental games to keep your pooch entertained. Make her play search-and-seek games for her food or even use food puzzles that she has to solve before her meal is dispensed. You can incorporate both outdoor dog toys and indoor toys and activities to keep your pup entertained all day long.
Destructive behavior may also be due to separation anxiety.
While most dogs are going to bark for a few minutes when you leave the house — just to let you know you're forgetting someone — some dogs have a much more serious reaction. "If you watch a video of a dog with separation anxiety, it'll tear your heart out. It's like the kid lost at the mall without his parents," Dr. Becker says. "They freak out. They think you're not coming back. They often attack the area where you leave; they'll tear up the doorframe, they're destructive. If you come home and they've had diarrhea or [are excessively] panting, their cortisol levels are high, and you have to take action."
Dr. Becker recommends speaking with a dog behaviorist to receive a training program and possibly a canine antidepressant. To help assuage the trauma associated with your departure, you can try training intervals. First, put your coat on, grab your keys and go stand outside for 30 seconds. Come back in, and then go out for one minute, then five, and build from there. It's also helpful to give your dog a treat or a toy before you leave to keep him distracted.
Some dogs will alert you about a health problem.
It's a hard phenomenon to explain, but many dogs seem to be able to detect illness in their owners. Research shows that some dogs can actually detect a wide array of serious conditions, including seizures related to epilepsy. "We know that there's a chemical marker that a few dogs are detecting, just like they can detect bed bugs, mold, peanuts, drugs and explosives," Dr. Becker says. "They can smell the ketones on a diabetic's breath when their sugar is low. For people with epilepsy [about to have a seizure], they can alert their owner so they can get out of harm's way." Some canines are even more naturally empathetic to humans. Often, these dogs become therapy dogs, providing affection to those in need, while also sensing — and being able to react to — health problems. "Some people just need a dog to lay still with them; others need a reason to get out of the bed. It's the weirdest thing how therapy dogs know when to [move] close or far away," Dr. Becker explains.
Dogs act differently when they're sick.
It's important to pay attention to your pooch's behavior, because if something seems amiss, he's probably not feeling well. "You want to catch things in the earliest period to prevent unnecessary pain or worse," Dr. Becker says. "I call it 'Dog-ter Mom,' because 80% of caregivers for pets are women. You just need to pay attention to your intuition." That means noticing behavior that's out of the norm. If he's not as playful as usual, acting aggressively, having trouble getting up or isn't eating properly, then he could be sick. "You want to pay particular attention to eating habits," Dr. Becker says. "Food is their currency. If he isn't eating enough or is eating too much, if he's drinking more water or needs to eliminate more, or if you have a dog that's losing weight, then something's wrong."
Your dog follows a routine.
Routines help dogs anticipate how their day is going to go, such as when it's time to eat, go to the bathroom, and sleep. "Knowing what to expect is really, really important, otherwise they don't know how to react," Brent says. A general routine is best, but that doesn't mean you have to do everything at the same time each day. In fact, varying the time will actually help in the long run, Dr. Becker says. Otherwise, your dog will start running the show. "You don't want them to force how the clock works," he says. If they do, it's likely that your dog will "insist on his 5 a.m. feeding on a Sunday, when you want to sleep until 8 a.m. If you control their food, you control them — in a good way."
Dogs respond to tone.
Correcting your dog is important to good behavior, and how you do it is key to having them listen to you. Avoid explaining your dog's behavior to him or using a calm voice when reprimanding. Take a firm tone and be direct. "Dogs respond to tone. If you say, 'No!' while a bad action is happening, you're going to get a much better response than if you say it in a gentle voice or wait to say it afterwards," Brent says. To ensure results, it has to be said in the moment of action, and in the same way every time. "If you want to train your dog to be calm when he sees another dog, you can't wait until that dog has passed to give him a treat for being good. You can't wait until you get home," Brent says. "That says putting down the leash means a treat, instead of the action [you're trying to reinforce]."
Dogs learn differently than humans.
There's no doubt your dog is part of the family — but that doesn't mean he or she should be treated like a person. "Thinking your dog has the motivation of a person is the number one problem I see," says Gina Spadafori, pet-care columnist and author of Dogs for Dummies. Whether your dog urinates in the house or chews up the remote, the cause has nothing to do with revenge. "It's not an emotional or rational response. It's either a lack of training, illness, or a stress reaction that can be triggered by a change in the house," Spadafori says.
So if your dog is acting out, start by trying to find the root cause. Are they sick, improperly trained, or has there been a recent change in routine? Once you identify the cause, understanding and correcting the behavior will be much easier.
Elizabeth Berry (she/her) is the Updates Editor at the Good Housekeeping Institute where she optimizes lifestyle content across verticals. Prior to this role, she was an Editorial Assistant for Woman’s Day where she covered everything from gift guides to recipes. She also has experience fact checking commerce articles and holds a B.A. in English and Italian Studies from Connecticut College.