Teaching your dog to walk by your side is an essential part of obedience training. Yet, no matter how much you try, your dog may prefer walking in front of you. The reason why your dog walks first is simple – it thinks of itself as pack alpha and wants to lead. If, instead of walking beside you or in front of you, your dog prefers walking behind you, the underlying reason is not so simple.
So, why does my dog walk behind me? The most common reason dogs choose to walk behind is to have more time to sniff things and investigate the environment. Dogs experience the world through their noses, and picking up scents is vital for nurturing their explorative heritage. However, there are other reasons why your dog is walking behind you, like fear, submissiveness, uncomfortable walking gear, or learned behavior.
Although there is nothing wrong with your dog’s tendency to walk behind you if you want, you can teach your dog to walk by your side and follow your pace.
This article will explain in detail your dog’s reasons for walking behind you, point several considerations related to this preference, and provide tips on how to prevent your dog from lagging.
Why does my dog walk behind me?
If your dog is walking behind you, there are several possible reasons; some are normal, while others may require professional attention.
Sniffing, investigating, and interacting
Your canine companion is blessed (or cursed) with over 100.000.000 scent receptors. The dog’s brain portion responsible for analyzing scents is 40 times greater than ours. With so many scent receptors waiting to be triggered, it is no mystery why dogs want to spend so much time sniffing.
Walking behind might be your fault. Namely, if your dog was a heavy puller and you constantly reprimanded it for pulling, you probably unintentionally ingrained the habit of walking behind you. In this case, the solution is simple – all you have to do is positively reinforce the habit of walking beside you.
Some dogs are more fearful than others. The fear may stem from past experiences, abuse, or neglect. Fearful dogs might be scared by new environments, people, dogs, sounds, or even smells. They need constant reassurance to get rid of their fears and start feeling more comfortable.
Naturally, dogs live in packs with well-established hierarchies. If your dog respects you and sees you as a pack leader, it will choose to follow you and walk behind you.
Few extra pounds
If your dog has gained some weight, it will probably lack the stamina necessary for keeping up with you. Weight gain and obesity can have detrimental effects on its overall health and require proper diet and exercise.
Every dog is different, prone to various habits, and with a unique set of skills. While some dogs prefer to lead and go in front of you, others may choose to follow and walk behind you.
Dogs are creatures of habit. Dog slacking proper socialization might feel nervous when brought in unknown territory. To avoid such issues, try exposing your dog to new surroundings and experiences as early as possible, preferably while still a young pup.
Just like people, some dogs are more prone to developing anxiety than others. If something associated with the walk triggers anxiety in your dog, chances are it will decide to walk behind you, where it feels much safer. It is important to determine what is making your dog anxious and reassure it everything will be fine.
If your dog belongs to a herding breed, walking behind you is part of its strong herding heritage. In this case, in addition to walking behind you, your dog might even nip your heels or nudge your legs. Considering this habit is ingrained deeply into the dog’s genetic code, breaking it can be pretty challenging.
Once your dog enters its senior years, it is normal to start lagging and do things more leisurely. Almost all dogs develop arthritis (painful inflammation of the joints), resulting in stiff joints and decreased mobility. Arthritis is not a life-threatening medical condition, but it affects your dog’s quality of life and warrants veterinary attention and management.
All medical issues accompanied by pain can make your dog sluggish and less exercise tolerant. In these cases, it is understandable why your dog might prefer to drag behind you instead of happily pulling forward. If your dog is acting unusually and showing other signs of compromised health, it is vital to see your trusted vet.
Uncomfortable walking gear
The reason why your dog is walking behind might stem from the uncomfortable walking gear it is wearing. For example, the harness can be too tight, the collar made of uncomfortable material, the leash too heavy, or the dog booties one size smaller.
Why does my dog walk behind my legs? – Things to consider
Several studies could help understand your dog’s reasons for walking behind you.
When did your dog start walking behind you?
Pinpointing the behavior’s onset can be helpful. For example, if your dog always walked behind you, it is probably because it wants to interact with its surroundings or a personal choice.
However, if the behavior has a sudden onset, it is more likely that it stems from fear or your efforts to punish your dog for walking in front of you or pulling too hard.
When does your dog walk behind you?
It is advisable to discern in which situations your dog walks behind or beside you and note what is different.
For example, if your dog walks behind you when other dogs or unfamiliar people approach, its behavior is due to fear. On the other hand, it is probably because of insecurity if it walks behind you when visiting a new area.
Should my dog walk behind me?
If walking behind you is a personal choice or stems from curiosity, there is nothing wrong with letting your dog pursue its natural inclinations. As long as your dog is leashed and there is no risk of lagging behind, it risks getting lost.
However, if your dog is walking behind for other reasons, it is advisable to get to the bottom of things and find why your dog chooses to walk behind.
Suppose the reason is related to fear, anxiety, or uncomfortable walking gear. In that case, you need to do everything you can to help your dog overcome the problem and feel more comfortable walking.
How can I stop my dog from walking behind me?
There are several things you can do to prevent your dog from walking behind you.
Use positive reinforcement training
The concept is pretty straightforward – you reward your dog when it walks beside you and do NOT reward it when lagging behind. It is also helpful to teach your dog the “come” command.
If your dog does not come when called or keeps walking behind, you must not punish it as this may aggravate its fear and complicate the training process. Simply put, if your dog disobeys, you do not punish or scold – you simply refrain from giving treats and rewards.
Avoid negative reinforcement
Giving treats and rewards is helpful, but there is one caveat – if your dog learns that every time it lags behind, there will be a reward, it may start lagging on purpose.
That is why in addition to positive reinforcement training, you should also teach your dog the “come” command.
There are many reasons why your dog might choose to walk behind. If that is an individual choice and a personality quirk, there is not wrong with letting your dog do things its way and walk behind you.
However, it is your responsibility as a devoted dog parent to determine the underlying issue if there is a deeper reason stemming from fear or anxiety. Once the cause is identified, you need to either eliminate it or minimize your dog’s exposure.
If you have trouble determining the underlying reason or do not know how to limit its presence and exposure, do not hesitate to seek professional help from a licensed canine behaviorist.
Why does my dog always want to be behind me?
If your dog always chooses to be behind you, it is probably feeling nervous and seeks your protection. In such cases, you need to be more attentive and try figuring out what is making your dog feel that way so you can eliminate the trigger and make your dog comfortable.
Why do dogs sleep between your legs?
The main reason why dogs decide to sleep between their owners’ legs is comfort. By comfort, we mean actual physical coziness and a sense of security and protection.
Why is my dog following me everywhere?
If your dog is following you everywhere, you should be flattered – it means you are too important to be left out of sight. Your dog might want to protect you and spend as much time as possible with you, but the concept is the same – love.
Is lagging behind a medical emergency?
If your dog is acting completely normal and lagging behind you is part of its normal behavior, there is nothing to be worried about. However, if your dog is sluggish, lagging behind, and acting unusually, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with your trusted vet.