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Dogs have a lot of adorable behaviors that are exceptionally cute at first but if the behavior turns into daily habit things can get a little problematic.
A little canine lick on the leg is cute, endearing, and a sign of love from your pup. But a dog that constantly wants to lick your legs isn’t so fun anymore! The same is true for dogs that love to go between your legs. Whether they walk between your legs, stand there, or take a seat the behavior is undeniably cute…at first.
But eventually, the behavior can feel more like an attempt to trip you than a sign of affection!
So what’s going on here? Why do dogs go between your legs?
Whether your dog is sitting, walking, or standing between your legs the behavior is usually related to anxiety, fear, protective instincts, or excitement and happiness. Your dog’s body language and context clues can help you figure out which motivation makes the most sense for your dog.
That’s the quick answer but we’ll take a deeper look at each motivation, how you can figure out which one applies to your pup and what you can do about it!
Let’s get started!
Are There Differences Between Dogs That Stand, Sit, Walk, Or Anything Else Between Your Legs?
Is there any real difference between a dog that stands between your legs compared to a pup that sits?
Well, as is often the case with big canine behavior questions…it depends.
But what a dog does once they’ve wiggled their way between your legs doesn’t change the meaning of the behavior and instead can help you get a better idea of what’s going on by adding helpful context clues.
For example, if your dog goes between your legs, lays down, and doesn’t want to move it’s likely that fear or anxiety could be a motivation. On the other hand, if your dog goes between your legs but continues to charge full steam ahead then it could simply be a sign of excitement or affection.
In summary, regardless of the specific action your dog takes once they’ve claimed their spot between your legs, the explanations we’ll look at below can still apply.
9 Reasons Dogs Go Between Your Legs
With the background information out of the way, let’s look at the 9 most likely reasons to explain this canine behavior.
Reason 1: Your Dog Could Be Anxious
Going between your legs could be your dog’s way of managing their own anxiety or dealing with fear in many situations.
There are hundreds of studies that show a touch of almost any kind can help reduce stress and promote calmness in both humans and animals. By pushing their way in between your legs, dogs are getting the benefit of not only your touch but oftentimes the pressure of your legs too.
While there are obviously differences between your legs and a pressure wrap, numerous studies have found that pressure wraps can help reduce anxiety in dogs, especially in situations like thunderstorms.
Additionally, it doesn’t take much to see how a smaller dog could feel safe with you standing over them. The space between your legs could be the perfect fit and let them keep their eye on whatever has them nervous all while knowing exactly where you are.
However, the cause of your dog’s fear might not always be so clear which can make this explanation a bit confusing. If your dog starts walking and sitting between your legs after hearing fireworks outside then it doesn’t take much to see the connection. But dogs may be afraid of a new houseguest, another pet, or even just a new space.
It’s important to look at your dog’s body language to figure out if the fear explanation makes sense for your pup. Things like eye contact (or a lack of it), ear placement, tail position, and more can help you figure out if fear is the motivator. Of course, these behaviors can be complex but the video below can give you a quick rundown of how to read your dog’s body language and get you up to speed:
Reason 2: It’s A Great Way To Get Attention
Other dogs dog may use walking, jumping, or standing between your legs as a tactic for getting attention.
After all, it’s pretty difficult to ignore your dog standing between your legs while you’re trying to walk and dogs will quickly figure out that they’ll be getting some kind of attention if they plant themselves between your legs. Even if it’s not always the right kind of attention, some dogs will go for it anyway.
Additionally, some dogs will move towards wiggling between your legs as an alternative to jumping if you’ve corrected that behavior in the past. So if your dog pushes themselves between their legs the minute you walk inside or when they excitedly get to meet a new stranger then this explanation can certainly make sense.
Reason 3: A Dogs Way Of Showing Affection
Some folks have referred to a dog’s habit of getting between your legs as a canine hug. While dogs can hug by jumping up on people, it’s far from a desirable behavior.
Certain breeds, like Rottweilers and Great Danes are fond of leaning as a way to show affection. While we usually think of leaning as something that dogs do by our side, many will decide that standing between your legs is a better option. Of course, you’re going to have to be very tall to have a Great Dane stand beneath you so that breed in particular may decide to lay down instead!
Dogs that are showing affection will be calm with loose and relaxed postures. They’ll often sit or lay down between legs while they wait for you or simply relax close to you. It’s not always convenient to have your dog post up in these spots, but it is nice to know your dog loves you!
Reason 4: You’re Just A Scratching Post (Sorry)
So far we’ve suggested that your dog is motivated by your role as protector and loved one.
But in some cases, you may just be a convenient scratching post. I know, it’s not as satisfying as you learning that your dog is showing their love or turning to you in their time of need but it’s often the reality of why your dog dives between your legs.
It’s usually not very subtle and dogs will actively rub themselves against you if this is what’s going on. Usually, they’ll focus on their rump and if you give in and start scratching their butt you can expect a lot more of this behavior in the future.
Reason 5: Your Pup Is In Protection Mode
While some dogs may turn to you for protection, others may see themselves as the protector when they position themselves between your legs.
Standing and walking with you between your legs is a common position for a trained guard dog to take and some pups may take this position on their own.
Of course, without a lot of training it won’t look quite like this impressive:
Even without training, many dogs will figure out that by positioning themselves between your legs they can get a full view of what’s in front of them, including any potential threat, while still knowing exactly where you are by feeling your legs against them.
When it comes to figuring out if protection or fear is motivating your dog, you’ll once again need to take a close look at your canine’s body language. Dogs that are in “protection mode” will have wide eyes, erect ears, and an overall tense body position. Extensive training may change this (as you can see in the video above) but the untrained dog will take on stiff postures and refuse to take their eyes off the threat.
Reason 6: Your Dog Has Had Previous Training
If you’ve had your dog since they were a puppy and you know that you haven’t invested in any training then this explanation won’t make sense. But if you adopted your dog as an adult, they may have had specific training that taught them to heel or simply rest between their legs.
In the case of heeling, the training would have been formal but a previous owner may have also reinforced the behavior by providing treats (which dogs obviously love) or just some quality petting. Training dogs to heel between the legs is very common for military or police dogs but can be routine for regular folks too.
This could explain dogs that most often go between your legs during times of rest. It’s a bit of a long shot but if you think this could clear up your dog’s behavior then you could even try commands like “heel” or “heel between” to see if your dog responds.
Reason 7: Your Dog Is Being Rewarded For The Behavior
While your dog may not have had previous training that leads them to hang out between your legs, you could be reinforcing the behavior every day depending on how you react!
If you ever give your dog a treat, a scratch behind the ears or even just offer some positive praise that could be all it takes to reinforce the behavior and keep it going.
For example, let’s say your dog runs between your legs as an excited reaction to you coming home. As a result, you give them plenty of petting, verbal praise, and maybe even put out dinner for the evening. That’s all it will take to keep this behavior going!
Reason 8: They’re Focused On Something Else!
If you’re on a walk, your dog has a lot to focus on! From sniffing all the amazing smells to looking up at the squirrels in the trees, your dog is busy!
That means their ability to navigate around their world may not always be the priority and if walking between your legs seems like the best way to go from point A to point B then your dog may take it. Even more so if you’re trying to walk two dogs at once which can further complicate traffic.
Sure, it’s far from the ideal route for you but your dog may not mind much even if they do end up with a little bump from your legs.
This is especially true for small dogs that may feel like the space between your legs offers plenty of room but many larger dogs will give this shortcut a shot too!
Reason 9: It’s The Zoomies
Even if you’ve never heard of the zoomies before, you can probably imagine what they are. Think about the last time your dog seemed to lose their mind and sprint around the house at a mad dash.
Yep, those are the zoomies or as they’re more scientifically described Frenetic Random Activity Periods.
Dogs that experience the zoomies will happily run and jump between your legs for no reason other than the fact that they’re there! Smaller dogs may even weave or circle in between your legs, some might even grab your leg.
The zoomies are completely normal and nothing to worry about. It’s all just part of getting out that extra energy!
Dominance? Submission? Or Neither?
You may find some folks suggesting that going in between your legs is a sign of dominance or submission but it’s most likely not related to either- at least not completely on its own.
In the past, dominance was used as an explanation for a long list of seemingly random canine behavior from patting you with their paw to happily grooming you and everything in between. But study after study has debunked the importance of dominance in the canine world.
Additionally, there’s nothing particular dominating or assertive about crawling under you. In fact, dogs that are attempting to show assertive behaviors over other dogs will usually stand over the other dog and not crawl below them.
As far as submission, going between your legs could be a part of a dog’s overall submissive approach but it wouldn’t be the only thing you see. More significant behaviors would be urination, exposing their belly, and generally making themselves look small.
So don’t try to put the behavior of going between your legs into a dominance or submissive box and instead look at the bigger picture of what your dog is doing.
How To Figure Out Which Explanation Makes Sense For Your Dog?
We’ve looked at a wide range of explanations for dogs that like to go between your legs ranging from anxiety to happiness and just about everything in between.
But what if you’re still a little confused about which reason best explains your individual dog’s behavior?
That’s where context clues can help you decipher what’s going on with your dog. Let’s look at a few of the big ones that will help you break down this behavior.
What Happens Before Your Dog Goes Between Your Legs?
More specifically, what happens right before your dog starts the behavior?
For example, if you grab your keys and your dog burrows their way between your legs then this could be a sign of separation anxiety or at the very least a request for you to stay home. On the other hand, if your dog dives between your calves the second you enter the home then it’s more likely just a sign of excitement.
Of course, those are some of the more obvious explanations but other factors to look at are the time of day, people that are around, and especially anything that you do.
Where Does It Happen?
Does your dog go between your legs at home or only at the dog park? If it’s only at the busy dog park, then your pup is probably a bit nervous about all the additional canine companions around.
Just as important is asking yourself where it doesn’t happen and by considering these variables you can get a better idea of what’s going on.
When Did It First Happen?
I know it can be difficult, but can you remember the first time your dog went between your legs?
Was it a reaction to a thunderstorm or did it only happen after you worked on correcting problematic jumping behavior?
While the initial reason for starting the behavior may not be what motivates it today, it can still give you some great insights.
Should You Worry?
Unless your dog is going between your legs as a result of anxiety then there’s rarely anything to be worried about here- except of course tripping.
It becomes problematic when it’s a sign of extreme anxiety that’s impacting your dog’s life at which case you’ll want to start with your veterinarian and consider a trainer but outside of those rare and very specific scenarios you don’t need to stress as long as your dog is knocking you over!
How To Stop Your Dog From Going Between Your Legs
Even though the behavior can be cute from time to time, you also don’t want your dog to become a 24/7 tripping hazard so you may need to change your dog’s habits.
The important thing to remember is that punishment won’t be effective.
Instead, you need to understand why your dog is trying to get between your legs and give them another outlet for whatever is motivating them.
Think of it this way: if your dog is scared of thunder and hiding between legs, punishing them won’t make them less scared. Instead, you need to focus on removing the fearful stimulus or help them better manage their reaction.
Using dog training terms, you’ll focus on using redirection so that whatever your dog is feeling has a more appropriate outlet. Once you figure out which of the 9 reasons above best explains your dog’s motivation for walking or sitting between your legs, you can figure out how to give them a better outlet!
Consider Training Your Dog To Do It Better
Alternatively, you could encourage your dog to go between your legs but do it in a more efficient way. We’ve already seen videos of extremely well-trained dogs heeling between legs but your dog doesn’t need a career in the military to learn this behavior. If your dog is already walking or standing between your legs, then the behavior can be even easier to shape.
By associating a specific command with the behavior, along with other behaviors, you can more easily communicate to your dog what you do or do not want them to do. You’ll still need to consider your dog’s motivations and address big concerns like fear or anxiety but turning the behavior into a learning experience can be a great way to manage it!
Some dogs may be more prone to it than others but almost all breeds will try to go between your legs at some point!
For some pups, it’s just part of being a canine but that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore the behavior. While there’s usually nothing to worry, if your dog’s drive to go between your legs is motivated by fear or anxiety then it could be a cause for concern.
Context clues and body language will help you figure out exactly which explanation makes the most sense for your pup and as you’d expect there could be some overlap between each reason.
What do you think? Which reason makes the most sense for our dog?