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When it comes to relaxing and lounging, our dogs are true professionals.
Whether it’s finding the perfect sunny spot in the middle of the room or the absolute coolest part of the house, dogs know how to nap.
But our dogs will sometimes pick spots that seem more creative than comfortable- like when they curl up between our legs sometimes even crawling under the covers.
What’s going on here? Why do dogs like to sleep between your legs?
Many dogs enjoy sleeping between your legs simply because it’s warm, comfortable, cozy and they consider you an important member of the pack! Other dogs may do it because they’re fearful, anxious or may feel more relaxed when they can feel your legs against them.
That’s the short answer but we’re going to break down every reason, including some of the more unusual ones, along with what you can do about it.
Let’s get started!
Reason 1: It’s Just Plain Comfortable…For Your Dog
We’re going to look at some of the more complex reasons motivating your dog…but this isn’t one of them!
The comfort, coziness, and warmth of your legs along with whatever you’re laying on could be all your dog needs to consider the nook between your legs prime sleeping real estate.
Not only is it warm, but numerous studies have documented the benefits of touch for both humans and animals concluding that physical contact of any kind can bring about calmness and reduce stress. Even the smallest dogs will likely have some contact with your legs and that’s definitely part of the appeal.
Additionally, as natural den animals, dogs are always happy to curl up and crawl into anything cave-like. While your legs aren’t exactly a cave, if part of your dog’s behavior includes going under the blankets then the sleeping spot could satisfy their need to find a den.
All that comes together to make sleeping in the space between your legs almost irresistible once dogs figure out how to get there!
So before we dive deeper into some of the more complex reasons, don’t be afraid to stick with the simple answer and assume that your dog just enjoys a comfortable spot and some cuddle time.
Reason 2: You’re A Part Of The Pack!
Dogs are pack animals and while that comes with a lot of misconceptions, it does include sleeping and socialization with packmates- that means you.
Sleeping with the pack is simply practical since it can improve safety, warmth, and of course comfort. Your dog may not be thinking through this when they crawl into bed and instead it’s their natural instincts to stay with the pack that drives them to find a spot close to you. And it just so happens that the spot between your legs could be what they see as the ideal location!
Some dogs take your role as packmate a lot more seriously than others and these pups are often referred to as velcro dogs. These dogs just want to follow you around anywhere you go…including to bed.
Reason 3: Your Dog Is Protecting You
In other situations, your dog may feel that you need extra protection and sleeping between your legs is a great way to set up their security detail.
If your dog is sleeping between your legs and under the covers then this explanation may not be the best. Although some dogs may not have thought this through entirely or are depending on their powerful ears to detect potential threats most realize that they need to see the world around them to protect you.
While there’s a big difference between sleeping and being awake, many dogs will go between their owner’s legs as a way to keep them protected. Positioning themselves between your legs can allow dogs to feel where you’re at while being able to face any potential threats. Many dogs will also sleep with their back to you as a way to keep you secure and watch the environment but others will take this more creative approach.
To figure out if this explanation makes sense, consider what happened before your dog started sleeping between your legs. If there are new noises, new guests or anything else new your dog could be concerned about then a drive for security may explain the change in sleeping habits.
Reason 4: …Or Your Dog Needs Protection
On the other hand, your dog may be turning to you for protection and this is usually the more likely explanation.
That doesn’t mean your dog is terrified or in a constant state of fear while sleeping, instead, your dog could just find it reassuring to feel the touch of your legs as they rest.
It just makes sense that if you’re going to sleep together, you should also work to protect each other, and being able to feel your movements can help your dog relax. Of course, your dog could choose other places to curl up but they may decide the space between their legs in their favorite and if you sleep under the covers it may be the best way to feel where you’re at.
Reason 5: Fear Or Anxiety Could Be At Play
If your dog usually sleeps in the corner of the room but decides to curl up between your legs during a thunderstorm then it’s likely that fear is at play. The same could be true for any loud noises or sudden changes.
However, fear could also run a bit deeper and if your dog is naturally shy then they may need the reassurance of sleeping between your legs to relax. Other dogs simply prefer to follow their owner around at all times, and while this isn’t necessarily a result of anxiety it can be.
This explanation usually makes the most sense if your dog suddenly wants to sleep with you and can’t seem to get close enough.
Reason 6: Your Dog Is Showing You Love and Trust
Touch is an almost universal sign of love across the animal world! On top of that, it takes trust to go unconscious around anyone (which is what sleep is all about).
By sleeping between your legs, your dog is showing you love in the form of touch and trust by choosing to sleep next to you! While it might not give you the best night’s rest, you should still feel honored!
Reason 7: Jealousy Could Be A Factor
Many dog owners already suspected that their dogs experience jealously and one study found that 80% of dog owners report jealous behaviors from their canine companions.
And it’s not just in your head with numerous studies confirming that dogs do indeed feel jealousy!
If you’ve brought home a new pet, child, or any other creature that’s taking your attention then jealousy could explain your dog’s drive to sleep between your legs. It’s a great way to get as close as possible to you while keeping track of exactly where you are!
Reason 8: Your Dog Likes To Burrow
Some breeds are more likely to dig and burrow than others. Terriers and their close relatives were bred to not only sniff but also dig out critters. That group includes breeds like dachshunds, any breed with “terrier’ in their name but also some hounds like beagles.
Other dogs are just plain natural diggers like huskies that needed to dig a comfortable hole lay in during the cold winter nights in the arctic.
Whatever your dog’s history, they have some kind of instinct for digging, and some more than others.
What does this have to do with sleeping between your legs?
Well, some dogs may decide to combine their natural talents for digging with the drive to find the perfecting sleeping spot. These pups can’t resist crawling under the covers and naturally, the warmest spot is the nook between your legs!
Reason 9: You May Be Encouraging Your Dog To Sleep Between Your Legs…Without Realizing It
Our dogs are always paying close attention to signals we may not even realize we’re putting out! That includes both positive and negative reinforcement so consider exactly how you reacted the first time your dog decided to snooze between your legs and how you react to the behavior now.
If your dog gets verbal praise, petting, or even a treat then they’ll most certainly keep the behavior going. The combination of finding a comfortable spot along with your positive reinforcement (even if it seems minor to you) is more than enough to keep your dog going.
So while positive reinforcement may not have started the behavior it can certainly turn a one-time sleeping spot into a routine.
It’s Probably Not Separation Anxiety
Some folks will suggest that your dog’s drive to get close to you and sleep between your legs is related to separation anxiety and while that’s possible it’s far from the most likely explanation.
By definition, dogs that are suffering from separation anxiety are stressed when you leave. While they may show anxiety when you’re around or when they think you might be leaving soon, sleeping certainly isn’t how they’d express their anxiety.
Additionally, if you’re laying down on the couch or resting in your bed then that’s likely to be one of the most calming times for a dog suffering from separation anxiety! Instead of worrying about you suddenly walking out the door, they know exactly what you’re doing and understand that the risk of you leaving is low to non-existent- at least for a little while.
So while dogs with separation anxiety may also sleep between your legs, there’s a lot more to separation anxiety than finding a comfortable spot where your dog can feel your presence an d you’ll want to look at the big picture of your dog’s behavior.
Which Explanation Applies To Your Pup?
We’ve broken down 9 possible reasons why your dog loves sleeping between your legs but that doesn’t mean it’s obvious which one makes sense for your dog.
So how can you figure out which explanation applies to your pup?
Body language and considering when the behavior started can help you figure out your pup’s personal motivations.
Canine Body Language
Since we’re talking about sleeping dogs here, the body language factor may not seem important. All sleeping dogs have the same body language, right?
Instead, we’re talking about your dog’s body language before they go to sleep. Are they calm, relaxed, and comfortable with loose body postures…or are they tense with their eyes darting around the room?
Dogs that appear relaxed are more likely to be looking for a warm and comfortable spot while dogs that are showing signs of anxiety may be motivated by fear, anxiety, or simply a need to feel safer before they slumber.
Has Your Dog Always Slept Between Your Legs Or Is It A New Behavior?
If your dog has always slept between your legs for as long as you can remember then it’s more likely to be a part of their pack mentality or simply a drive for the warmest sleeping spot in the house.
But if the behavior has started suddenly, then it could be related to some kind of shift in the household that’s causing anxiety, fear, or jealously. So think hard about any changes that have occurred before your dog decided to claim the space between your legs. It could be as simple as moving your dog’s bed the week before!
Combined with body language, this can help you figure out what’s motivating your dog.
Should You Allow Your Dog To Sleep Between Your Legs?
While the motivation behind your dog’s preferred sleeping spot may be benign, having your dog sleep between your legs carries two main concerns: safety for your dog and sleep quality for you.
Concerns Around Sleep Quality
While sleeping with your dog may give you a sense of ease and comfort (as documented by the release of oxytocin) sharing your bed with your pup the entire night could be an overall detriment to your sleep quality.
Even more so when you consider that there’s a big difference between having your dog curled up in the corner of the bed and having them planted in the space between your legs. Unless you’re one of the rare people that barely move during sleep, then you’re going to have a problem at some point in the night!
While it probably didn’t take a study to figure out, research has confirmed that sleeping with a dog in your bed can have a negative impact on your sleep quality. You may not wake up enough to know what’s going on but if you find that you’re waking up groggy or tired then your dog’s strange sleeping spot could be to blame.
Is It Safe For Your Dog?
All that movement at night isn’t just impacting your sleep quality but it could put your dog in a dangerous position. If your dog is small and your legs are strong, then you can easily see the problem.
Of course, this will depend on how much you move at night but one look at the mess of blankets when I wake up in the morning tells me that I most certainly wouldn’t want a little pup sleeping near my legs!
Beyond the risk of getting a little (or big) kick in the noggin, there’s a risk of oxygen depletion if your dog sleeps between your legs and under the covers. While the risk is low, and most pups will exit the blankets as soon as they start to feel funny, there are no guarantees and veterinarian Michael Fox asserts that “I consider it unhealthy for an animal to keep breathing the same air in a limited space for any length of time.”
Additionally, Dr. Fox suggests that the risk is even greater for short nosed (brachycephalic) breeds like pugs since they already have a hard time getting enough oxygen.
So while sleeping between legs isn’t very dangerous, it’s best to redirect your dog to another spot if it includes going under the covers. An accidental knock in the noggin could also explain why some dogs suddenly decide to leave the bed altogether for another spot of the house.
How To Change The Behavior?
If you’ve decided that having your dog sleep between your legs isn’t for you, the next question is how can you change the behavior?
The simplest solution is to keep your dog out of the bedroom by closing the door or crating them within the bedroom. The preferred option here is to use a crate and despite plenty of debate most experts agree that a crate is a great option for dogs.
However, crate training isn’t without it’s struggles, especially for puppies and younger dogs, so if you don’t want to go the route of crate training or shutting the door, let’s break down a few steps and considerations that will help your dog sleep somewhere else.
Stop Reinforcing The Behavior
The first, and usually the easiest, thing you need to do is stop encouraging or positively reinforcing the behavior. Of course, staying warm and comfortable may be reinforcement enough but you at least need to make sure that you’re not promoting the behavior with verbal praise, petting, or treats.
That doesn’t mean you need to use negative reinforcement or punishment to discourage your dog- simply stay neutral!
Understand What’s Motivating Your Dog And Provide An Alternative
Before we start trying to modify the behavior, we should have some idea of what’s motivating our dogs to sleep between our legs in the first place.
If there’s a massive fireworks display happening outside that’s scaring your pup then offering your dog a new bed probably isn’t going to help. On the other hand, if your dog doesn’t have a dog bed then providing a new cozy bed could be all takes to make them sleep there.
By understanding the why behind your dog’s preference, you can offer a better and more effective alternative.
Teach Your Dog The “Lay Down” Command
You’ll want to give your dog a better spot for naps and the easiest way to let them know where to go is by teaching them the “Lay Down” or a similar type of command. This is also one of those basic commands that are just plain useful for your dog to know as well.
If your dog doesn’t already know the command, this video is a great resource for getting it done:
Positively Reinforce The New Spot
Now that you’ve provided your dog with a better alternative and know exactly how to let them know where to lay down, it’s time to give them plenty of praise for picking their new spot over any other.
Of course, you’ll want to praise your dog when they follow your command to “Lay Down” but any time they lay down in their new bed on their own you should give them petting, praise, and even a treat to really sweeten the deal.
Sleeping between your legs can seem a little strange at first but when you look at it through the lens of comfort, security, and instinctual pack mentality it suddenly starts to make a lot of sense.
However, it’s not always the most practical of sleeping locations and it can easily lead to a knock on your pup’s head or some restless nights- for both of you.
In most cases, the behavior is pretty easy to modify and once your dog has a better alternative they’ll quickly choose that as their main sleeping location. But if your dog is motivated by anxiety, jealousy, or other complicated feelings the process can be a little more difficult but still very possible to change.
What do you think? What explanation makes the most sense for your dog?