Why Does My Dog Walk Behind Me?

why does my dog walk behind me

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Taking walks with our dogs is a great exercise for them and us. It is nice to get fresh air, especially with our furry companions. But what if your dog doesn’t walk alongside you, and is consistently trailing behind?

This behavior can make you curious and ask the question, why does my dog walk behind me?

If your dog walks behind you, it could be that they were trained to follow. But, if you haven’t trained your dog to walk behind you, it could be that they are too busy sniffing around, they are distracted, afraid, submissive, keeping their distance, it is a habit, they are tired, or possibly sick.

To have a deeper understanding of why your dog is walking behind you, continue reading below as we explore each of these possible reasons. 

Reason 1: They Are Trained To Walk Behind You (Even If It Was Accidental Training)

I feel like most of the hours in my day are spent training my two pit puppies and chihuahua! 

Training our dogs takes a lot of patience and consistency but once they understand what we want them to do, they usually continue to follow through. Although, some dogs may need a refresher here and there (especially my chihuahua). 

In most cases, training is intentional and dogs are trained to follow behind you using the positive reinforcement or reward-based method. When you use the reward based method you focus on rewarding your dog for their good behaviors. Rewards such as treats, belly rubs, and praise are all good ways to help reward your dog.

However, not all positive rewards are so obvious and in some cases, you may reward behavior without realizing it!

That could be a well-timed treat, verbal praise or your particular leash could make following behind you more comfortable for your dog.

This video shows the cutest dog responding very well to the reward based training method and can help you understand when you may be accidentally rewarding your dog for walking behind you!

If you have trained your dog or if someone else has trained your dog to walk behind their human or any human, it is likely that they will continue this behavior. So when you are walking your dog, they will likely stay a few feet behind you because they have been trained to do so. 

Training is important for all dogs and not only can it help prevent behavior problems before they start, but it also gives dogs the mental structure and stimulation they need to stay happy!

How To Change The Behavior

If you are interested in changing the behavior, you can always re-train your dog. Just make sure to use positive reinforcement methods and outdated and mostly ineffective aversion training techniques

You can take your dog to a professional trainer, or you can train your dog yourself with the reward based method. Teach them to walk alongside you or ahead of you if that is what you want. 

After a few walks with consistent re-training, your dog will start to understand that it is okay to walk with you and behind you!

Reason 2: They Are Sniffing Their Surroundings

Dogs use their noses for almost everything!

Their sense of smell is way better than ours. Dogs have noses that have exceptional olfactory receptors and can smell up to 100,000 times better than humans! They learn about new people and places by smelling. They can detect everything from heat to what you had for breakfast with their powerful nose!

If you are walking and you realize your dog is lagging behind, it could be that they are coming in contact with new (or old!) smells that they want to sniff! Whether it’s a pile of acorns or another dogs urine, everything seems interesting to some dogs. 

When dogs smell something that interests them, or something that they think could possibly be a source of food, they will automatically smell it out to see what resources it could provide them. They want to explore these smells, and during a one mile walk, there will be a lot of them!

So the next time your dog trails behind you during your walk, it could be that they smell something that interests them and you’re just walking faster than their sniffer can smell!

How To Change The Behavior

When your dog is continuously walking behind you to smell different things, sometimes it can help to allow your dog to smell around for a few minutes. If you allow them to have some time to sniff around, they will find the answers to what is causing their curiosity. 

You can also change your mindset of the walk to help accommodate your dog. Instead of taking a walk where you go from point A to point B, restructure it as a “scent walk” also known as a decompression walk. A scent walk is a walk that allows your dog to use its nose to lead. As they smell something that they want to investigate, they will lead you to it, spend a few moments sniffing around, then continue walking to their next destination. 

When you allow your dog to lead with their noses, they may stop walking behind you!

Reason 3: They Are Distracted 

Sometimes I get distracted very easily, it’s simply how my brain functions. And my pitbull, Luna, is exactly the same way. Any noise, person, bird, or bug will completely distract her! She’s constantly looking up, down, and all around for anything interesting.

She often lags behind because her curiosity is so strong, that she is constantly distracted by any outside stimulation! 

Dogs that are hyper-aware of their surroundings may get easily distracted by new people, places, or things. Some may even be distracted by things that they see every day! Once they are distracted by something, they may take time to smell the distraction which can cause them to lag behind a bit on your daily walk!

You can also be part of the distraction! They are distracted by you!

Distracted dogs are simply dogs who are curious. Curiosity can cause your dog to walk behind you to see what you are going to do next! You are the leader of their pack and they are genetically wired to follow the leader!

The next time your dog is walking behind you look to see if they are distracted by something else, or if they are simply waiting to see what you do next!

How To Change The Behavior

If you want your dog to be less distracted, either on a walk or around the house you can try training them to follow commands. Simple authoritative commands can help your dog learn to come to you when they hear the words. Commands such as “leave it” or “let’s go” can help your dog refocus on you and your walk.

If commands don’t work as well as you would like, you can also try leash training. Sure, your dog may already be able to walk on a leash, but do they really know what they’re doing?

When you begin leash training you will want to use a full body harness. This will help guide your dog without causing any discomfort. Using a retractable leash, have your dog stand beside you. While they are next to you, have the leash firm with no slack. Begin walking and command them to walk. If they listen, give them a treat, this will encourage them to begin walking, too. 

Don’t allow the leash to give them enough space to lag behind. Use praise to help them understand that they are doing a good job! 

If your dog still seems curious while on the leash, even after you have given them commands, try allowing them to have some free range to get acclimated with their surroundings. They may want to check out a new smell or something else they see! Give them a few minutes to sniff around, play, or possibly go potty, and then you can have them join you by your side! 

Reason 4: They Are Afraid

Sometimes our dogs get afraid! Especially if they know that something is about to happen that they don’t exactly enjoy. 

Have you ever seen a dog when they are afraid to go to the veterinarian or possibly the groomer? The walk from the parking lot looks so stressful because the poor pooch absolutely doesn’t want to go!

They are so overwhelmed with their fear that they walk behind their owner. 

Even if you would never do anything to scare your dog, they’ll still be fearful from time to time and some more than others.

If you accidentally yell at your dog or use negative reinforcement as a way to correct them, they may become afraid of you, which can cause them to walk behind you. They may also be afraid of any number of other things on the walk whether that’s another person or another dog

How To Change The Behavior

If you want your dog to be comfortable and confident when walking into any situation or when you are by their side, it is best to give them plenty of praise. 

Instead of yelling or using negative reinforcement, always try to be authoritative but calm and use positive reinforcement instead! Your structured behavior will help eliminate their fear and get you guys back on track to be best buds! Using rewards is a positive way to help rebuild the bond with your dog! 

Reason 5: They Are Submissive and Keeping Their Distance 

Some dogs have personalities that are dominant, while others have submissive personalities. Submissive dogs often obey the more dominant leader. When a dog is submissive they are more likely to stay behind when walking. 

This way of following is part of something known as pack mentality. Your dog knows where they rank in the pack, most often if you are a person of authority your dog will see you as the leader of the pack. 

In my home, my husband is definitely the leader (at least for our dogs)! Our dogs follow him and are keen on his every move, often following him and listening to his commands. I, on the other hand, am not the leader, and it shows! Our dogs often lead me rather than me leading them! I’m almost certain it is because I let my husband do the commands while I just enjoy playtime. 

While the idea of a true “alpha” within the wolf pack has been debunked by modern science, these dynamics can exist within an individual relationship and can impact where your dog decides to walk along with a long list of other behaviors like licking other dogs’ ears or hanging out between your legs!

How To Change The Behavior

If you have a dog who walks behind you when you are walking another dog, it may benefit you to walk them separately. Especially if the two dogs have fought or have beef with each other! 

It is possible to retrain the two dogs to walk alongside you, placing one on each side. This will require patience and many treats, and possibly a second person to help intervene if a fight should arise.

If your dog just doesn’t like you or the way that you smell, it may be best to allow them to walk behind you. If it’s because of a new detergent, perfume, or the smell of another dog, try to avoid smelling like those things for the next walk!

Reason 6: They Have Gained Weight 

Sometimes we use the reward training method a little too freely! If you continue to train your dog with treats or feed them too much at mealtime, they may gain a few extra pounds! 

Weight gain in dogs is common when their human overfeeds them (which can be surprisingly easy to do with treats like lunchmeat). The extra weight can make it harder to walk, which will cause them to walk slower. Obesity in dogs can also lead to other problems that will slow them down.

This could be why your dog can’t keep up with you and walks behind you!

How To Change The Behavior

If you want your dog to be back to their normal self, you will have to put them on a calorie deficit and ramp up their physical activity!

If you practice the reward training method, try using more praise and less treats. Continue this until your dog is back to a healthy weight!

Reason 7: They Are Comfortable 

When a dog is comfortable they often walk slower. No distractions are causing them to be overstimulated. No smells are enticing them. Just a slow stroll with their best pal, you!

When your dog is comfortable it may find a slow pace that is easy to maintain and not too strenuous. This pace causes them to walk behind you, especially if you have rapid steps.

Maybe we should take notes! Next time your dog is walking at a comfortable pace, match it and see how relaxing it really is!

How To Change The Behavior

Honestly, I don’t think this behavior needs to be corrected! Dogs should have the ability to walk at a pace that is comfortable for them. But, if you are in a hurry and need your dog to pick up the pace, this is another time where reward training can be beneficial! 

Use treats to encourage them to speed up, and praise them when they do!

Reason 8: They Are Tired

I know that when I am tired, I have no urgency. This lack of urgency also occurs with dogs. 

When your dog has time to play outside, they use a lot of energy. If you take your dog for a walk immediately after playtime, they may be a little worn out! This can cause them to walk behind you!

As your dog gets older, they won’t have as much energy as they once did. If you have the same 2-mile walk that you do with your dog every day since they were a pup, they may be noticeably slower because they tire out more easily as an older dog. 

I know that I don’t have nearly as much energy as I did when I was young! This is the same with your dog!

If your dog isn’t very old, or the tiredness has come out of the blue, it may be a good idea to call your vet to rule out any issues that your dog may be experiencing. 

How To Change The Behavior

If your dog is walking behind you because they are tired, it’s unlikely that they will speed up for this walk. But, if you want your dog to be less tired for tomorrow’s walk, be sure that they are getting enough rest beforehand. You can also limit playtime before the walk, encouraging it more for after the walk. This will help them have a steadier pace for the walk! And they can use up what energy is leftover for playtime after!

Reason 10: They Are Protective (Or Need Some Protection)

When your dog follows behind you, it can be a way to keep you safe. They are watching you and guarding you against any outside dangers or influences. 

Dogs are protective of the people they love. Some dogs may be more protective or less protective depending on the breed but all pups have some protection instinct. One of the easiest way for your dog to protect you is to walk behind you, and see that you are safe! 

A protective dog will follow behind you during walks and around the house! They may also be more clingy than usual, especially if there’s a lot of extra stimulation.

However, this one can be confusing because some dogs that feel like they need to be protected will also walk (or in some cases sit) behind you! It’s important to pay attention to your dog’s body language to figure out which explanation makes the most sense for your dog.

How To Change The Behavior

If your dog is continuing to follow you, as a way to protect you, the best way to change the behavior is to let them know that you are safe. Take walks in familiar places and stay calm in all situations. 

Try giving your dog treats and praise when they successfully lead, or stay beside you while walking. Treats are a great way to show positive reinforcement.

Reason 11: They Are Sick, Injured Or Uncomfortable

Sometimes our fur babies get sick. I know, it makes me sad too!

If your dog is sick, they may feel lethargic, tired, or weak. They will walk slower and not be able to keep up when they have certain illnesses. This is also true if they have an injury. A broken leg, injured paw, or any other injuries can cause your dog to walk behind you.

Osteoarthritis can also be the reason why your dog walks behind you. If your dog is older, you may want to have them checked to see if this could be the culprit. 

Always be alert to your dog’s behavior during walks. If they show any signs of sickness or injury stop the walk immediately and contact your veterinarian. Sudden lethargy can be linked to heatstroke or other illness and need to be checked out right away!

In other cases, it may be too hot or too cold for your dog and lagging behind is their way of letting you know they’d like to slow down.

How To Change The Behavior

If your dog shows any signs of sickness, as we said before, call the vet! They will provide you with the needed information that you need to monitor your dog. They may recommend you bring them in for a check up as soon as you can to help alleviate any pain or provide medical assistance. 

It Could Be More Than One Reason

Our dogs are very complex! They often do things, such as trail behind you for multiple reasons! 

Since our dogs use their noses for almost everything, smelling certain scents paired with almost any other reason listed above can often be part of the reason why they act the way they do. 

Smelling their surroundings isn’t always the only thing that factors into why our dogs trail behind. It could be any combination of the above reasons that cause your dog to follow behind you! 

Should I Be Concerned?

Usually, when your dog is walking behind you it is not a reason to be concerned. But if you notice limping, lethargic behavior, wheezing, or vomiting, it could mean that they are injured or sick. 

If you suspect that your dog has an injury or maybe is sick, call your vet as soon as possible. Schedule an appointment to get them checked out to rule out or treat whatever the problem could be.

Also remember, dogs can overheat and they could be walking behind you as their way of telling you it’s too hot for a walk. Especially short noses dogs due to their nasal passageways being partially restricted. Try to walk your dog after sunset or before sunrise to help prevent heatstroke. Always have fresh water available for your dog to drink while taking a walk, especially if it is hot!

My Final Thoughts

Many people think that their dogs are their best friends! We enjoy their companionship and often like taking walks with them. But, sometimes our dogs enjoy lagging behind us for various reasons. If you don’t mind your dog’s casual stroll, that is great! But if you would rather them keep up with you, it may be best to implement some training so they can keep you company! 

Always remember to watch out for any signs of illness or injuries if your dog isn’t keeping up with you. The sooner you recognize any ailments, the quicker you can make a vet appointment!