Your dog, or another dog you know, might be the kind of dog who is always weaving, leaning, sitting, or walking between or under your legs. You might notice your dog doing it at different times, either when you are out and about, you have company, or even just during play time. Some dogs even prefer to sleep curled up between your legs. What does it mean? Why do dogs go between and underneath your legs? Have you ever been knocked over by an overly pushy dog trying to get between your legs? How do you keep them from accidentally knocking someone over?
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The Root of the Behavior
Sometimes, dogs may go between their owner’s legs seeking
comfort or safety. Some research has found that medium and large dogs are more
likely to demonstrate this behavior than small dogs. A lack of confidence, anxiety, or excitement can cause dogs
to seek the closeness or protection of their owner’s legs. They may also do it
because they are trying to avoid another person or animal—because they are
overwhelmed or nervous, such as when they meet new dogs, people, or children, who
may be more high-energy or unintentionally rough than they are used to dealing
with. Even new environments, like a vet’s office, where new scents and other
dogs can make your dog nervous or uncertain. Alternately, a loud noise like thunder, fireworks, or a
door slamming might send your dog fleeing to the safety of your legs. Products
like the ThunderShirt are useful for this kind of anxiety as the constant
pressure around their back and chest can be soothing.
Dogs are a lot like toddlers who run to their parents when scared. Dogs are different than other pets in this way. Dogs have a lot more love and devotion for their owners than do cats or other animals. As your dog’s owner, you are not just their source of food and entertainment. You are also their pack leader and best friend. It may also be a form of attention-seeking behavior. If your dog forces themselves between your legs, you can’t very well ignore them, can you? Especially if your dog tries walking with you above them, they become very hard to ignore. And you end up, unknowingly perhaps, feeding their habit by giving them attention and affection. Sometimes, when a dog has been taught that jumping up is inappropriate, they end up substituting the behavior for another one. In some cases, passing underneath someone’s legs instead of standing or jumping up.
Encouraging the Behavior
If you think your dog might be
anxious, going between or underneath your legs might be fine. If the occasional
thunderstorm or firework sends your dog to the space between your feet, it
might not be a problem you have to deal with very often. It provides your dog
comfort and security. But if your dog seems persistently anxious any time you
have guests over or go anywhere new, you may need to come up with alternate
solutions. First, talk to your vet for recommendations for helping ease your
There are other ways you can help your dog cope with those stresses, as well. Products like the ThunderShirt may help dogs with anxiety. In the car, using a safety harness can also help. Alternately, you can train your dog to stop going under your legs if it becomes a problem. First, do not pet or encourage your dog when they go between your legs. Praising your dog when they are nervous only encourages nervous behaviors. Instead, be patient and give your dog a chance to work through whatever is causing their nervousness. If it is a new place, encourage your dog to play and explore. If they become fearful or aggressive, remove them from the situation and you can try again later.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog is the nervous or overly excited sort, or just will not stop getting underneath you, you can work on training them to stop. Ignore your dog when they try to get beneath you, and praise them for sitting or returning to their bed or mat. Sometimes, you may want to train your dog to return to your legs. Heeling is an effective tool during training and can keep your dog’s attention on you instead of on something they should not be getting into. You can reward your dog for returning to your legs and staying focused on you. Consult a trainer on how to encourage or discourage the behavior.
Dogs look to their owners for reassurance, safety, and comfort. If your dog only goes between your legs in happiness or playfulness, it is perfectly normal and acceptable, as long as they are not too large and knocking you over. Fear and anxiety can be overcome with the right advice and training, with help from your vet and an experienced trainer.