The Root of the Behavior
Walking along walls can be a good sign or a bad sign depending on whether your dog is making contact with the wall. If your dog frequently walks along walls but is not interested in rubbing against them, this could be a response to fear-induced stress. A dog that has previously been subjected to abusive treatment and living conditions might react this way because he is afraid of being around human beings. He might also shy away from making eye contact and might prefer isolation over interaction with people and other dogs. There are also physiological health reasons that are easier to diagnose and treat than the emotional one discussed above. One of these is itchiness and discomfort after a bath. Frequent bathing or using the wrong shampoo may dry out the protective layer of oil present in your dog’s fur and skin causing it to become dry and itchy. To relieve the itch, your dog will walk and rub against anything, from walls to furniture, your car, and even your legs.
Further, consistent rubbing against walls may be a sign that your dog is suffering from a parasitic or skin infection. It is also possible that your dog is suffering from injury or age-related complications such as painful joints. If this behavior is motivated by an underlying medical issue, your dog will exhibit other signs such as loss of appetite, hair loss, weight loss or weight gain, change in stool consistency, lumpy joints, and dry mouth, among others. From an evolutionary standpoint, when your dog walks against a wall, he marks his territory by leaving his natural odor so that other dogs identify the wall as his own. This is common where a dog shares the same space with other dogs. On the contrary, your dog could also be trying to pick up a smell he likes by walking against a wall. Dogs have a very strong sense of smell and when they like a smell, their tendency is to want to be immersed in it. Lastly, since dogs love physical contact, it is possible that your dog is looking for surfaces that will satisfy this need, especially if it has been a while since you gave him a satisfying rub.
Encouraging the Behavior
Responding to this behavior depends on whether it is pleasure driven or whether it stems from pain. Since the reasons that trigger the behavior are varied, a process of elimination will tell you whether you need to worry about your dog’s health. If your dog is well groomed and healthy, he could just be asking for a massage. Rub his back to see if this urge will subside. In the process, look for fleas, ticks, lesions, and abnormal patches on his skin and take him to the vet immediately if you see anything unusual. Psychological conditions in your dog can be treated by a dog behavior specialist. Note that forcing your dog to bond with you or with other dogs might heighten his stress levels. For instance, where holding your dog and giving him a back rub is quite pleasurable for a mentally healthy dog, a dog with a history of abuse might respond negatively because abused dogs develop an aversion to physical contact with those they consider dominant.
No matter how well-meaning you are, your dog will not know how to interpret your good gestures so you should not attempt to force interaction without a dog behaviorist present. This behavior is also likely to damage your interior decor because continuous rubbing against the walls will wear them down or leave unsightly streak marks. You will also have to vacuum your floors more often as consistent rubbing will result in more hair loss. Both these scenarios account for reasons why you might want to discourage this behavior.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Even where an infestation is not obvious, there are certain rare medical and psychological conditions that cause dogs to rub against walls. An eye infection, for instance, may cause your dog to rub his head on walls in an attempt to clean out his eyes. A reaction to certain foods might also trigger this urge though with proper treatment and altering the diet, your dog should return to normalcy. If walking and rubbing along walls are present at the same time as obsessive licking or circling, this might indicate anxiety, pain, or psychological distress. You should seek the proper diagnosis from your dog’s vet or dog behaviorist to rule out all these issues.