Sometimes, dogs can begin to display strange behaviors without apparent cause. If you’ve ever come home to a sudden change in your dog’s behavior, you know that it can often be equal amusing and disconcerting. Since dogs cannot communicate everything that they are thinking or feeling at any given time, their owners are often left wondering what might really be going on.
Though the behavior is not overly common, some people have reported that their dogs suddenly start to walk through doors and doorways backwards. It is as if there is an invisible threshold that these dogs are suddenly unwilling to cross, and so they turn around and go tail-first across them. Some people find the behavior amusing, while others are left wondering what could be wrong. Here are some theories on why dogs go through doors backwards, and how you can help your dog look forward to passing that invisible line.
The Root of the Behavior
There is no obvious or confirmed explanation for this behavior, but there are three general schools of thought as to why your dog might suddenly decide to lead the way with his rear end. The first is that your dog might have a hip condition or general pain that walking backward soothes. Andrea M. Brodie, DVM suggests the behavior is associated with the fact that some older dogs begin to experience loose and easily dislocated joints. She thinks it possible that your dog might have figured out that walking backward pops the joint back in place, or keeps it in place more comfortably than walking forwards. The problem with this stance is that it applies to the general act of walking backward, and not necessarily to walking backward under doors.
The second school of thought, which seems to be the most widely accepted, is that it is the result of nervousness or prior trauma. Almost all dogs who walk backward underneath doors seem to share a generally nervous or skittish disposition. It is possible that some event occurs that your dog then associates with passing underneath doorways. Some first-hand accounts across various dog communities have linked the start of the behavior to a particularly severe thunderstorm, to a particularly hard fall, or to construction on the doorway in question. In all of these cases, the dog begins to fear passing underneath the doorway, and so he turns away so as not to have to (quite literally) face that fear.
Lastly, there are some people who believe that the behavior is associated with an underlying neurological condition. This theory seems the least valid of the three, but there are several veterinarians who support the idea. Those who subscribe to this belief argue that it an underlying neurological problem such as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome interrupt a dog’s motor function abilities, resulting in severe confusion and the behavior in question. The problem extends to seizures and other neurological complications, all of which have been known to lead to other abnormal behaviors in dogs.
Encouraging the Behavior
The action that you take with your dog will depend on whether or not you believe that your dog is suffering from a health problem, or a personality problem. If you know your dog to be skittish, fearful, nervous, and anxious, you may want to consider behavioral training as a means of coaxing your dog out of his fearful behavior. Work to lead your dog through the doorways or passageways that he is afraid of passing through, and reward your dog for facing his fears. It may take some time for your dog to learn to walk facing forwards on his own, but it will come in time.
Some find the behavior amusing, and see no need to change it. This is acceptable since the behavior causes your dog no unnecessary suffering, provided that your dog does not show signs of pain, fear, or discomfort while exhibiting the behavior. If there are any signs of pain, it is recommended that you take your dog in to see a veterinarian. It is certainly possible that the issue is the result of a medical issue that needs attention. Look for any other signs that your dog might be showing that he is in pain or discomfort. In most cases, veterinarians will prescribe pain-management medications, or work with you on ways to make your dog more comfortable at home.