Our dogs engage in many behaviors we don’t quite understand. My owners message me asking why their dog always likes to sleep between their legs…
If your dog does the same then this article is for you!
I’ll explain why dogs like sleeping between our legs, whether it’s a good or bad thing, and if we need to do anything about it.
Best answer: Feeling safe, secure, and warm are the main reasons why dogs sleep between their owner’s legs. Other reasons include separation anxiety, or that you have accidentally reinforced this behavior.
7 Reasons Why Dogs Sleep Between Our Legs
Below, ill cover the likely reasons why your dog wants to sleep between your legs.
Depending on the nature of your dog and their other behavior, some of the reasons might stand out to you more than others.
A good tip to remember is that whenever we try to pinpoint the cause of certain canine behavior, it’s always necessary to take everything into context. This includes recent events as well as other signs and behaviors your dog might be demonstrating. Without doing this, it can be hard to narrow down the true cause.
1. Safety and security
First and foremost, for most puppies and adult dogs, you represent safety and security. And that’s a good thing.
Dogs are pack animals and place a lot of importance on hierarchy. You, being the leader, means that you are capable of protecting the rest of the pack. Sounds funny, but this is how dogs really see it!
Sleeping very close to you, on top of you, or in between your legs, it all means the same thing: “I’m safe here”.
As dogs are so closely in-tune with their wild survival instincts, being able to feel safe and secure is high up on their priority list, especially when sleeping which is a naturally vulnerable moment for all animals.
2. Warmth and comfort
Aside from feeling safe, dogs LOVE to be warm and comfortable.
For many breeds both small and large, sleeping between your legs will provide them with warmth and comfort.
However, depending on how big your dog is, it might not be so comfortable for you!
Small dogs that can neatly lay right in the dip between your legs will find the most comfort here.
But still, large dogs will still try their luck! My german shepherd (all 75lbs of her) always loved to lay on my legs.
3. Accidental reinforcement of this behavior
Accidentally reinforcing certain behavior happens all the time without us really knowing.
For example, when your dog lays between your legs if you have ever allowed it and proceeded to give your dog a nice belly rub… That’s it! You’ve just reinforced to your dog that laying between your legs was the right thing to do.
It’s as easy as that. It only takes one or two positive reactions from you to reinforce a certain behavior or action.
As you can imagine, we are unconsciously doing this all day every day.
Positively reacting to our dogs shortly after certain behaviors is a very powerful training technique otherwise known as positive reinforcement. We just have to be careful when we do it!
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4. Separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is a complex and serious anxiety condition that all dogs can develop for various reasons.
Dogs that have this condition typically like to be as close to their owner as possible without being away from them for any amount of time.
Dogs will typically lose control, freak out, and panic the moment their owner isn’t in sight or has left the house.
Naturally, dogs with this condition will like to sleep close to their owner, and in between your legs is the ideal place.
If separation anxiety is affecting your dog, it’s likely there will be additional signs to look out for…
These include freaking out the moment you leave the house or even touching your keys, following you around at all times, general anxiety and nervous behavior throughout the day, an inability to relax, and perhaps an unpredictable temperament around other dogs or family members.
5. Showing and receiving affection
Dogs love to give and receive affection, well, some dogs do!
Your doggo could simply be laying between your legs to not only show you affection but also receive it.
Physical contact remains to be one of the most powerful forms of affection, and dogs are well aware of this.
Whether you give your dog a belly rub, or simply rest a hand on their back, all contact like this is considered affection and can be great to build your bond.
When your dog comes to sleep between your legs, you can take this as a sign your bond is already at a great level.
It could be that your dog is fearful of something in their close environment. This may be more likely than we realize according to a Finnish study that found out up to 72.5% of household dogs have some form of canine anxiety.
Your dog could be fearful or scared by a range of things from loud noises (fireworks), unusual noises outside, unfamiliar smells (yep!), or even something in the household they are unsure of.
Depending on your situation you may be able to easily rule this cause out (or in). For example, if your dog never usually lays between your legs, but is suddenly doing it on New Year, then it’s likely the fireworks are causing your dog extra fear.
As I mentioned previously, it’s always important to take everything into context when trying to decipher the cause behind this behavior.
7. Seeking attention
Coming to sleep directly between your legs could be your dog’s way of satisfying their need for more attention.
Some breeds are more attention-seeking than others. Or it could be that your busy schedule has resulted in less quality time for your dog…
Although your dog isn’t exactly gaining your attention while they sleep, coming up to you beforehand and making this level of physical contact, will give them a sense of attention.
Consider how much quality time you are spending with your dog. Are they left alone for many hours per day? Do you have time everyday spare to focus solely on your canine buddy? Think about the average day for your pup and you might have a clear answer.
When Did Your Dog Start Sleeping Between Your Legs?
One way to get to the bottom of this behavior is to consider when your dog started doing it and how often they do it.
Is this something they have always done? Or is it something new? And does it happen at only specific times of the day?
If it’s a new behavior, consider the recent events or changes in your routine or environment that may have triggered this.
- Have you recently moved homes?
- Are you spending less time with your dog throughout the day?
- Is your dog panicking whenever you leave?
- Have you recently got another pet?
- Has your dog’s daily routine suddenly changed?
- How is your dog behaving during other times? (extra needy?)
- Have your recently reacted positively to your dog doing this?
Take a moment to consider those, and if one seems like it could fit your situation, the likely cause will be easy to figure out.
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Is This Behavior Good or Bad?
Whether or not you should stop this behavior, comes down to if it’s excessive or not.
If the behavior isn’t excessive and your dog doesn’t always try doing it, and of course, you don’t mind, then it’s absolutely fine to let it happen. After all, it’s a good way to provide ample attention and will have a positive effect on your bond.
If the behavior is excessive, then it’s best to immediately create some boundaries and teach your dog that laying between your legs isn’t something they are allowed to do all the time.
Why? Any kind of excessive behavior that involves your attention could be the start of a separation anxiety issue if it isn’t quickly controlled.
Whether it’s following you from room to room, laying on top of you or sleeping between your legs, anything that directly involves being close to you needs to be monitored carefully.
Separation anxiety is a serious problem that can be hard to overcome once developed.
How To Stop Your Dog Laying Between Your Legs
If you think this behavior is a problem or a sign that some anxiety is developing then let’s run through the best way to stop it.
As positive reinforcement is such a powerful training technique, we can use it to encourage our dog to lay in their own bed whenever they want to rest.
First of all, it’s crucial that have a comfortable bed. Then you should spend time over the next couple of weeks rewarding and praising your dog when they get in their bed.
You can wait until they go in the bed themselves, but you can actually speed up the process by taking them over there, encouraging them to lay down, and then rewarding them for that.
Of course, it makes more sense to do this during the evening time, when your dog is ready to sleep anyway. You don’t want to accidentally train your dog to lay in their bed all day!
You can also do this whenever your dog tries to lay between your legs. This would be considered corrective training, and it’s just as important. Whenever your dog goes between your legs, gently encourage them to go over to their bed and lay there, always followed by rewards and praise.
After a short while (a few weeks) your dog will realize that laying in their bed to sleep is what appeases you the most. And this alone should see a big reduction in the behavior.
If you want to let this behavior happen sometimes, then it’s crucial to keep it infrequent (once a week).
If it isn’t infrequent enough, then your dog will be confused as to what you want.
If you’re training them to lay in their bed, but then allowing them to lay between your legs every day still, they won’t know where they stand and will ultimately learn nothing.