Why your dog walks between or through your legs and how to stop it
I have noticed a trend. Many of the dogs that our dropped off at the kennel for training walk between their owner’s legs. Most owners seem to like it or at least don’t seem to mind it. But this behavior from a trainer’s perspective is annoying at best and troubling at worst. In addition, it is a difficult behavior to stop. Especially if a dog has received positive reinforcement for this behavior. But beyond that, if the dog is ultimately a working dog – a hunting dog or a competition dog, this behavior needs to end ASAP. Here is why your Lab dog walks between or through your legs and how to stop it from happening in the future.
Why does my dog go between my legs?
There could be several reasons why your dog is walking between or through your legs.
The dog is seeking attention
Many people will tell you that the dog just wants attention. And while there may be a sliver of truth in this explanation (because what Lab does not want attention!) in my experience the dog is manipulating the owner into giving him attention. Anyone who wants a well-behaved, well-mannered dog should not be succumbing to manipulation by their dog.
The dog has anxiety issues
This is the second most popular answer to why does my dog go between my legs. Again, there may be a sliver of truth to this. Some dogs have high anxiety and do not know how to control that anxiety, but this is not the majority. In addition, a well-trained dog will learn how to control most anxiety and remain obedient and in control. This explanation feels like an excuse to me. As a professional dog trainer, I work very hard at not making excuses for the dogs I train. They don’t need excuses; they are capable of much more than most owners believe.
The behavior has been rewarded with praise and or petting
I think most dogs that exhibit the behavior of walking through someone’s legs are simply repeating a behavior that has been rewarded in the past with praise and/or petting. This is natural dog behavior, find out what will make their owner pet and praise them and repeat that behavior as often as possible. But this isn’t the full picture.
The dog is trying to escape pressure and finding a safe zone
When I have a dog that is consistently walking between my legs, it is usually because the dog wants to escape the pressure of training. Dogs often seek a safe zone under something or someone when they do not want to perform an expected behavior, or they find the pressure of training to be too much.
Escape behaviors are a huge problem, especially if you want your dog to work for you. Dogs that have not been exposed to any pressure as puppies, often find it very difficult to handle pressure as a young dog. Learn more about the importance of teaching your dog to handle pressure.
Why should I not allow my dog to go between my legs?
If your dog walks between or through your legs, and it doesn’t bother you, then carry on. Some people simply love this behavior, and if your dog is not a hunting dog or a competition dog, the behavior itself is not something you must stop. But there are several reasons I feel that you should not allow your dog to continue with this behavior.
It’s dangerous for you and other people
If you are sure footed, and your dog is not too big, a dog walking between your legs might not cause you any issues. But many people, older and younger, may not be as sure footed. And if your dog is a large breed, they have considerable strength and pushing their way through someone’s legs could easily cause that person to fall and injure themselves.
It gives your dog too much control
As I mentioned before, this behavior is often driven by a dog that has learned to manipulate the owner in to petting him. Anytime your dog has the upper hand, the position of controlling your behavior, this is not good. It moves you down the rank of the pack hierarchy and gives the dog too much power. This will make for big problems with obedience and control over the dog.
Learn more about the five reasons your retriever won’t listen to you.
It allows an escape behavior and teaches the dog to avoid training
If your dog is using this behavior to escape training or avoid being obedient, then it is vital that you end the behavior immediately. Your dog needs to learn to handle pressure and not become disobedient when things get tough, or he just doesn’t want to train anymore!
How can I stop my dog from walking between my legs?
So, how can you stop this behavior in your dog?
Assuming you do not enjoy having your dog walk or push his way between your legs, here are the steps you need to take to stop or at the very least diminish this behavior.
Stop giving attention
If you have been petting or encouraging your dog to walk between your legs, you need to stop this right now. Don’t pet your dog for doing this and don’t encourage the behavior.
Teach dog that between your legs is not a place to escape training
To teach your dog that going between your legs is not a safe place, or a place they want to be, you need to start making the space between your legs inaccessible and uncomfortable. So the first step to do this is to lock your legs tight together so that there is no room for your dog to go between your legs.
Then, you need to make this space uncomfortable for your dog. There are a couple ways to do this, but both take some commitment and strength from the owner. Both physical and mental strength.
Using an e-collar correction
If your dog is fully e-collar conditioned, this is the easiest way to make the space between your legs uncomfortable for your dog. DO NOT just strap an e-collar on your dog and do this training. Your dog must be conditioned to the collar. To learn how to do this, refer to this post.
For 99 percent of e-collar training, we tie the e-collar correction to a command. But there are a few training issues that use an e-collar and do not use a command. This is one of them.
When your dog starts to push his way between your legs, give your dog a continuous correction with the e-collar. You can start on a low setting but quickly raise the setting if your dog is not moving out from between your legs.
As soon as your dog moves out from between your legs stop the correction. If he again starts to push between your legs, immediately start the correction again. The point is that your dog will be getting an e-collar correction anytime he is between your legs and the correction will stop as soon as he moves out from between your legs. When your dog moves to an acceptable position, praise your dog with a GOOD DOG.
This process makes the area between your legs very uncomfortable for your dog.
If your dog does not move from between your legs, the correction is not strong enough to garner your dog’s response. Make sure that you have the e-collar on the dog correctly. It should be just below the dogs’ ears, and it should be quite tight, just enough room to get one finger between the collar band and the dog’s neck. And it should not be able to swing or move down the dog’s neck.
Using stick pressure
If you do not own an e-collar or do not want to use the e-collar to correct this behavior, you will need to use a heeling stick.
A heeling stick is a training tool much like a horse’s crop. It is generally used to teach working dogs the SIT command and how to handle pressure. But it can be used to stop your dog from going between your legs. Beware, if your dog has been doing this behavior for a long time, it may take considerable stick pressure to stop this behavior. The e-collar solution is much easier on you and the dog.
Have your dog on lead and each time your dog goes between your legs, start giving your dog stick pressure on his back end to exit that position. When your dog exits that position, stop the pressure. When your dog moves to an acceptable position, praise the dog.
Reward correct behavior
You can cement this training with giving your dog petting and praise whenever he is in an acceptable position such as at HEEL or sitting facing you. Make sure your dog understands that there are good and acceptable positions for him to get attention, just not between your legs.
Final thoughts regarding why does my Lab dog walk between my legs?
If your dog walks between or through your legs, you can take steps to end this behavior. It is not an easy behavior to stop, but if your dog is endangering yourself or someone you love or if you just dislike the behavior and want it to stop, you can take steps to minimize or stop this behavior.
If you are still struggling or need additional help you can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time, happy retrieving.