Dogs do all sorts of quirky but often quite endearing things. One of those is sleeping very nearby to us, often curling right up between our legs to sleep. You might be wondering why he does this though, especially if he’s got a perfectly comfortable bed that he could go and snuggle up in instead. In this article, we explore the various reasons why your dog might like to sleep between your legs and what you can do to discourage the behavior if it is becoming problematic for you.
Why does my dog sleep between my legs?
Many dogs may simply enjoy snuggling up to you because you are nice and warm and cozy. Put simply, they are using you as a human hot water bottle! Some pet parents in return may enjoy the warmth given off by their slumbering pet, so it can be mutually beneficial. Small or elderly dogs will especially feel the cold and may benefit from some extra body heat. But any breed or size of dog may like leaning right up against you for comfort, with your legs providing the perfect pillow for them.
Some dogs may feel safer when snuggled up next to their pack leader. Particularly if you are awake and therefore “on the lookout” for them, your dog may be able to relax more easily under your careful watch. Similarly, some dogs may sleep on you because they believe that they are protecting your safety. Protective-type behaviors may mean your dog feels the need to stay close to you, just in case danger approaches. Make sure that this protective behavior doesn’t deteriorate into aggression though, particularly if they start trying to ward off family members that approach you, for example.
3. Pack behavior
Sleeping very close to you may hark back to how he interacted with his ancient wild ancestors. Wild dogs will often all pile into a den together, sleeping very close for warmth and security. He may be trying to replicate this with you.
4. Feeling anxious/stressed
Very anxious or stressed dogs may find it hard to relax and switch off. Sometimes the best way for them to do this is by snuggling in close to you, the person that makes them feel safest. This type of behavior is often seen around fireworks or thunderstorms when your dog is looking for somewhere to hide and feel protected.
You could try setting up a makeshift den for your dog during such events, to give them an alternative place to hide. A blanket draped over some chairs or a table could work, or putting a blanket over his usual dog crate to make it cozier.
5. Reinforced behavior
Your dog may do it simply because you encouraged him! By stroking your dog or rewarding him with other positive attention, like treats or praise, you will be inviting him to continue to lie between your legs. Some pet parents do quite enjoy the closeness of their pet, but if you are starting to find the behavior frustrating perhaps you need to be careful that you are not accidentally rewarding and encouraging it.
6. Separation anxiety
Your dog may want to stay close to you because he suffers from separation anxiety. These dogs will likely follow you around the house too, living in fear that you might leave them. While on the surface this could be considered quite sweet, the behavior does need nipping in the bud. Anxious dogs can go on to show destructive behaviors, as well as other issues like howling or inappropriate toileting when you do have to leave them by themselves.
How to discourage your dog from sleeping between your legs
If you don’t enjoy your dog sleeping between your legs, or if you are worried that it is a symptom of an underlying anxiety issue, then you should take steps to try and discourage it. Here are a few things that you could try.
Crate train using positive reinforcement
Some dogs may benefit from having access to a dog crate. This can give them the den-like security that they might be craving, providing a safe and quiet space. The crate must be the right size for your dog, giving them enough space to stand and sit up in as well as lie down and stretch out. The crate must never be used as a place of punishment otherwise your dog may develop an aversion to it. You should introduce your dog to it gradually following these steps:
- Start by making it welcoming with comfy soft bedding and his favorite toys inside. Position the crate somewhere draft-free.
- Make sure the door is secured open so that it doesn’t swing shut and scare him while he is getting used to the crate.
- Start by throwing treats inside it, and praise him if he enters it.
- You could increase the amount of time he spends in the crate by feeding him his meals in there.
- Once he is comfortable going into his crate, try gently closing the door for very short periods. If your dog becomes distressed, stop and let him out. Build up the time gradually.
- It is useful to teach your dog to accept the crate door being shut, as you may wish to transport him in it from time to time (e.g., car journeys). Otherwise, it is likely the crate door will just remain open at home so that he has free access in and out.
- Remember, the crate is your dog’s safe space so don’t allow people to bother him when he’s in there, or climb in the crate with him. Small children will be particularly tempted to do this, so set boundaries.
Don’t reinforce the behavior
Don’t accidentally reinforce the behavior. If your dog comes and sits and lies between your legs, you shouldn’t stroke them or praise them. Instead, ignore them or quietly stand up and move away. If your dog persists you could give them a command such as “bed” to try and direct them to their own space, praising them if they do so.
Consider what was going on when the behavior started
Think of when and why the behavior first started. If it was because of fireworks then your dog may have developed anxiety because of these. Calming appeasing pheromones can help take the edge off of some dogs’ stress as well as working on a desensitization program to tackle their phobias. Speak to a pet behaviorist or your veterinarian if you need advice.
Provide an alternative place for your dog to lie down
It sounds silly, but it’s amazing how many people forget! Make sure your dog has somewhere else to lie down comfortably! This could be a cozy crate or a nice soft bed somewhere. Ensure you have the right size product for your pet so that it is comfortable, and situate it somewhere cozy and draft-free. Some dogs like to keep half an eye on what’s going on, so may enjoy their bed being moved into the living room or kitchen when you are in there.
Reduce separation anxiety
If your dog has separation anxiety and can’t leave your side, then this really needs tackling. Dogs suffering from this can show other unwanted behaviors, such as destroying property or vocalizing (howling), especially when left on their own, even for short periods. Discuss a training program with an animal behaviorist on how best to tackle the problem. Also, make sure you are taking your dog out for plenty of exercises and giving him lots of mental stimulation, as a tired happy dog is less likely to be anxious and destructive.
There are many reasons why your dog may like to sleep between your legs, but usually, it’s because of comfort and wanting to feel safe. It’s fine if you are happy to continue allowing them to do this, but some pet parents start to find the behavior problematic. If you want to try and encourage your dog to sleep elsewhere then keep it positive, and make sure they have a good cozy alternative. Always speak to your veterinarian or a qualified pet behaviorist if you are struggling with any aspects of your dog’s training.