Can Dogs Walk Backwards?

dogs walk backwards


Can Dogs Walk Backwards?

Dogs are incredibly versatile animals that supply their owners with devotion and endless hours of playfulness. Have you ever taught your dog tricks? If so, you have probably noticed many unusual traits that a dog doesn’t normally do. Standing on their hind legs, walking forwards on their hind legs, and even briefly walking backward. 


Can dogs walk backwards? Yes, a dog can walk backwards. Most dogs who walk backwards are trained to do this behavior, though it is possible for a dog to do this without training. A dog walking backwards frequently without a training cue is a sign of fear or an underlying health issue, since this is not normal behavior.   


This article will also explore how dogs can be trained to walk backward, as well as discuss possible health issues that could explain why your dog is walking backwards. As you’ll find out, it’s a fun sight to see, but it’s not always a good sign depending on different factors. 

What Causes a Dog to Walk Backwards?

If you have ever owned a dog, you have probably seen a dog walk backwards briefly in a variety of circumstances. Let’s explore some of the reasons that cause this peculiar behavior to occur.

Fear and Anxiety

Like most animals, dogs use their sight and smell to respond to the world. Check out our article on why dogs smell everything on a walk. If a dog encounters a situation that is unknown to them or causes them to fear something, the dog will not want to look away from the situation. They may want to back away slowly from the situation and will walk backwards to ensure they maintain sight of the threat at all times. An example of this would be a dog encountering a larger animal in the wild.


A dog walking backwards could also be a sign of discomfort or distress. If a dog is trained to use the bathroom outside, a dog will show many clues and behaviors to their owner to indicate that they need to go outside. If these signs go unnoticed, a dog may show discomfort from having to hold in their waste. Walking backwards could be a sign to get your attention to open the door. 


Have you ever scolded your dog for doing something wrong? You may have noticed that your dog walks away backwards, maybe even with their tail between their legs. They are unsure and nervous about being punished and will walk away backwards because they fear you scolding them again. This trait is similar in humans since we do not want to turn away from a threat that is facing us.


In addition to anxieties, a dog walking backwards may not be as odd of an occurrence as we think. Walking backwards may sometimes be more comfortable for a dog than regular walking. 

sad puppy

Flexibility and Mobility 

There is actually some science behind why dogs may choose to walk backwards. In a 2004 research study for the Journal of Experimental Biology, it was discovered that weight is concentrated heavily in the front legs of dogs. 


I’ll spare you the scientific phrasing, but essentially, when dogs need to move quickly out of a situation that has compromised their forward movement, they will walk backwards with their hind legs leading them out. 


These are some of the behavioral reasons that a dog may walk backwards, but dogs can also be trained for backward walking. Let’s discuss how to do that below. 

Can I Train a Dog to Walk Backwards?

Although dogs are always going to prefer to face forward, you can actually train your dog to walk backwards. This is accomplished just like any other trick you teach a dog. 


If you’re interested in getting your dog to walk backwards  on command, you can follow these simple steps to teach your dog to walk backwards:


  • Decrease their movement. To get your dog to be forced to walk backward, you will need to make sure their space prevents them from turning around. Train your dog in a small space between two large objects. 
  • Find a signal word. Use a word that matches the behavior you are training for, such as “back” or “reverse.”
  • Keep repeating the process. It takes a dog several times to learn a trick based on your command. Keep forcing the backward walking with your signal world.
  • Always treat your dog. Every time your dog walks backward on command, give them a treat, and praise them.  


So, getting a dog to walk backward through training is certainly possible. 


Note: You should never expect your dog to walk backward in a perfectly straight line. Dogs use all four of their legs for walking; therefore, walking backward is not a normal pattern they frequently perform. A dog’s balance and coordination are concentrated in the front legs, so backward walking will always be unbalanced. 


Unfortunately, a dog walking backwards is not always a playful sign. It could also be indicative of a health issue, which we’ll discuss in more detail below. 

Is a Dog Walking Backward a Sign of a Health Issue?

In severe cases, a dog walking backwards could be the sign of an underlying health issue. 


Since dogs walk with their rear legs providing forward momentum, your dog could be walking backwards if it has injured one of its front legs. The rear legs are better positioned to allow backward movement than the front legs. If an injury has occurred that is making your dog walk backwards, it is always advisable to take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. 


The backwards walking could help the front leg heal, yet there is too much uncertainty with just waiting out the injury. 


A dog frequently walking backwards could be the sign of a possible neurological issue. If a dog has ever suffered a trauma to the head, walking backwards is a sign of possible brain and nerve damage, which will require a visit to a veterinarian. If your dog is older and is consistently walking backwards, this could be the sign of a syndrome similar to dementia in humans. 


Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is a neurological disorder that sometimes occurs in older dogs. This disorder may cause loss of memory and disorientation, with the most alarming symptom being erratic motor functions. As the disorder increases in intensity, dogs will sometimes walk backwards since the brain is not providing the proper signals for normal walking. 


Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disorder, but a veterinarian can prescribe certain medications and therapies to help decrease some of the disorder’s symptoms. 


The best way to check if your dog’s backward walking is due to a possible health issue is to watch for odd changes in your dog’s behavior. Dogs are great at letting their owners know if there is a problem with their health but more serious issues may not be as easy to see as a common physical injury. 



So, dogs can walk backwards for a few different reasons:


  • Out of fear or confusion
  • Training
  • Emotional stress or a health issue


If the behavior becomes a normal walking pattern for your dog, this may need to be checked out by a veterinarian to ensure your dog is okay. More often than not, it just may be a quirky way that your dog shows interest or excitement. Backward walking is just another interesting trait that dogs frequently do that may not look normal, but is normal to the dog when they are doing it for whatever reason suits them.   


Dean Lissaman

As a child I grew up around dogs and have loved them ever since. I now have a beloved Golden Retriever who enjoys exploring the outside world. Being an outdoor enthusiast has inspired me to create the ultimate resource on relating both dogs and the outdoors. For more information on me check out my about page.

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