Dogs are animals that love to be part of a pack and many times you will find your dog wanting to run off and explore, but what does it mean when your dog walks behind you.
Dogs walk behind their owners for many reasons. Submissive behaviour is an obvious assumption to jump to after all dogs are pack animals and they naturally want to play their part in your life. However, other examples such as companionship and physical endurance can be part of why your dog walks behind you.
In order to understand why your dog walks behind you, we explore some of the common reasons behind a submissive style walk.
When Does a Dog Walk Behind Its Owner
Your dog will most likely walk behind you in 3 different scenarios. The first two would happen when you are out walking them, either on a lead or off the lead. The third would be within the household whilst going about daily tasks.
The pack mentality is something that has been agreed upon for many years and it is still the common theory behind much of a dogs behaviour. When it comes to domesticated dogs, the pack mentality is certainly something that is thought to be present, but your dog’s behaviour might not be as obvious as you think. One reason for your dog walking behind you could be a submissive trait that stems from the pack mentality, practised by their ancestors. Your dog is aware of their place in the pack and see’s you as a figure of authority, whilst respecting you as the leader. Your dog is essentially letting you lead as they believe you are the one to make the correct decisions. However, in recent years the theories surrounding pack mentality have changed and researchers have started to lean towards a more co-operative approach. Some modern research has used examples in wolf packs, where each member of the pack relies heavily on each other, suggesting that the different ranks in a pack are not as important as once thought.
Another reason for your dog walking behind you is that they fear you. If you have used a more outdated approach to dog training you may find your dog is fearful of making the wrong decisions. If this is the case it may be time to approach your dog training from a more positive reinforcement stance. This will show your dog that they can make their own decisions but when you want them to do something they will still be obedient.
The final reason may be linked to the area they are in. If you are walking your dog in an unfamiliar territory they may be cautious about there surroundings. From personal experience when I walk my dogs in their favourite place they run straight off and essentially lead me along the same route we always take. However, this is completely different when I’m walking across unknown moorland, where they have never been. They are usually more cautious and if they do go on ahead they always make sure I’m in sight.
Companionship is something you always want to have with your dog, it’s one of the reasons they are the most popular pets in the world. The reason your dog walks behind you could be linked to the bond you share with them. As mentioned before dogs are pack animals and the welfare of the pack is the most important thing on their mind. An article by VCAHospital summarises research regarding the behaviour in wolves whilst travelling. The literature says that there is a regard to the packs’ safety even stating observations of older alpha wolves taking a position at the back of the pack to ensure their safety. This linked with theories that wolves are more co-operative may indicate why your dog finds it necessary to walk behind you. Put simply your dog is protecting you from the place they feel is most vulnerable and keeping you safe is their top priority.
Physical Endurance – Off Lead Walking
This is probably my most favoured reason for your dog walking behind you and I know from personal experience that this is probably the truest. Many walks consist of some great outdoor space and if you happen to be walking your dog off lead you will find your pal running around and having fun. Off lead, walking is one of the best forms of dog walking and one that I highly encourage, but it can create a very tired dog. You could walk your dog for hours on lead and not get as much physical exercise as your dog gets in 30 minutes of off-lead walking.
Often I find that my dog decides to walk behind me at the end of the walk, or if they have just sprinted around for whatever reason. Your dog’s desire is to revive their energy levels so they can get back to exploring, so the safest and most reliable place to do this is behind you. this way they can keep an eye on where you are and recover their energy with a slow stroll. If you can’t stand to look at their droopy face as they trot slowly behind you, stop and give them a good scratch behind the ear, this will comfort them and they will be able to stop for a rest. Have a look at our post on walking your dog off lead.
On Lead Walking
Being off lead is obviously a great feeling for a dog and as many dog owners know this would be the ideal situation for most of their dog walks. However, there always comes a time when you need to put your dog on a lead and in this situation it is good to have an obedient dog. If your dog walks behind you on the lead this maybe for a couple of reasons. Firstly and speaking from experience dogs tend to see the lead as a control method and if you have trained your dog to be obedient on a leash then walking behind you is just a sign that they are under control. Your dog is probably smart enough to realise that when they are on the lead they have to behave as the opportunity to be off lead depends on their behaviour.
I know my dogs tend to walk slightly ahead on lead for most of their walk. However, there are times when they walk behind me, usually as the pavement starts to narrow or after they have been walking for some time. Let’s face it pulling on a lead must be tiresome work. It’s also possible that your dog finds the lead uncomfortable and any sort of strain on it hurts them. You should assess whether your dog is comfortable with being pulled around by a collar, they may be keeping the lead loose to ensure it doesn’t pull on their neck. Opinions are split on harnesses as there is some that believe it encourages pulling. However, if you have an obedient dog then a harness has to be more comfortable for them.
What If Your Dog Walks Behind you While At Home
Dogs are your companion, they know that and so do you. Have you ever wondered why your dog lies down under your feet when you’re on the sofa? Many animal behaviourists suggest that the reason for this is because they want to know when you get up and the hope is that as they rest they can be assured you will wake them up when you get up. Dogs love to be part of everything, say hello to everyone and it is the same in the house. As your companion, they will follow you around making sure they are involved in everything you do.
Other reasons could stem from habits. If you tend to give your dog a little treat after you have finished your dinner or even whilst your cooking, then they are certainly going to follow you into the kitchen. It’s the same as playing with them in the garden or going out in the car. Your dog is smarter than you think and a creature of habit. They will remember the last time you went into the kitchen they got a treat, so they will assume this is going to happen again and follow you in every time.
There is not a straight forward answer to this and the reasons behind why your dog walks behind you could be many. However, the best thing you can do as an owner is to encourage your dog’s personality and ensure that they are happy on all of their walks. Walking is one of the most enjoyable parts of owning a dog and having an obedient dog doesn’t mean your cant have a free dog.