Sleeping between your legs can be both cute and a nuisance.
So why does your dog sleep between your legs? There may be many reasons, including:
- Display of affection
- Habitual behavior
- Separation anxiety
- Your dog is cold
- A genetic reaction
- They want to protect you
These are just some of the reasons your dog sleeps between your legs. While such sleeping can be harmless, some situations require training or even veterinarian intervention.
Understanding Why Your Dogs Sleeps Between Your Legs
Before diving into why your dog sleeps between your legs, it’s important to know when it started.
Some important questions to consider include:
- Has your dog always enjoyed sleeping between your legs?
- Can you pinpoint this behavior to a particular event?
- Do they sleep between your legs every night or only on occasion?
The answers to these questions might not be as apparent as you think. For example, you might not remember that you gave them a belly rub the first time your dog curled up between your legs.
To you, this doesn’t seem like a big deal (after all, you scratch your dog’s belly when they’re not under your legs too). But to your attention-seeking pooch, that belly rub was heaven, and they want to increase the chances of it happening again.
Once you get to the bottom of why your dog is sleeping between your legs, you’ll need to decide if you want to correct the behavior.
While we’ll give you situational-specific tips for behavior correction for some of the reasons below, there are some changes you can make that apply to all circumstances. They include:
- Offer your dog an ultra-comfy bed
- Make sure they have a stress-free environment to sleep in
- Teach your dog the “lie down” down command
- Practice the down command on your dog’s bed
Keeping these tips in mind, let’s get to the bottom of why your dog is sleeping between your legs.
Reason #1: They Love You
We all know that dogs are man’s (and woman’s) best friends, so your pup may be sleeping between your legs as a display of affection.
If you doubt a dog’s ability to love humans, science backs it up. According to a Japanese study, dogs who looked into their owner’s eyes had an increase of oxytocin in their urine.
The same “love” hormone appears in human urine when they look into each other’s eyes. And by the way, it happens to humans when they look into their dog’s eyes too.
Of course, your dog won’t be looking you in the eye when they’re sleeping between your legs. However, they’ll be nice and close to you upon waking to give you their love stare.
Often, if your dog chooses to sleep between your legs out of love, you may not even hear them curl up beneath you. Furthermore, if you move your legs and accidentally knock your feet into them, they might startle but likely won’t act aggressively.
If your dog isn’t bothering you as they sleep between your legs, there’s no need to wake them and make them move. And if you’re looking for a boost of oxytocin after they wake up, take time to stare at them in the eyes.
Reason #2: They Have Separation Anxiety
Whereas the first reason for your dog sleeping between your legs is cute, you could have a much more serious situation on your hands. It’s pretty easy to determine if your dog is sleeping beneath your legs because of separation anxiety.
Symptoms of separation anxiety when you’re not present include:
- Destroying objects in your house
- Going to the bathroom inside
- Barking or whining
- Pacing or trembling
- Excess salivation
According to a study on separation anxiety in canines, researchers found that this condition most commonly occurs in adopted dogs, male dogs, and dogs that someone took away from their litter before they turned two months old.
Should you determine that your dog has separation anxiety, you’re doing them a disservice by letting them sleep under your legs.
Instead, it’s crucial to train them to become independent.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends implementing out-of-sight exercises. For example, begin by playing a “stay” game with your dog by telling them to stay behind your bedroom door.
Open the door after a second or two and praise your dog. Make it fun for your dog as you gradually increase the time you stay hidden behind the door by getting extra excited when you open it and offer treats.
Eventually, you can use the same procedure with your front door. You can also praise your dog for staying in its bed or crate instead of sleeping under your legs.
Reason #3: Your Dog Is Chilly
No one likes to be cold, dogs included. So, if it’s chilly out and your dog’s bed is in the wash or doesn’t have enough blankets, they may sleep between your legs to stay warm.
Here’s some irony you might not expect: Although it’s common to see little dogs bundled up in sweaters on winter walks with their owners, research suggests that smaller dogs maintain a warmer body temperature than larger dogs.
So, your Chihuahua might feel just fine sprawled out on your wooden floor, while your Great Dane may rely on sleeping between your legs for added heat.
Are you ready for another interesting fact? Dogs of all breeds have a higher average body temperature than humans, with a healthy temperature ranging from 101 – 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nevertheless, taking your dog’s temperature isn’t an ideal (or convenient) way to know if they’re sleeping between your legs because they’re cold.
Instead, look for these signs that your dog is chilly:
- Tucked tail
- Not wanting to move
- Lifts paw off the ground
- Actively looks for a different place to rest
The body heat from your legs will undoubtedly help your cold dog. However, don’t rely on body heat alone. Turn up the heat in your home or wrap your dog in a blanket until their behavior returns to normal.
Reason #4: Wanting to Protect You
Have you noticed that your dog only sleeps under your legs if there are stranger humans or dogs in your home? If so, they might be doing so to protect you.
A protective dog can range from innocently sleeping beneath your legs and staying by your side when strangers are around to displaying aggressive behavior.
Besides sleeping beneath your legs, other signs that your dog might be doing so out of a protective instinct are:
- Growling when a person or dog gets too close to you
- Displaying other signs of distress
If you believe that your dog is sleeping beneath your legs out of a sign of protection, it’s best to nip it in the bud, even if they’re not acting aggressively towards other people and dogs.
To do so, reward your dog for sleeping by themselves. It’s also helpful to take your dog to dog parks (assuming that they’re not too aggressive) where they’ll get exposure to dogs and humans that they don’t know.
Don’t be surprised if it takes time for your dog to reduce their protective tendencies—a study shows that when dogs choose between food and an owner faking distress, most dogs react to protecting their owner.
Reason #5: They’re Looking for Safety
There’s sometimes a fine line between a dog sleeping between your legs because they want to be protective of you and wanting you to protect them.
Sometimes, it’s easy to know if your dog chooses his human sleeping spot out of fear—fireworks and other unusual loud noises are excellent examples.
Other times, it might be that your dog is not naturally courageous, a common scenario if you adopted an abused or abandoned dog that has since come to build trust with you.
Signs that your dog might be sleeping between your legs for safety include:
- Shaking when other people or dogs are around
- Puts their tail between their legs for specific triggers
- Flattening their ears
- Averting their eyes
If you know that your dog has a troubled background, your best bet is likely to get a dog trainer or dog therapist involved.
Otherwise, you can try to support your dog on your own by remaining calm, swaddling them, and exposing them to their fear in a controlled and positive reinforcement kind of setting.
If your dog tends to fall asleep between your legs after a thunderstorm, using a thunder coat is an excellent way for them to feel swaddled without you having to hold them the entire time.
Reason #6: You Encouraged This Behavior
Yes, you might be why your dog consistently chooses to sleep beneath your legs instead of in their dog bed.
It’s common for owners to reward their dogs for a particular behavior without realizing it. You can do this via several methods when your dog sleeps between your legs, including:
- Acting excited when they do so
- Giving them a treat
- Scratching their belly
Naturally, your dog wants these positive actions repeated. So, if they noticed that they sparked one or more of these behaviors from you when laying between your legs, you can be sure they’ll quickly learn to do it again.
You know best whether you inadvertently taught your dog to sleep between your legs. The good news is that you can implement strategies to reverse the behavior.
Create a comfortable sleeping space for your dog that they know is theirs, for starters. Put their favorite toy in their bed—perhaps even a soft, non-squeaky toy that they can associate with sleeping.
Then, reward your dog for using their bed, similar to how you accidentally taught them to sleep between your legs. Sweet talking, treats, and belly rubs are all excellent options.
Reason #7: It’s in Their Genes
Dogs are social animals and rely on other dogs and humans for their emotional health. From their first days on earth, puppies huddle with their mothers and littermates to keep warm.
As adults, your dog may sleep between your legs because they consider you a member of their pack—something instinctive for them.
However, recent research would likely argue that it’s not so much that dogs see you as a “member” of the pack but that you are the pack.
In one study, scientists gave a group of dogs and wolves a rope to pull on with a piece of food that would draw nearer to them as they pulled on the rope. The dogs had an overwhelmingly high fail rate, whereas the wolves did an outstanding job working together to get the food.
So, how does this relate to your dog sleeping between your legs?
The domestication of dogs has caused a change in their psychology. In other words, humans have changed dogs so much that we’ve altered their pack instinct to rely on us for pack sleeping instead of other dogs.
Reason #8: They Trust You
If you have a dog sleeping under your legs, it’s likely in part because they trust you. That’s especially the case if you own a dog with an abusive past, as they may have firsthand experiences of people kicking them.
A study analyzing the cognition and ethics between humans and dogs suggests that while trust is difficult to measure scientifically, there appears to be a correlation between dogs willingly giving up their decision-making process according to what their human desires.
The researchers believe that this form of trust is so strong that dog owners have an obligation not to betray the trust that their dogs give them.
On the flip side, this means that owners are responsible for who their dogs turn out to be. Therefore, if you’re not a fan of your dog sleeping between your legs, it’s up to you to support your dog to help them change their behavior.
Of course, you should always use the positive reinforcement techniques that we’ve talked about here. Your gregarious dog may appear to give out their trust to anyone willingly, but a single negative experience is all it’ll take to make them withdraw it.
Reason #9: They’re Not Feeling Well
Your dog may be sleeping under your legs because they’re trying to tell you that they’re under the weather.
There are many reasons why your dog may be feeling lethargy due to being ill. Examples include:
- Ingesting a toxin
- Broken bone
- Pain somewhere on the body
Before we scare you, though, know that your dog sleeping beneath your legs isn’t always a sign of a serious condition. Instead, even a bee sting on the nose can cause them to seek the security and comfort of your legs.
Nevertheless, if you notice your dog being lethargic, you should look for other signs of illness. Examples include loss of appetite, diarrhea, weight gain or loss, and coughing.
Should you notice your dog displaying multiple potential signs of illness, take them to the vet. It’s better to catch illness early and clear your doubts than to let a potential issue linger.
On the flip side, your dog may be sleeping beneath your legs because they sense that you’re experiencing a health problem.
Medics already use dogs to alert their owners of an oncoming epileptic seizure, heart attacks, and low blood sugar. So, it’s not unreasonable to assume that your dog may want to keep an extra close “paw” on you by sleeping beneath your legs.
Reason #10: They’re Resource Guarding
If you always considered your dog valuable to you but not necessarily the other way around, think again; your dog might be sleeping between your legs because they see you as a high-value human.
That’s most commonly the case when a new person or pet enters your home. If you own a friendly and fear-free dog, they’ll likely feel happy to have more people pet them and more animals for play.
However, the issue often arises when they realize that the new human or pet is there to stay.
In this case, they might see these other beings as a threat since they’ll have to share your affection. Your dog may then jump into resource guarding mode, the concept of defending their possession (you) from others.
Resource guarding is a serious issue that can cause your otherwise sweet dog to become a growling and unsettled mess. Resource guarding can become a serious issue quickly. You need to address the problem quickly to have the best chance of correcting it.
Dogs who already show resource guarding behaviors towards items like food and toys may have a higher chance of doing the same to their human by sleeping between their legs.