In this article you’ll discover:
- The answer to your question ‘Why does my dog sleep between my legs?’
- A clever way to help you reduce resource guarding aggression in your dog.
- When you should or should not allow your dog to sleep across or near your legs.
- The 7 simple but effective ways to stop your dog from sleeping between your legs.
Table of contents
Why does my dog sleep between my legs?
Your dog sleeps between your legs for the following reasons: they could be scared and in need of emotional support. Loud sounds such as fireworks and thunder could send them running to you. In some cases, dogs sleep between your legs just because they see you as a member of the pack.
People also ask:
9 reasons why your dog sleeps between your legs
#1: It’s warm and cozy between your legs
Your dog sleeping between your legs makes perfect sense.
It’s warm and comfy there. And your dog is right next to you, their most favorite person.
Perhaps they feel like a baby wrapped in their mother’s arms.
Your legs are very comfortable for dogs. Human’s legs are fleshy and soft and warm. That makes you an instant heating pad for them.
And it’s not just your dog that benefits from this. It’s a mutual sharing of body heat.
With your legs on both sides of your dog, they are warm on both sides. And your dog also lends their body heat to the part of your body they touch.
Dogs tend to do this more come wintertime. Particularly for small breeds such as Chihuahuas.
They become more cuddly during the cold months. This could mean that they are not warm enough.
Remember, they have less hair and less body fat. Thus, they get cold easily. Sleeping between your legs is the easiest, fastest way to get snug.
Your dog will also seek warmth if their bed is cold and uncomfortable. If you allow them, they will curl between your legs.
Apparently, this is a holdover from when your dog was a puppy.
Have you seen a litter of puppies? When they are born, they sleep on top of each other. In a ‘dog pile.’
This is mainly for warmth because puppies can’t regulate their body heat properly
But did you know that you get as much warmth from your dog than they do from you? A dog’s normal temperature is 101-102.5℉ (38.3-39℃).
Sometimes it can reach 104℉ (40℃) when your dog is excited or stressed.
In comparison, a human’s normal temperature is 97.6-99.6℉ (36.4-37.5℃).
So even with normal temperatures, the dog’s temperature is hotter than human’s. Thus, they’re an instant ‘heater’ for their owners.
Here’s a little trivia for you.
Do you wonder where the term ‘a three-dog night’ came from?
In pre-central heating days, some nights could be very cold.
When it was a chilly night, a dog in bed provided additional warmth. If it was colder, 2 dogs were needed.
But when temperatures were below freezing, then a person needed 3 dogs.
#2: Your dog is scared, and they feel safe with you
Fireworks, gunshots and thunder. Unfamiliar people. Loud and sudden noises.
All these could send your dog running to you. They won’t leave your side because they feel safe with you.
They might even hide between your legs if you let them.
Symptoms of fear
A scared dog exhibits the following behaviors:
- Lip licking.
- Running away or hiding.
You’ll also notice a dog assuming the submissive posture:
- Head down.
- Ears pinned back.
- Tail tucked between the legs.
Things that scare dogs
Aside from loud noises, dogs are also scared of:
- Car rides.
- Strange dogs.
- Vacuum cleaner.
Would you believe that some dogs are afraid of even the most insignificant things?
But of course, these things might be insignificant for humans. Yet for dogs, these could be very frightening.
Presley the Great Dane is one such dog. He’s even dubbed the real life Scooby Doo.
That’s because he’s easily afraid. He’s a giant but small dogs can send him into hiding.
According to his owner, even the rustling sound that plastic bags make scares Presley. Poor dog.
#3: Your dog sees you as something of high value
Sometimes, dogs are like children vying for their parents’ attention.
It’s most likely to happen if there’s a new pet at home. Perhaps a new baby or a new addition to the family.
Your dog might see the new member as competition for your attention. Because they want you all for themselves.
Another way of looking at it is as resource guarding. It is defined as:
‘The use of avoidance, threatening, or aggressive behaviors by a dog to retain control of food or non-food items in the presence of a person or other animal.’
In this survey about resource guarding, 2207 dog owners represented 3589 dogs. The results showed that neutered males and mixed breeds were more likely to display resource guarding (RG) aggression.
In addition, dogs with high levels of impulsivity displayed RG aggression. Dogs with high levels of fearfulness also showed RG aggression.
There are many things a dog might consider of high value. Some specific toys, their bed or crate. Even you.
Yes, you. Specifically, your lap, your legs, your chest.
Say your dog, Rover, is resting between your legs. Your other dog, Fido, approaches you.
Rover reacts by growling, snarling or lunging. He reacts like that because he considers you a high value property that he’s not willing to surrender.
According to canine behavior expert Patricia McConnell, resource guarding between dogs is trickier. That’s because it’s challenging to control a dog’s behavior.
#4: Your dog seeks safety and security
Your dog sleeps between your legs because it’s a safe and secure place.
They are right next to you and they feel protected this way.
Remember, some dog breeds were bred to work alongside humans. They feel safer when they are near their owners.
Even dogs in the wild sleep together. Not only for warmth but also for security. To survive.
There are many predators and threats that it’s essential to stay with their pack.
But why feet and legs?
One explanation could be wanting to be alerted when you move. And sleeping between your legs is the perfect way to know if you’re getting up.
You know how dogs can be. They want to know all that happens to you.
Even if you’re just going to drink water in the kitchen. Or going to the bathroom.
A pet owner shares on a forum how her rescue dog loves sleeping with her on the bed. She has an assumption about it:
When she wakes up, her dog can come with her and not be left alone on the bed.
She also thinks her dog feels safe being with her.
Another pet owner believes that sleeping between your legs is reassuring for dogs. Particularly for puppies or for small breeds of dogs.
#5: Your dog is acting on a pack instinct
When puppies are born, they gravitate toward a heat source. If not their mother, their littermates.
Just like these puppies:
Even as adults, dogs in the wild tend to sleep together. It’s a pack instinct needed for survival.
And dogs still have this pack instinct in them. No wonder they feel the need to sleep close to you. If not on you.
So this could explain why your dog sleeps between your legs. It’s kind of saying that they recognize you as a member of the pack.
#6: Your dog needs emotional support
Humans are not the only ones needing emotional support. Dogs, too.
They need emotional support when they are:
- Feeling unwell.
- Feeling insecure.
Whether dogs get sad/depressed has been debated for years now. But Stanley Coren has his own observations. Coren is a psychology professor who wrote the popular 1994 book The Intelligence of Dogs.
For one, dogs and humans have the same brain structures producing emotions. Two, dogs experience the same chemical changes during emotional states.
This is similar to what happens in humans. It’s no wonder dogs can feel basic emotions.
But Stanley believes that the emotional ranges are not the same for dogs and humans. Yes, dogs feel basic emotions. Joy, fear, anger, disgust and even love.
But dogs are not capable of more complex emotions such as guilt and shame.
Conversely, pet owners observe that dogs react like humans when sad or depressed.
What many pet owners observe is that dogs react in ways similar to humans when sad or depressed.
- Appetite loss.
- Lack of interest in social interaction.
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual.
During these times, dogs need you. They are social creatures and love to be around people.
And when you’re around, they will sleep between your loves to feel loved.
#7: Your dog sleeps between your legs because you allow it
Allowing your dog to sleep between your legs has many benefits. And no one can blame you for wanting to strengthen your bond.
But despite the benefits, there are cases when this is not okay.
For instance, your dog is a giant like a Great Dane. They’re gonna crush you with their weight.
Or your dog is a German Shepherd. They aren’t all that heavy. But sleeping between your legs for a long time can make it uncomfortable for you.
Yet they keep on sleeping between your legs. They love doing it because you allow it. Intentionally or not.
Sometimes there are things you do unconsciously that make something worse. For instance, your dog takes their place between your legs.
Then you automatically scratch their ears. Or give them belly rubs.
This is teaching your dog that being where they are is okay. That being between your legs brings the good stuff.
#8: Your dog is a velcro dog or has separation anxiety
There’s a tiny bit of difference between velcro dogs and those with separation anxiety.
But both will want to stick by your side when you’re around.
Velcro dogs are those that follow you around. Even in the bathroom. But they don’t mind when you leave them.
Here’s an example of velcro dogs:
Dogs with separation anxiety, on the other hand, are your second shadow.
When it’s sleeping time, they’ll even sleep between your legs.
But they hate it when you leave without them. They show signs of anxiety, such as:
- Whining or crying.
When you’re gone, it’s when all hell breaks loose. They:
- Destroy furniture.
- Bark, whine or howl.
- Escape if inside the crate.
- Engage in self-injurious behaviors.
- Pee or poop in inappropriate areas.
Here’s a dog that tried to escape from the crate after the owner left:
And when you return, they show over-excitement. And they’re not about to let you off their sight.
#9: Your dog trusts you
Your dog sleeps between your legs because they trust you.
This is one thing that’s endearing about dogs. They trust their humans as if they’re one of their own.
Not only that. Even puppies are trusting of humans. Trusting humans as though they were their own mother.
In a particular study, 48 puppies were the subjects. They were 8 weeks old, still living with their mothers before adoption.
They were introduced to either of these contraptions:
- A table fan blowing ribbons.
- A plastic bin making noises from a concealed speaker.
A puppy was paired with either their mother or a human partner.
Here’s what the results found out:
Eight out of 10 puppies took emotional cues from their mothers and human partners. It’s like asking permission to investigate the contraption.
Also, puppies were more likely to explore something new if their mother was relaxed around the object. The same observation was made on puppies with human partners who encouraged them.
7 tips on how to stop your dog from sleeping between your legs
#1: Get your dog a comfortable bed
If you don’t like your dog sleeping between your legs, get them a comfortable bed.
By comfortable, it should be dry, clean, and soft. They should feel safe whenever they’re in their beds.
During the cold months, put their bed away from drafts and doorways.
And make sure they fit in their bed. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why a big dog likes a small bed. Or a small dog hogs the big bed. Silly furbabies.
You can also teach them commands so that they stay in their bed. For example, point to their bed and say ‘bed’ and ‘stay.’
#2: Train your dog to lay down in designated area
If your legs are off limits, teach your dog where they should lay down. Do it consistently to avoid rewarding this behavior.
If they’re allowed in bed but not between your legs, show them where you want them. Have them sleep at the foot of the bed.
Or in their own bed in a corner of your bedroom.
During the cold nights, give them extra blankets for additional warmth. Preferrably ones, that you’ve been wrapping yourself in.
When your dog willingly goes to their bed, reward them with attention and praise.
Note: Consistency in training is the key.
#3: Reduce your dog’s separation anxiety
It can be challenging to have a dog with separation anxiety.
But as a dog owner, it’s your responsibility to help them cope with your absence. Trust me, it’s going to be beneficial in the long run.
The trick here is to get them used to being left alone. Do it a little at a time so as not to shock them.
For starters, do the usual stuff you do before leaving. Put on your shoes, get your scarf, bag or keys.
Then sit on the couch as though you’re not leaving.
Do it several days. Then progress to going to the door.
If your dog follows you, go back to the couch. Again, do it until your dog gets used to it.
Only then attempt to step out of the door. Stay outside for a minute, then get back inside and sit on the couch.
Eventually lengthen the time you’re outside.
Note: Don’t forget to reward your dog if they behave accordingly.
#4: How to solve resource guarding
Resource guarding can easily turn to aggression. Prevent such incidents from taking place.
Patricia McConnell has a clever suggestion:
Teach Rover that feeding Fido leads to him getting fed.
Here’s how it works. Make sure your dogs are sitting.
Call Fido’s name then give him a treat. Immediately give Rover a treat.
If you have more dogs, give them treats one at a time. When the last dog is given treats, start again with the first dog.
If one dog lunges at you to get their turn, block them off. Or wait for them to calm down.
When calm, give them a treat then move on to the next dog.
This is one way of teaching your dogs to patiently wait for their turn.
#5: Don’t reinforce the behavior
As long as you do nothing, your dog will keep on trying to sleep between your legs.
If it makes you uncomfortable, tell your dog ‘no’ even before they make an attempt. It helps to also teach them ‘down’, which comes handy in these instances.
Ask them to lie down on the floor. Or take them to their bed and say ‘down’ and ‘stay.’
You may allow them to sleep between your legs from time to time. But make sure it’s on your terms.
Your dog should learn to respect and obey you when you tell them ‘no’ or ‘off.’
#6: Ban your dog from the bedroom
One option is to ban your dog altogether from your bedroom.
This prevents instances of you waking up in the middle of the night, to a dead weight across or between your legs.
This is certainly not a punishment for your dog. As you know, some owners are light sleepers. Thus, they might have difficulty sleeping with a fidgety dog in the bed.
Other owners are not comfortable having their canine friends in bed with them.
Besides, dogs can have their own uninterrupted sleep in their own bed. Everybody gets a good night’s rest.
#7: Help your dog gain confidence
Sometimes your dog sleeps between your legs because they’re scared.
Being scared is caused by:
- Lack of socialization.
- Negative experiences.
Though a dog benefits from early socialization, it’s not too late to start now.
Socialization exposes them to people, animals and experiences. And all of these can help them better manage how they react to things.
It also helps to train your dog. Enrolling in obedience classes can help them build their confidence.
Though they are already familiar with basic commands, give them a refresher.
Note: Always use positive reinforcement when training your dog. You’ll be surprised at the results.