Few things match the oddity and awkwardness factor of having your dog sleep between your legs. We all love snuggling with our four-legged friends, and some people like sharing their bed with their dogs to feel closer to them. That said, there is such a thing as “too close,” and your dog resting right between your legs – “sensitive areas” and all – certainly qualifies.
So why do dogs do it? They have your whole floor, a doggy bed, and perhaps the foot of your own bed on which to sleep, so why do they keep sleeping between your legs?
There are a surprising number of possible answers to this question, some of which can reveal a lot about your dog’s mental state.
1. They Want Attention
Do you have a new pet in your home? Do you have a new child of your own that’s gaining all of your attention? If so, your dog may feel the need to remind you that it still exists and would like a bit more love. In particular, this could be a sign that your dog is “defending its territory” and considers you to be part of that territory. Laying down between your legs could be the old dog’s way of showing the new dog who between the two of them is higher up in the “pack hierarchy” by getting that coveted (if awkward for you) sleeping spot.
2. Pack Bonding
Speaking of pack hierarchy, this could also be an example of pack bonding at work. There are several layers to this, not the least of which being that dogs have very acute senses of smell, and so they will be used to yours. Your smell may thus give them a sense of security as they know that “part of their pack” is nearby while they sleep.
3. Protective Habits
As mentioned, dogs can be protective of who and what they consider to be in their territory. If they are sleeping between your legs, they may think that they are “protecting” you from external threats. It may seem odd to us that our dogs think laying between our legs is the best way to protect us, but this would be one of the more vulnerable spots for wolves in the wild, and that instinct to protect different members of the pack has survived down to domesticated dogs.
4. They’re Cold
Simple but true – your dog may just be cold and wanting to snuggle up close for some body heat. That’s true in the wild when wolves in North America and Northern Europe have to brave frigid conditions, and it’s true when your little Shi-Tzu or Chihuahua are cold.
The space between your legs is bound to be one of the warmer positions for your dogs, and they don’t understand why this would be awkward for you, so from their point of view, why not warm up with a member of the pack?
If this is the reason why your dog is suddenly sleeping between your legs, you might want to consider buying it some blankets or even a space heater for the room to help warm it up that way. Regardless, if your dog started sleeping between your legs in winter or during a cold spell, this is likely the reason, and so you shouldn’t scold it for doing what doggie common sense and survival instincts tell it is the “right.” Instead, try and find a way for your dog to get that warmth elsewhere other than between your legs.
5. Separation Anxiety
If a dog feels separation anxiety from you when you are gone, it may be incredibly clingy when you finally return, and that includes sleeping between your legs. If this is the case, you’ll need to figure out what is causing your dog’s separation anxiety and what can be done about it. For example, if your dog is hesitant to go anywhere without you, has begun urinating in places it knows from training are wrong, and is walking around very slowly or cautiously with its tail between its legs, there is a good chance that your dog may have anxiety issues. If these behaviors are especially prevalent when you leave the room or home, there’s a decent chance separation anxiety may be to blame.
6. Their Instinct to Burrow
Dogs naturally like to dig and burrow into places, and as uncomfortable as it may be for you, doing so between your legs may seem like a natural extension of those habits to them. This can be especially true if you notice your dog burrowing beneath blankets and then making the same motions between your legs, especially if you have a blanket over you. The answer here may be as simple as giving your dog more blankets for it to enjoy burrowing beneath.
7. Previous Habits
If your dog has already become accustomed to sitting in your lap, or you have purchased your dog from an owner who was fine with it sleeping between their legs, this behavior may be deeply ingrained in your dog’s psyche and thus all the harder to change. In the former case, you need to make clear to your dog when it is and isn’t okay for them to cuddle up so close. In the latter case, it can be hard to change a dog’s behavior after months or years of it acting a certain way, so you’ll need to consider that before deciding to buy a dog.
8. They’re Afraid
As with separation anxiety, determining whether or not your dog is sleeping between your legs is tricky because so many factors have to be considered. How recently did this behavior begin? Does your dog seem happy while it is curled up between their legs, or does it display signs of fear or anxiety? Does your dog always do this, or only when certain other people, pets, or stimuli are around? Does it sleep between your legs the entire night, or does it come to you whimpering or worried partway through the night?
The latter may be a sign that your dog is coming to you because of a bad dream or something else that has bothered it in the night, just as a small child may come to its parent in the middle of the night. Like a parent, you have to decide when you want to comfort your dog by letting it stay with you, and when it’s best for its maturation process to go back to its sleeping spot.
9. The Joy of Cuddling
For dogs, there’s no such thing as “too much of a good thing,” and few things are better for them than cuddle time with their favorite human! The warmth and positive sensory and emotional feelings they get from time with you are all strong incentives for them to cuddle up with you as much as possible, including at night. Once again, it is up to you whether an explanation like this makes you more likely to shoo them away, or if you love your dog so much that you, too, can’t get enough of cuddle time.
By figuring out the reason why your dog has been sleeping between your legs, you have a better chance of figuring out what, if anything you want to do about it.