If anything can rival the joy dog owners feel when taking a walk with their dog, it’s the joy of the dogs themselves as they trot, sniff, bark, and bound to and from, exploring the world around them. For most of us, the experience of taking your dog for a walk involves trailing behind and trying to balance letting them explore the world while holding it back from danger on a leash as it pushes forward.
But what if your dog trails behind instead? It’s an odd phenomenon, but every so often some dogs will choose to trail their master while going out for a walk rather than surging ahead like normal.
There are, in fact, several reasons why your dog may trail behind you, with reasons varying from innocuous to worrying and everything in between.
Top 10 Reasons Dogs Walk Behind You…
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at 10 reasons why dogs walk behind their masters and what, if anything, you can or should do about it.
1. They’re Afraid
Scooby Doo may be the most famous crime-solving dog in the world, but Scooby Snacks aside, the world’s most famous Great Dane wasn’t so great at leading the way in scary situations. While your dog probably doesn’t have to accompany your amateur sleuthing sessions where you unmask fake ghosts and ghouls for the everyday petty criminals they are, it might still be retreating behind you out of fear.
Of course, what’s causing that fear will vary from case to case and dog to dog. Maybe there are loud noises nearby that are worrying it. Maybe there are strange smells in the area that are a cause for concern. If you have scolded your dog for surging ahead in the past – for example, straining against its leash to chase after a car or person on the street – it may remember the scolding but not have fully understood the cause. In the latter case, your dog may think you scolded it not for harassing others or putting itself in danger but for daring to “take the lead” when you’re “top dog.”
Whatever the cause, it’s vital that you give your dog reassurance. A simple pat on the head between the ears and, yes, maybe even a snack may help your dog start to overcome its fears, whatever they may be.
2. They’re Overweight
This one may be a bit more embarrassing for your dog, but it may be dawdling and toddling behind because of an overlarge behind – and every other part of them. If your dog is overweight, it may become tired after even a short walk and lag behind. As much as you may love your round ball of fur, it’s important that your dog get plenty of exercise. As with humans, obesity in dogs can lead to all manner of serious medical issues later in life.
3. They’ve Been Conditioned That Way
Remember how we said that your dog may be trailing you because you scolded it for surging ahead? This and previous actions may be responsible for it trailing you now. Dogs can have trouble understanding nuance, so if you trained your dog not to surge ahead, it may now think that it has to dawdle behind in a more submissive way instead.
If this is the case, luckily the answer is simple – recondition your dog to understand that it’s okay to walk in front. You’ll still need to reign your dog in if it starts to run wild as a “puller,” of course, but for now you just want to get it going a bit.
4. General Anxiety
Like humans, dogs sometimes just feel a bit anxious. Even if your dog isn’t Scooby Doo scared, it may be uncertain about something while walking, especially if something triggers latent anxieties. In Marcel Proust’s famed In Search of Lost Time, decades’ worth of memories are triggered by the scent of a madeleine cracker being dipped into tea. While your dog may not exactly be up for tea or masterpieces of French Literature, it can likewise be triggered by scents and sounds around it, especially since it has far stronger senses of smell and hearing than we do.
If this is the culprit, some positive reinforcement will be necessary, and if that doesn’t work or your dog’s anxiety is especially intense, you may need to take your dog to a veterinarian.
5. It’s Just Their Personality
We all have different personalities, and so do dogs!
Some of us are more likely to be adventurous, others are more naturally cautious, and dogs are the same. Whatever has made your dog that way, and as long as that is not connected to trauma, there’s nothing wrong with your dog trailing behind for this reason.
6. They Just Want to Dally
Dogs love a good walk, and sometimes they just want to savor it! And why not? It is the big highlight of their day, they wait to go for a walk for hours, so once they go out, why not enjoy it to the fullest? Sometimes we like to “stop and smell the roses,” and given dogs have far more acute noses with which to enjoy every last aroma in a more nuanced way, it makes sense that they’d want to sniff out the mysteries of life while out for a walk.
Of course, going back to the personality factor, some dogs prefer to dally, and others prefer to run around everywhere. Once again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Let them dally and enjoy themselves, and then gently nudge them along with your leash.
7. They Want Attention
Why do kids sometimes lag behind their parents? As with dogs, there are countless possible reasons, but one is that they know that doing so will cause their parents to turn around and give them more attention.
The same holds true with dogs. If they have fallen behind before and you’ve given them more attention as a result, they may be repeating that.
The solution here? Well, think like a parent. Don’t give in with a treat or a pat on the head, but simply wait for them to resume their walk, and if they don’t do so in a timely fashion, gently encourage them with your leash without giving them behavior-rewarding attention.
8. They’re Getting Older
We all get old with time, so if your dog used to run ahead and now lags behind, it may simply be a factor of age. You’ll obviously know if this is true if you’ve had a dog long enough to know its past walking habits, so if this is the case, be understanding and take it easy on your old dog. If it is walking a bit gingerly, though, arthritis hip issues may be to blame, in which case you’ll want to see a vet.
9. They Lack Confidence
Last but not least, your dog may just need a bit of confidence. This could have been caused by any number of reasons (see the Anxiety category) but in general, all that’s needed is constant encouragement and some love to get your dog going again.
10. It Likes a Certain Spot
Maybe your dog doesn’t always trail behind you but instead only does so in certain spots. If that’s the case, your dog lagging behind may have more to do with the spot and what it likes about it than anything related to its mental state or what you are doing as a dog owner. Maybe your dog found a smell it likes that it wants to investigate a little more. Maybe it found something it thinks is food. If there are other dogs nearby, it may want to interact with them.
Evaluating the Reasons Why…
It is important to note that these reasons are not mutually exclusive of one another. It is not only completely possible that your dog may have multiple reasons for lagging behind, but it’s highly probable given the fact that several of these reasons, as you may have noticed, overlap with one another.
There is plenty of common ground between Fear and Anxiety as explanations, for example. One can cause or exacerbate the other, making it essential that you take both into consideration when trying to resolve the issue.
On the flip side, your dog enjoying a particular spot may be connected to its desire to dally or simply be a personality quirk.
Whatever the case, you’ll want to take a more multifaceted approach to curing your dog of these issues, and that means considering your dog’s case complexly. It might be that you need to give them more attention and treats as well as consider any psychological conditions which are giving them anxiety. You may need to put them on a diet to cut down on weight loss while still giving them encouragement. Perhaps you’ll want to slow down and let them smell the roses, and perhaps you’ll want to urge them along.
By identifying the reason why your dog is lagging behind, you can solve it, get it going again, and make your walks together even better.