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Why Your Dog Stands On His Hind Legs & If You Should Let Him

We have all seen hilarious videos of dogs getting up on their hind legs or even engaging in a full dance with their owner.

Maybe your dog displays this behavior too from time to time and you have asked yourself why he actually does it.

Even if you have never taught your dog to stand on his hind legs, he may still do it with you or other dogs.

Standing on the hind legs is a way of communicating with you and it’s mostly for harmless reasons.

However, you may notice that dogs clearly weren’t intended to walk or stand on two legs and that this behavior has some risks when done involuntarily.

There are many tutorials online that show you how to teach your dog this trick but this might not be the best idea.

Why Do Dogs Stand on Their Hind Legs?

Dogs can stand on their hind legs for various reasons including attention, affection, playfulness, or if you have (accidentally) reinforced the behavior in the past.

Different postures are part of your dog’s communication repertoire and can send a variety of signals.

This is also true for rearing on the hind legs.

Besides barking, there is probably nothing that will capture your attention more than a dog on two legs.

Small black and tan dog trying to stand up on his hind legs.
Photo by Chris Johnstone on Unsplash

This could mean that your dog is asking for a pet, walk, treats, or anything else he desires.

We are also very tall beings compared to our dogs so it’s a way of getting closer to our faces.

If excess energy is involved, your dog might stand or jump up out of pure excitement.

This usually happens when you come home or when your dog anticipates a ball throw.

Many dogs also stand on their back legs simply to display their affection to you.

However, this mostly happens between dogs and can look like they are wrestling or dancing with each other.

If you have danced with your dog in the past, he might try to engage you in this activity.

In general, all behaviors that have been reinforced in the past will happen again.

So if you tend to your dog’s needs while he is standing on his hind legs this will reinforce the behavior and your dog might communicate his demands in the same manner in the future.

If you or your family members laugh anytime your dog does his silly hind leg walk, he will also be more inclined to do it.

Is It Bad for Dogs to Stand on Their Hind Legs?

It is bad for dogs to stand on their hind legs involuntarily as they are not anatomically equipped for this and could risk an injury.

Unlike us, dogs are not meant to stand or walk on two legs.

Only one-third of a dog’s body weight is carried on his hind legs while two-thirds are carried on the front legs.

Nonetheless, the back legs are still much stronger and have a larger muscle mass.

In comparison, most hoofed mammals stand with about 60% on their front legs and 40% of the weight on their back legs.

When a dog stands on his hind legs, all this weight is distributed between two paws.

This can lead to ligament, tendon, or spinal injuries and subsequent pain.

Your dog might also suffer from joint issues that you are unaware of.

Many dogs are diagnosed with hip or elbow dysplasia which occurs when the connecting joints grow abnormally.

Forcing your dog to stand on his hind legs with an underlying condition can lead to great discomfort and might exacerbate the condition.

These risks mostly apply to forced behavior so if your dog is doing it voluntarily, it should be fine.

White dog with red harness learning trick to stand up on his hind legs.
Photo by Samson Katt on Pexels

Should You Teach Your Dog to Stand on His Hind Legs?

I would not recommend teaching your dog to stand on his legs as there is no need to risk an injury or inflict unnecessary discomfort when there are so many other fun tricks to teach.

Many veterinarians and experts also discourage teaching this dog trick.

Dogs have four legs for a reason. They don’t naturally walk on two – and certainly not over long distances – because it can be uncomfortable and cause them physical injury. 

There are many ways that people can have fun with their dogs which are respectful and don’t involve ridiculing them.

Elisa Allen, Director of PETA UK

It’s also important to note that not all dogs are physically able to do this trick as it requires a lot of balance.

I have a list of 9 dog tricks for beginners that also includes some advanced tricks so make sure to check that out.

How to Stop Your Dog from Standing on His Hind Legs

If your dog is eager to stand on his hind legs, the first thing you can do to reduce the behavior is to not reinforce it.

This includes not petting or praising your dog and waiting for him to stand normally before you give in to his needs.

Negative attention, i.e. scolding or punishment is also attention and can reinforce the behavior so it’s best to ignore it altogether.

In the beginning, show your dog what you want him to do instead of standing on his hind legs.

If you want your dog to “sit”, give him the command and only reward when he follows it.

Soon your dog will learn that there is no benefit in standing upright and that he will only get attention when all four paws are on the ground.

Excess energy is oftentimes a trigger for dogs to stand upright or jump.

Make sure that your dog gets plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation every day.

This may include teaching your dog tricks that are safer which is a great brain workout and bonding opportunity.

Ignoring the behavior while reinforcing a more desired posture will definitely reduce the times you will see your dog standing on his hind legs.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to worry about it too much if your dog is doing it voluntarily and if it only happens occasionally.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

I am the founder of PawLeaks where I share weekly tips on dog training and behavior. Sharing a passion for dogs and helping owners to solve problems through understanding canine behavior and modification is my number one goal.