Dogs are amazingly unique creatures. They are very versatile and can easily master new habits and tricks. You can easily train your dog to respond to instructions so that he rolls over, plays dead, offers his paw, or even walks backward.
Dogs love learning new tricks and enjoy overcoming obstacles and challenges like learning to walk backward. Instinctively, most dogs don’t like going in reverse unless they know there’s no threat behind them. Dogs may back away from a threat, or it may even be an indication of an underlying issue.
Your dog may choose to walk backward for various reasons, so observing your dog in different situations will enable you to distinguish why.
The Normal Way a Dog Walks
Dogs use a variety of gaits for everyday motion, and each gait has a unique purpose. Similar to horses, they alternate between walking, trotting, cantering, and galloping, depending on how quickly they desire to go from one place to another (source).
Dogs are physically built to stretch when running due to their supple spine and powerful abdominal muscles. Their legs are designed to be nimble for turning, and their feet easily grip the ground so that they’re light-footed. They can quickly change from one gait to another and alter their course of direction.
Walking backward is not a common behavior found in dogs, although it is not impossible. Dogs like to keep all potential threats in front of them, which they cannot do when walking backward.
For instance, if a dog happens to be in a narrow space where it cannot turn around or continue going forward, say, in between a coffee table and a couch, most often, they’d rather jump up on the couch and turn around rather than go in reverse.
How to Teach Your Dog to Walk Backwards
It’s quite easy to teach your dog to walk backward, although it will require patience and determination. Using the right tools and commands is essential so that you and your dog understand each other and avoid confusion (source).
Some trainers have even been able to train their dogs to walk backward on the hind legs (source).
You’ll need a few props to create a small area for your dog to maneuver backward in. Cordoning off an area using chairs or a baby gate works very well and restricts your dog’s movement so that he learns to walk backward. Encourage him to move, and praise him with every step in reverse.
It’s important to choose the right location to make the training process quick and easy. A quiet, safe environment for training is ideal so that your dog is relaxed and not distracted. A familiar place works best because your dog won’t need to explore an unfamiliar area.
Reward your dog regularly in the training process with praise and treats. Reinforcing your training this way will encourage your dog to repeat the desired behavior and will help develop a positive bond between you (source).
Positive praise plays a very important role in your dog’s learning process and is scientifically proven to help him learn quicker.
Negative Reasons Your Dog Is Walking Backwards
Unless you’ve trained your dog to walk backward, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that there is some underlying issue since dogs generally don’t like going in reverse.
Frequently, fear and anxiety are the main reason why a dog walks backward, so your dog may feel insecure and is protecting itself or using it as a coping mechanism.
Also, if your dog is alone at home all day and hasn’t been out for a walk in a while, his behavior may be in response to a lack of socialization or feeling intimidated in new situations (source).
Your dog may have experienced a traumatic encounter that made him feel threatened and had to walk backward to get out of the situation. In a confrontational situation, your dog will choose to either fight, back away, or hide. Traumatic experiences often leave scars that take time to heal.
Signs to Look Out For
If your dog is whimpering, cowering, shaking, or crying when walking backward, then something is definitely not right. Walking away with his tail between his legs and a head bowed low is an indication that your dog is fearful or anxious.
Other signs to watch out for are a loss of appetite and general weaknesses. If your dog’s behavior is out of the ordinary and he seems fatigued or disoriented, keep a watchful eye. If he is developing new repetitive habits like dragging his feet and lowering his head, you may have reason to be concerned.
How to Help Your Dog
If you perceive your dog is experiencing pain or showing signs of a neurological condition, do not hesitate to visit your vet. Even if you’re unsure of the precise cause of your dog’s discomfort, a visit to the vet will put your mind at ease.
The symptoms may sometimes seem drastic, but there are many treatments available to restore your dog’s health and vitality.
Training your dog is an alternative solution. Often trainers can help dogs recover from traumatic experiences and teach them new coping mechanisms and strategies to overcome stressful situations. Training requires a regular investment of time and energy, but the results will be well worth the time and effort.
Alternatively, this may just be one of your dog’s quirks and may not be something to worry about. If you’ve had your vet examine your dog and rule out any reason for concern, you may be able to just accept it as normal and enjoy this special trait.
Dogs are very intelligent and easily make split-second decisions when facing a challenge. They often walk backward to get themselves out of uncomfortable situations, whether it be because of previous trauma or current conflict.
If your dog is not anxious, fearful, or in pain, it’s quite possible that your dog walks backward as a unique, fun activity. He may just be wanting your attention, so enjoy the moment to laugh and play together.