When dogs cross their legs, the behavior often grants some giggles as we perceive the posture from a human standpoint.
Perhaps we're wondering whether dogs can keep their paws crossed just as humans can cross their fingers when engaging in wishful thinking.
Dogs though don't think that way, so when you stumble on dogs crossing their legs, most likely something else is going on.
In some cases, there may also be health issues at play! So let's discover what may be truly happening when dogs cross their legs.
A Casual Posture
In most cases, dogs happen to cross their front legs casually. They may be resting with their front legs stretched out and then they just casually happen to cross one leg over the other.
Embrace this posture as it happens because in most cases it's rather short-lived. Keeping the legs crossed in such a way isn't very comfortable, and dogs are rather quick to put their legs back to where they belong!
A Quest for Attention
Many dogs are eager to receive attention from their owners. Indeed, many undesirable behaviors in dogs are inadvertently fueled by owner attention.
This is likely because, as humans, we are very likely to pay attention to our dogs when they are misbehaving, while we ignore our dogs when they're being polite and chill. What a shame!
In any case, if you have looked at your dog, giggled or made a funny remark when your dog has crossed his front legs, expect that behavior to strengthen and repeat if your dog is an attention-seeker.
Dogs who crave human attention are extra vigilant on what behavior grants them the desired attention, and when they receive it, it reinforces the behavior they were carrying out at that time.
Translation? Expect to see more and more crossed legged postures in the near future!
A Trained Trick
If you have stumbled on many pictures of dogs crossing their paws on social media, consider that paw crossing in dogs can be rather easily trained!
It is quite cool to see pictures of dogs with crossed paws accompanied by a caption of "my dog's paws are crossed for you!" in response to somebody who needs some positive vibes being sent their way.
"Fingers and paws crossed!" is another caption that will certainly grant some social media attention. See? Even humans will do anything for just a bit of attention!
How to Train a Dog to Cross His Paws
Start with arming yourself with a clicker (if your dog is clicker trained) and some tasty treats. Ask your dog to lie down. Approach your dog and gently place one paw over the other paw, immediately clicking and rewarding as the paw stays in place.
Warning: avoid using this method if your dog doesn't like to have his paws touched. Discover more about this here: why do dogs hate having their paws touched?
Repeat several times always using the same paw to cross. The goal is to allow enough muscle memory in your dog and motivation to sink in, so that your dog eventually "wants" to cross his paws due to the strong reward history.
After several trials, try to only slightly accompany the paw and see if your dog adjusts it on his own placing it over the other paw. If he does, click, lavishly praise, and give a jackpot of treats (several treats in a row).
Then, further raise criteria. Try accompanying the paw less and less. At the same time, as your dog is right about to cross his paw over, start adding the verbal cue "cross!" then click and reward.
After several trials, as you say the word "cross" your dog should perform the desired behavior. When this happens, make sure to click and give your dog a nice jackpot of treats so to leave a strong impression!
Did you know? Capturing is another method that you can try if you often stumble on your dog crossing his paws or if he doesn't like having his paws touched.
In this method, always carry a clicker around your wrist and a tasty treat bag around your waist (or keep treats in your pocket).
When you catch your dog crossing his paws on his own, click and reward. With time, the paw crossing should happen more and more often, offering you the opportunity of putting it on cue by saying "cross!"
Discover more about the capturing method to train other interesting tricks such as training your dog to take a bow: what is capturing in dog training?
In some cases, a dog crossing the legs may be a sign of medical problem. In this case, the back legs are often the mostly affected, and affected dogs may also walk on the top of their paws.
Causes of Dogs Crossing Their Back Legs
What medical causes can trigger a dog to cross his back legs?
Often an underlying spinal issue may be at play. What happens is that pressure may be building up on a dog's spinal cord causing the dog to develop poor neurological function.
With the nerves' sensory information not traveling well to the legs, the dog may not have enough sensation to figure out the correct positioning of the legs. The technical term for this is "lack of proprioception."
X-rays of the spine, and possibly, an MRI would also be helpful. Underlying causes for a dog crossing the back legs include intervertebral disk disease, fibrocartilaginous embolism (stroke to the spinal cord), degenerative myopathy, certain types of tumor or even a bout of meningitis.
Affected dogs should be kept quiet and confined until they can see the vet. If they need to be taken inside a car, they should have a towel under the abdomen to use as a sling to assist them in walking.
Treatment varies based on the underlying cause.
Causes of Dogs Crossing Their Front Legs
If your dog is crossing his front legs when walking, this too can be indicative of an underlying neurological disorder, only that the nerve transmission of sensory information of the front legs are affected rather than the back ones.
Possible causes include an intervertebral disc that has slipped or ruptured up into the spinal canal causing inflammation of the cervical spinal cord (by the neck area), the presence of growths and lesions that impinge and cause pressure to the spinal cord, fractures and fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE, stroke to the cervical spinal cord).
A thorough neurological examine by a veterinarian is needed in these cases so to find the source of the problem. Treatment will again vary based on the underlying cause.