Have you ever wondered about the extent of the capabilities of your dog? Do they seem lacking compared to other dogs, or are they a genius looking for a challenge. Either way, you’ve ended up here with one question on your mind: can dogs walk backwards?
Well, I’m here to provide the answers you seek. Without further delay, let’s find out.
Can Dogs Walk Backwards?
So, can dogs walk backwards? Yes, a dog can walk backward as readily as you or I, the only differences being the drive and training to do so.
Anatomically speaking, while it takes a bit more maneuvering to walk backwards on four legs than two, dogs are better balanced than humans and have enough flexibility to facilitate such a movement.
Just like people, some dogs are more inclined to walk backwards than others. We all have that friend that insists on facing us when talking even when we’re going somewhere.
The reasons a dog walks backwards may differ, but it generally comes down to one of five things.
There are several reasons a dog may want to or feel the need to move in a backwards fashion. The five most common motivators include training, fear, age, environment, and medical issues. Let’s go over them in order.
The culprit behind your dog’s behavior may be your own doing. If your dog is trained to walk backwards and does so unbidden, then the chances are they’re showing off.
Dogs love to do tricks. They are both a form of entertainment for the dog and stimulation for their mind. They also know that their owners like it when they perform, and as natural people-pleasers, dogs will sometimes enact tricks they’ve learned to cheer up or show off for their owners.
Just like people, dogs have preferences. If you’ve taught them a plethora of tricks, then they likely have a favorite they want to perform. My dog likes to spin counterclockwise and will do so with little to no instruction. It’s possible, then, that your dog merely enjoys walking backwards from time to time.
The other most common reason a dog may move in reverse is out of fear. This behavior serves multiple purposes when a dog is frightened. Not only does moving get them away from the threat, but it can also help to make them look bigger.
In the same way cats arch up when threatened, dogs may scrunch up their bodies as they move backwards or move diagonally so that more of their side is on display.
If your dog is facing a direct threat like another dog, a person they don’t like, a thunderstorm, or even a doorway, they may choose to move backwards when getting away from it.
One of the first rules of any self-defense course is to never turn your back on an opponent; dogs know this instinctually, and moving away from danger without turning away can be the difference between life and death.
As predators, dogs are particularly vulnerable from behind. Most of their strength is in their shoulders and forelegs. Their only natural defense—their strong jaws and sharp teeth—is also at the front.
If a dog has the potential need to attack or defend itself, then it’ll do what it can to keep its eyes on the target and its defenses up.
Your dog is also more likely to defer to this fear response if its previous owner was abusive.
Very young puppies are a bit of a mess when it comes to the coordination department. They wiggle and wobble their way around as if their legs are being controlled by four different brains. To help get a sense of their bodies, build strength and coordination, and have fun as young animals tend to do, puppies will sometimes walk in a backwards fashion.
It’s adorable to see a little dog waddle around in reverse, and it’s no cause for alarm. If you’ve had kids, then you’ve probably experienced the day when your toddler learned to peddle their tricycle backwards. It’s just something children do.
Everything is new and exciting, and the basics of movement aren’t so basic yet.
Just like how puppies learn to orient themselves through backwards movement, a dog in a new environment might partake in a backwards tour to take in the sights and learn the lay of the land.
This type of scouting behavior is more common in younger dogs and certain breeds like Chihuahuas.
While moving backwards in a new environment is a good way for some dogs to take in all the new stimuli, they might also be doing it to comfort themselves.
Like people, dogs like to fall back on familiarity. If you notice them walking backwards on their own, they may be doing it as a form of comfort in a stressful time. If they are doing it for you a lot, they may be trying to bargain.
A dog might think that pleasing you with tricks will reward them with going back to their old home.
The last reason a dog may walk backwards is due to medical reasons. If they walk backwards frequently—especially if the frequency increases—then it may be a sign that they are having some trouble.
This is a common problem for elderly dogs that have mobility issues or chronic pain. In some cases, it’s both easier and less painful for a dog to walk backwards than forwards. Arthritis, hip dysplasia, and loose patella could all be causes of such behavior.
While it is most often elderly dogs that face these issues, any dog could walk backwards due to a medical issue. If your dog displays signs of:
- Shortness of breath
- Behavior out of character
In addition to walking backwards, then you need to take them to the vet. Even if your dog is only walking backwards, doing it excessively may be a sign of an underlying medical issue.
How to Train Your Dog to Walk Backwards?
The first trick to getting your dog to learn any trick is using the right positive reinforcement (reward the desired behavior by giving them something). For most dogs, an affirming word and a treat are enough.
Take a Step
Start by using social pressure and moving close to your dog to get them to take a single step back. Every time they do this, say yes and give them a treat. Do this until they seem comfortable.
Two Steps This Time
Next, try moving toward your dog more to get them to take a few steps back. Don’t worry if they move to the side a bit or hop between steps. Make sure to reward their efforts.
As your dog gets better, try to get them to back up without stepping toward them as much. Start by taking a half step and leaning forward instead. As they learn the movement you’re looking for, you can eventually stop moving altogether.
As you move less, introduce a hand motion or verbal command. You can do both.
Make Them Work for I
Each time you get your dog to walk backwards, try to get them to go a little farther before rewarding them. Try to give the reward where they stop rather than having them come back to you to get it.
For a more detailed tutorial, check out this helpful training video.
While moving backwards isn’t always a sign of trouble in dogs, it’s important to keep an eye out for odd changes to their behavior.
All dogs can walk backwards, but not all of them will want to. You can train your dog to walk backwards, as it can be quite a useful skill, or leave them to their own devices.