Facts about the animal kingdom

Why Is My Dog Leaning on Me? - Is It OK?

Jungla Luque
By Jungla Luque, Ethologist and dog trainer. December 15, 2020
Why Is My Dog Leaning on Me? - Is It OK?

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Dogs have a complex body language which is relayed through body postures and facial expressions. They can often go unnoticed if we don't pay enough attention. It's harder not to notice when the dog leans on us directly. For many of us, this is not only a normal occasion, but it is welcome behavior. Our dog leaning on us when we are trying to relax can be one of the most special times we spend with our canine.

At AnimalWised we answer the common query why is my dog leaning on me? We help you to understand that it is almost always a very positive sign and explain any circumstances when it might highlight a problem.

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  1. Why is my dog leaning on me when I pet them?
  2. Why does my dog lean on me when I sleep?
  3. Why is my dog leaning on me? - Other causes
  4. Is a dog being dominant when they lean on you?

Why is my dog leaning on me when I pet them?

Whether you have gone to them or they have cosied up for a cuddle, it is common for your dog to lean their head on you when you pet them. Around the ears and neck is one of the best places to pet a dog as it relaxes them. It is not only a show of affection on the part of the dog, but it is a petition to pet them in the first place. You might see a dog whine a little or even get antsy if they lean on you and you don't pet them.

A dog leaning their head on you when they pet them is also because they are seeking warmth and security. When a mother has her newborn puppies, the litter will rest on her and each other for the same reason. In many ways, domestic dogs see us as a parent and will replicate this behavior. A dog letting them pet you means they feel comfortable, but leaning their head on you implies even more affection.

Why Is My Dog Leaning on Me? - Is It OK? - Why is my dog leaning on me when I pet them?

Why does my dog lean on me when I sleep?

The reason your dog leans on you when you fall asleep is because they want to be similarly relaxed. It is the same reason they feel comfortable to sleep next you, even if you are awake. It means more than they are just OK. You provide enough emotional security that they can be close to you, but they are also physically protected by your presence.

Leaning against you while sleeping is also related to when they were a puppy. Furthermore, it is related to their wild ancestry. By sleeping together, dogs can better protect themselves from other predators, as well as alert each other quickly to any other dangers. Since your dog sees you as one of their pack, they will lean their head on you to sleep and know they can be safe.

Why is my dog leaning on me? - Other causes

As we can see from above, the main reasons why a dog will lean on you is out of love and security. Both are related. They feel secure because you have shown them love and they love you because you provide them with security. While these are not only positive, but very rewarding reasons, there are rarer occasions when leaning their head on you means the dog has a problem.

  • They want your attention: you may have noticed that your dog leans their head on you because they want you to pay attention to them. Whether they want to go for a walk, play or for any other reason, they lean on you so you will respond. They may have tried to get your attention in other ways, but they often learn that leaning on you works. They know it as a useful action for you to respond, especially if we do not notice other subtle calls for attention.
  • Tell others to stay away: if you live with other dogs, pets or even other people, it is possible your dog is leaning on you to show others they belong to you. It may be difficult at first to tell the difference between doing this and other reasons they lean on you, but we might start to notice they do it when others are around or approaching. More than saying you belong together, they may be telling others to stay away.

If you are wondering whether it is OK for your dog to lean on you in these circumstances, we need to know it depends on the context. If a dog is leaning on you to get your attention, it may be perfectly normal. For example, if you are eating something tasty, they will know barking won't get them anywhere. If they lean on you and give you their puppy eyes, they might be more likely to get a taste.

However, if your dog is leaning on you to get attention all the time, it might mean you are not giving them enough of it. Dogs need to be sufficiently emotionally and physically stimulated. How much stimulation they need depends on the individual. If you do not give them enough walks, play games with them or in any way deprive them of what they need, they may lean on you excessively to petition for more.

When the dog is leaning on you because they are possessive, it is not OK. While it is wonderful to develop a strong bond with your dog, if they become overly attached it creates behavioral problems. In extreme cases they may attack other dogs or people if they get too close to you. We may need to take the dog to a dog trainer or ethologist if they are overly possessive.

Separation anxiety is also a reason why a dog might lean on you to get your attention or become possessive. If they are not properly socialized or stimulated, they will feel insecure when you are around. They might lean on you simply to feel OK when you are around.

Why Is My Dog Leaning on Me? - Is It OK? - Why is my dog leaning on me? - Other causes

Is a dog being dominant when they lean on you?

There are many myths and much misinformation about dogs and how they relate to humans. Ethology is the study of animal behavior and some people perpetrate the idea that dogs try to assert their dominance over humans. They claim leaning on you might be a way of exerting such dominance. This is likely because the study of dogs in the wild shows that leaning might be used as a way to show dominance to other dogs.

Although dominance and hierarchies do exist with dogs in the wild, it is an intraspecies specific behavior. They only perform these behaviors with other dogs. They also only occur in specific situations. They are not as dominant or submissive as many people believe. They only exhibit this behavior depending on who they are interacting with, what they need in a given moment and what experiences they have had as a puppy.

Finally, if you have lived with several dogs at the same time, you will likely have noticed they do not behave the same with each other as they do with you. Although it may seem obvious, it is sometimes important to point out that dogs know you are not a dog. Consequently, they relate to you via learning, not through instinct.

Although leaning on others does happen with other dogs, it is through interaction with us they learn how to behave. This is why it is vital we provide all dogs with a proper education. Setting boundaries and expectations in given situations with help them to avoid behavioral problems in the future.

Leaning on you is only one of the many methods dogs use to communicate with us. Check out our video below to discover more:

If you want to read similar articles to Why Is My Dog Leaning on Me? - Is It OK?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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Mary Gasper
exciting to learn about my dogs!! all
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Why Is My Dog Leaning on Me? - Is It OK?