Monday, April 23, 2012

Why Do Dogs Like to Lean on Us?

By Linda Cole

One of my dogs, Max, is a big guy. When we're outside in the dog pen, he likes to come over and sit beside me. However, he doesn't just sit, he leans and if I'm standing up and not paying attention, he knocks me sideways because his lean is more of a flop against my legs. All of my dogs like to lean on me at times, but why do they snuggle up next to our legs or beside us on the couch?

Kelly, the matriarch of my dog family, will either sit beside me on the couch or climb onto my lap and lean against me. Then she lays her head on my arm or chest and melts my heart with her eyes as she gazes into mine. Some of the time, I know she's trying to butter me up for some CANIDAE Tidnips treats, but usually it's because she likes to cuddle whenever she gets the chance. Keikei and Riley are fond of sitting on my feet when I'm standing or sitting, which keeps my feet warm on a cold night.

Cuddling is one reason dogs lean against us, but think about how dogs, especially small dogs, see our world. It can be a pretty intimidating place for some canines. A dog that feels unsure of himself or is shy will press up next to your legs for security. A scared dog may move behind you and seek comfort knowing you are there to protect him. It's his way of saying you make him feel safe.

Dogs communicate with us on all levels and there's a reason for what they do. We are the ones that have trouble understanding what they are trying to tell us. But when you think about how we communicate with someone we care about, we respond in similar ways as dogs. How many times have you seen a small child hugging his mom's leg or leaning against her while she's chatting with someone. A shy child might peek out from behind his mom as he leans against her for safety. What parent hasn't had their child sit next to them on the couch or in their lap and lean up against them? Whether it’s for security or just to cuddle, it's the same reason why dogs lean on us – because we make them feel secure, and because they love us.

If your pet leans against your leg or sits in your lap because he's insecure or fearful, it's important not to give him attention that can reinforce his behavior, especially small dogs. As a pet parent, my job is to give my dogs a chance to be who they are as an individual and provide them with a sense of security when it's needed. But I also want them to be confident and able to deal with anything that comes their way and not look to me as a security crutch. Sometimes, they need to be allowed to work through their insecurities in order to learn nothing bad is going to happen to them. If I constantly reassured my small dogs it's OK if they act out in an aggressive way towards someone else or other dogs when they were scared or insecure, I'm giving them feedback that says I'm alright with their aggression, which I'm not. I expect my small dogs to behave just like the bigger ones and I want them to be independent.

Some dogs find dog parks intimidating and lean on their owners legs while checking the other dogs out. Some canines just don't like being around a bunch of other dogs; it depends on their personality. As owners, we think dogs want to be around their own kind. If yours is hesitant at the park, encourage him to play, but don't beat yourself up if he doesn't want to. Keeping a dog socialized is important and going to the dog park is a good way to give him exposure to other pets. As long as he's not showing signs of fear or aggression, there's nothing wrong with a shy dog leaning against your legs for security. Be patient and give him time to work out his shyness on his own. Don't reassure him everything will be fine. Just let him watch as you move around the park and walk away if he becomes stressed. Try again later or when the park isn't as full.

For most dogs, a lean is just their way of telling us how safe they feel when we're around. It's a relaxed gesture of satisfaction. And it's never a bad thing when your dog shows you how much he loves you by snuggling up next to you.

Photo by Sleepyneko

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. My dachsie, Ginger, who died suddenly this past Thursday, had to be touching me in some way- she had to have cntact with either myself or my husband at all times possible. We of course loved this trait and her dachsie sibling for the most part feel the same way (Only one of our remaining four dachsie rescues dislikes human contact- he has always been this way)

  2. Great post. I have never had a dog to lean on me but my Border Collie sure stays close to me and depends on me at all times. I guess it does mean that they are worried about something so they lean on us for support. Makes sense.

  3. I, for the most part, have always had big dogs. Zoie is 82 lbs and counting. They want to be even closer than the little ones I have known. They are showing their love for us!!

  4. If you have Great Danes, then you know they ALL lean! We call it "a hug". And if you move, sometime they will nearly fall over. Just the breed, I guess!

  5. We are not big leaners, but we aren't cuddlers either. We are quite inclined to lie on Mom's feet:) Guess that is our way of making sure she doesn't get away without us.

    Woos - Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

  6. I've even known the odd cat lean!!! They do like to be close :)

  7. It's so funny! Mika likes to do that and he likes to rub his head, fact and any part of his body against us but Eva always keeps a little distance and she never rubs herself against us. Is there something to do with the breeds too?

  8. My Bailey (silky terrier/chihuahua mix so not a big dog at all) is a fairly independent dog with a little affectionate streak in him. Although not a lap dog, he does like to snuggle and cuddle at times, especially during the night. Some times, he would just come up and sit/sleep right next to me and/or put his head on me. Other times, he just prefers to be by himself. But it is so true that whenever he leans on me or puts his head on me, my heart just melts!

  9. Whenever someone comes in the hallway, my Poppy will first bark like a beast. When I calmly tell him, "Quiet" he'll dash right up on my lap, press his head against me, and look at me to comfort him. I don't mind his fear-induced barking as long as he's not doing it directly to a person/animal.

    It's weird. As I've seen through house play, my kid and my dog are both very capible of defending themselves, but neither would do so unless they were under extreme circumstances. I'm not complaining that they're keeping their hands/vocals to themselves; it's just weird that they actually behave the way I want them to when it comes to agression. I wonder what other traits my dog may adapt through our family.


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