Why Does My Dog Lean On Me?

By Naomi Millburn

Although you may find it cute and heartwarming when your dog leans or presses into you, don't make any assumptions about why he does it! A dog leaning into your body can be expressing an assortment of things, from pure fear to even dominance. As much as we'd like to think we know what they're thinking, canines aren't always as straightforward as we believe!

NOTE: "Dominance Theory" is a widely debated topic among dog behaviorists, but we at Cuteness like to give voice to writers on both sides of the debate. For an opposing view, please see our article Social Hierarchy Among Dogs.

Dominance

If you're standing up to do the dishes and suddenly feel your dog pressing into your side or any other part of your body, it may be his way of displaying his dominance over you. Your typically unassuming and sweet dog may be acting as the "alpha" dog in this situation -- uh oh. When a dog goes into your personal space, he actually may be showing you just who the real boss is. Pay close attention to his legs, too. If they appear unusually rigid or tight, say "hello" to dominance.

Fear

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a dog pressing into you may also indicate vulnerability, nervousness and fear. Perhaps you have a "strange" and unfamiliar house guest in the living room. If your dog is scared of the new face being in his comfort zone, he may react to it by leaning and pressing his body into you -- a means of essentially comforting himself amidst a whole lot of uncertainty -- poor thing.

Interest

When a dog is leaning into you, but only ever so slightly, it may also indicate that he's simply fascinated by you, so feel honored. He wants to be near you and wants to see what you're going to do next, whether it's stroking his back, playing with him or getting up to check on dinner in the oven. This dog is simultaneously self-assured, but also engaged in whatever it is that you're doing.

Attention-Seeking

Dogs frequently partake in dominant behaviors -- such as pressing into you -- as a way to get quick attention. If your dog is being pushy and bossy with you in this way, consider not giving in to his "demands," at least not immediately. When a dog thinks that he has you at his beck and call, it may lead to unnecessary behavior problems -- not good. Teach your doggie the appropriate way to get your respect. If he sits patiently and quietly for a few minutes, rather than aggressively pushing into you, offer him a reward, whether a small treat or a soothing stroke of his back.

By Naomi Millburn

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References

ASPCA: Canine Body Language
Caring Hands Humane Society: Body Language of Dogs
San Diego Humane Society and SPCA: Leadership vs. Dominance
ASPCA: Is Your Dog Dominant?

About the Author
Naomi Millburn has been a freelance writer since 2011. Her areas of writing expertise include arts and crafts, literature, linguistics, traveling, fashion and European and East Asian cultures. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in American literature from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo.