Why Do Dogs Lean On People?

Why do dogs lean on people?

Dogs lean on people for all kinds of reasons, depending on the dog and the exact situation. The following are just three of many possibilities:

  • The dog leans on people for affection.
  • The dog leans on people for security.
  • The dog lean on people for control.

Why do dogs lean on people?



Reasons your dog leans on you

There are plenty of reasons why a dog would lean on her owner. I am oversimplifying things by listing only three.

If your dog is a “leaner” I’d love to hear about why you think your dog leans on you.

Here are three possibilities:

Dogs lean on people for affection.

Most dogs love attention and affection. Leaning on us is just one way to seek that affection and connect with the person. We humans are good about giving dogs the affection they’re seeking!

Dogs lean on people for security.

A lot of insecure, shy or fearful dogs will lean into me if I’m a person they trust. They use me as a safety blanket. No one can sneak up behind them if they have their back to their safe person (me). No one can grab them. My foster dog Cosmo (pictured) leaned on me all the time, especially when we met new people or attended new places. I had another foster dog Levi who was also insecure and would constantly sit on my feet.

I remember someone told me “Gosh, he’s so dominant!” But really, it was the opposite. Levi was generally a very submissive and worried dog. He felt safer getting as close to me as possible.

Even outgoing dogs like my mutt Ace need a little reassurance sometimes. It seems like Ace is always trying to do the “right” thing, and sometimes he’ll lean into me for (I assume) some reassurance. Like, “I’m doing OK, right?”ย This is when I pat him on the sides and tell him he’s being a good boy.

See more tips on how to help a fearful dog.

Why do dogs lean on people?

Dogs lean on people for control.

Our dogs do lean on us to manipulate us. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be about (dare I say it?) dominance. Simply, the dog wants attention, so he leans into you.

Ace leans on visitors all the time to get them to pay attention to him. Yes, he’s motivated by wanting affection and attention, but he’s also manipulating people to give him that attention. If someone is sitting down trying to focus on something other than my dog, Ace will sometimes go up to the person and bump his side into her. It’s pretty hard to ignore that, and he knows it.

Is this insecurity? No, not in this case. Attention seeking? Yes. Controlling? Definitely.

Other examples of how dogs lean on us to control us:

  • The dog wants you to pet him instead of your other dog, so he leans into you.
  • The dog wants to remind you it’s time to eat, so he leans into you.
  • The dog wants to go outside, so he leans into you.

How do I stop my dog from leaning on me?

It’s not necessarily a bad thing if your dog leans on you. I don’t mind a bit if Ace leans on me (unless he’s just jumped out of the water).

But maybe your dog leans on you a little too often or during inappropriate times. If you’re trying to sit and drink your coffee, you may not want your 70-pound dog backing his ass into you, for example.

Or maybe you’d just like to help your dog lessen her dependence on you. If your dog has separation anxiety, it’s a good idea to look for ways to create mild separation. Requesting her to stop leaning on you all the time would be a start!

No matter what your dog’s motivation is for leaning on people, it’s important to teach your dog some commands that communicate your need for space.

Dogs lean on us to communicate what they want, but it’s also important for them to respect our space. You wouldn’t want your boyfriend hanging on your arm all the time, would you? Our dogs don’t need to be touching us 24/7 either. (Um, excuse me, Ace, but could I please go to the bathroom without you?)

Useful commands all dogs should learn for creating space:

  • Teach your dog a command that means “go to your bed and stay there.” I use the command “go to your bed.”
  • Teach your dog down and stay so you can get him to lie down and stay at any time.
  • Teach your dog a command for “back up.” I use this when Ace is too close to me (and facing me). I tell him “back up” and he gives me a few feet of space. Very useful!
  • Teach your dog a command for “out!” which for Ace means “Get you ass out of this room!” We mostly use it in the kitchen or the bedroom.

In addition to these commands, you can also just get up and walk away from your dog if he’s leaning on you too often. Every dog is different, so you’ll want to think about your particular dog.

For example, if your dog is constantly leaning on you at the dog park, it’s probably because he’s overwhelmed. You can try stepping away from your dog (and it helps to keep moving), but if he’s still hiding between your legs, maybe you should try socializing him with just one or two dogs next time instead of 15.

Every dog is different, and it’s all about knowing your own dog. I’d love to hear what the rest of you think about this.

Is your dog a “leaner?” Why do you think dogs lean on people?

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18 Readers Commented

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  1. Chris on July 26, 2013

    H i Lindsay
    Interesting question, as are all questions concerning why dogs do what they do,
    at least to me.
    Sadly, after all of the research, books, dvd’s and seminars, all we can really do
    is speculate!
    Just once, just for 10 minutes, I wish I could converse with that one dog who is able to transcend all biological boundaries, and natural law, to let us all in on what, after 1000’s of years, we have, so far, failed to understand.
    Why do you lean on us?………”You’ll never guess….”

  2. Elizabeth Kleweno on July 26, 2013

    You know the funny thing is that Belle didn’t start leaning on us still about a year ago and when she does its pretty special. Sometimes I know its because she wants a lot of undivided attention, but sometimes its nice to have that warm wieght leaning into you. When its kicking the other dog out of the way I normally shoo her away and tell her to go lie down. Then I get the big suffering eyes and a huff but it keeps her, I think, from becoming to dependant on always being with me.

    Last night she leaned her head into my chest for a couple minutes and I really really wanted to know what she was thinking.

    I agree though that sometimes its manipulative and sometimes its not. I think knowing when and knowing how much you will stand will make your dogs and yours relationship better.

    Thanks for always making us think!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 27, 2013

      Aw, that’s cute how she leaned her head on your chest. Don’t you think that sometimes they come over and lean on us to just see how we’re doing? I like to think that is the case.

  3. Pipa on July 26, 2013

    My dog will pretty much only lean on me in the mornings when we’re having “I missed you all night!” pats and it’s lovely. Other than that, he will lean his face into me to clean his nose or eyes….haha

    Great article getting us to think about dog behaviour!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 27, 2013

      Haha! Ace is very happy in the morning too but it’s more about “Time to eat!”

  4. Holly on July 27, 2013

    Our first dog Henri never leaned. We got him from some people who couldn’t care for him, but he was well adjusted. Our second dog, Simon was rescued from Crete. I was thrilled when he started leaning. I felt like he was bonding with me. It took awhile. He doesn’t do it all that often, but I love it. It feels affectionate to me.

  5. Sean on July 27, 2013

    All those reasons make sense.

    I would add that leaning is an easily reinforced behavior. Independent of why a dog *starts* to lean, many adult dogs continue to lean because they’ve been conditioned to get a positive response from it.

    If you always got a massage when you leaned into friendly people (or another desirable outcome), you would learn to lean more too, even if you didn’t “mean” anything the first few times you leaned on someone.

    In a nutshell, many dogs lean because we’ve taught them that leaning brings good consequences.

  6. Kimberly Gauthier on July 27, 2013

    I love that you wrote this, because I’m in the process of writing a post about our dogs and their leaning habits (all different). I’ll link to your post for more information. I’m just in love with your blog.

    Our dogs are leaners and they do it for affection and attention. It works, because I love every moment.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 29, 2013

      Your blog is awesome too! Keep up the good work! I’ll watch for your leaning post!

  7. Flea on July 29, 2013

    As a breed, Great Danes are natural leaners. I wonder if it’s for one of the reasons you’ve listed? They’re gentle dogs for their size, but not really fearful. Maybe it’s affection.

    Question: My dogs don’t lean, but they stand on my feet. All the time. They also step on each other’s feet when they wrestle. Is that a dominance thing? It hurts. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Jessica on October 22, 2013

    Hi,
    I had a question, somewhat un-related, but this topic seemed to fit it best, from what i can see.

    My dog has recently (in the last couple of months) started nibbling (maybe sucking?) on blankets (in her crate, in bed, on the couch etc.) Not making holes, not destroying anything, but mostly leaving damp spots everywhere. I didn’t know if this was a comfort or cleaning thing or what. More recently (in the last week) she started doing it to my sweatshirts while they’re on me and only if i’m laying on the floor. She does it when she’s snuggling down for a nap or when she’s lying next to me (I’ve been studying a lot lately). I make her stop when i see her doing it, but she’s at home alone while we’re at work, so I am sure she does it then. When my friends dog-sit, they noticed it too. I was mostly wondering if you’ve ever heard of this/experienced this. For reference, she’s a very active GSP, just under 2y/o. She gets 1-2x/day exercise (running, dog park, hiking)

    Thanks

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 23, 2013

      Of course, I don’t know exactly what your dog is thinking, but as you describe it it sounds like a soothing, calming behavior – like a kid sucking his thumb. In other cases, I think it just becomes sort of a habit. It’s probably not a big deal (other than the wet spots). My parents have a springer spaniel that will sit and lick stuffed animals. It is very calming to her, and she is a very active dog as well. They usually just put the toys away when they want her to stop and then she goes back to normal.

      You could try giving her some Kong-type toys to chew on/lick if you haven’t already.

  9. Karen on December 12, 2015

    My dog leans on me if my partner is getting ready to leave the house, or vice versa. Sometimes she crawls right on top of us and she is a 50 lbs dog! It’s very sweet but also very sad. She is a rescue pup who was abandoned and left for her own when she was very little.

    She is so smart- she knows many cues that could mean we are leaving, even if not for 15-20 minutes: unplugging our phone, placing a bag near the door, brushing our teeth.

    This is likely security for her, but could also be manipulating the one she is leaning on to ensure we don’t leave? Either way I think she just means well and loves us a lot ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. NatBee on January 9, 2016

    Our dog leans. He’s a 50 pound muscular Boxer/Pit so when he leans it’s very impressive. He seems to lean most often when a group of people are in the living room. He seems to like to choose one person (different every time) to really push up against. I get the feeling he’s saying “This is my favorite person right now.” It’s almost like he’s showing off his bond with the person he’s leaning on. It’s so sweet.

  11. Susan kranz on July 10, 2016

    My son’s pit lab mix leans against me often I’m female I cared for him for 7 months old to two years…but he adds a special aspect to his lean tail is down…then rubs his back in an up and down motion against me…he loves me a lot…I think he is claiming me..like marking a tree…mine for the moment..
    He does this with me not my son or daughter in law…

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