Why Do Dogs Lean On You?

Do dogs lean on us out of dominance?

I saw a comment thread on reddit where everyone was saying how cute it is when their dogs lean on them for affection. Most people said they like when their dogs lean on them, and they don’t seem to think anything of it, good or bad.

Then there were a few people who jumped in preaching Cesar-Millan talk, saying that a dog that leans on you is trying to assert his dominance. And of course this created all kinds of drama as people became overly emotional and defensive about “dominance theory.”

Here’s the thing: Sometimes dogs do use their bodies to claim space or to get to an object first or to simply be in the lead. Call it dominance. Call it cute. Call it whatever you want. It’s what dogs do.

But not a single person (except yours truly!) brought up the fact that many dogs will lean on their owners for security. They will lean on their owners because they are shy, fearful or insecure in that moment. They are not trying to dominate their owners. They are trying to feel safe.

Nine times out of 10, when dogs lean on us they really are just seeking attention. They like to be close to people. And yes, sometimes it’s rude.

Why dogs lean on us

Why do dogs lean on you

My dogs Ace will come up and slam his side into my legs, wiggling his body into a U shape and whipping his tail every which way.

I don’t see this as dominance (although he does want my attention) or insecurity (although he does feel safer with me around). He’s just trying to connect with his best friend! And guess what? It works!

I always bend down and give him a good butt scratch. “Good boy, Ace!”

But there are dog owners who don’t read into anything their dogs are telling them. Everything the dog does is cute or funny to them, even when the dog is trying to communicate something. To them, a dog that leans couldn’t possibly be trying to say anything other than “I love you.”

And then there are dog owners who assume every action from a dog always means the same thing. Growling always represents dominance, for example. Or a wagging tail always represents happiness. Or leaning always represents friendship. Hmm …

In order to understand our dogs, we need to pay more attention to what they are trying to communicate during each specific situation.

Dogs can certainly block us with their bodies in order to gain access to what they want, but they will also lean on us in order to feel safe.

Here are some examples of when an insecure dog might lean on his owner:

1. Shy dogs will often lean on their owners in order to feel safe

My former foster dog Cosmo was a leaner.

He would lean on me when someone came to the door or when we attended an adoption event. This wasn’t because he was trying to dominate me. He was leaning on me in order to feel more secure.

Poor Cosmo was always stressed at adoption events. His ears would be back. He would avoid direct eye contact with people. He would pant with an open mouth. Usually one front paw would be raised and tucked up into his chest. Sometimes he trembled. Sometimes he even growled at people.

No wonder no one was very interested in him during these events!

I made sure not to give Cosmo affection when he leaned on me for security. Telling him “It’s OK. It’s OK. Good boy,” would only teach him to continue looking to me for security. In order to help him grow as an individual and build his confidence, I had to teach him not to depend on me so much.

So I would block Cosmo with my hip or my elbow (I was usually sitting on the floor with him). Or I would simply move away or up into a chair. He would usually shift back in order to lean on me again, and I would move away again as well. When he was relaxed and lying next to me without touching, I would pet him calmly.

I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, “But affection does not reinforce a dog’s fears.” That is true. And I’m not saying you should correct a fearful dog. Just look for ways to block some habits in order to slowly help the dog move on and grow.

See my post: Does affection reward a fearful dog?

Treats and favorite toys can also be very useful to help distract an insecure dog from everything going on. You can use treats to get him to think about something else like sit or stay and build his confidence that way. Sometimes I would make Cosmo lie down and stay a foot away. Then he would get the treat as a reward for maintaining distance. “Wow, what a good boy! So brave!”

2. Some dogs climb into their owners’ laps in order to feel more secure

Some little dogs will climb into their owners’ laps in order to feel more secure. Big dogs try this as well, but it’s usually the smaller dogs that tremble in their owners’ arms because they fear something in the environment.

Instead, the owner should place the dog on the ground and slowly help him understand that nothing bad happens in new situations. The owner should ignore the dog or move away when he frantically paws at her legs to get back up. She should give him a treat or pick him up only when he is calm or if the situation is truly unsafe for the little guy.

And of course, it’s important not to completely overwhelm the dog. If he’s fearful of new people and dogs it would be unfair to set him on the ground in the middle of a PetSmart or a street fair. But the owner should seek out less “scary” situations first and slowly challenge the dog more and more from there.

Why do dogs lean on us?

Some dogs will even become possessive of their owners, growling and biting from their owners’ arms if anyone gets too close. Of course they are going to be possessive. They don’t want to be removed from their “power source.”

But even these dogs are not barking out of dominance. They are barking up a storm because they are insecure. They are acting defensively.

So how can an owner fix this problem?

The same way as above. Seek out situations that are not too overwhelming, and keep the dog on the ground. Carrying him around will not help him build confidence.

Most little guys will immediately try to jump back into their owners’ arms – their place of empowerment.

The owner should not allow this, not unless the dog is truly in danger.

If the dog tries to jump back into his owner’s lap, she should block him with her arm. If he makes it into her lap, she should stand and push him off or set him on the ground. If he starts growling and barking at people from her feet, she should put his leash on him and tether him away from her. She should reward him when he’s calm and not barking or crying.

The goal is to help the dog grow as an individual by weaning him away from his dependence on his owner.

See my post: How to stop my dog from guarding me.

3. Some dogs will hide between their owners’ legs at the dog park

When dogs hide between their owners’ legs at the dog park, many owners respond by petting the dog or talking to the dog.

Instead, it’s best to just step away. Keep moving. Don’t allow the dog to hide behind you or under you. Help the dog build his confidence by decreasing his dependence on you.

If the dog seems overly shy or fearful, just walk away from the other dogs, re-group and return again after a few seconds. You don’t want to overwhelm your dog too much by forcing him to interact right off the bat. Visit the dog park during quieter hours and don’t plan on staying for long. If he plays for a few seconds and then seems overwhelmed, just quit while you are ahead. At least he played for a few seconds. That is a success.

Some dogs appreciate socializing in smaller groups just like some people like to socialize in smaller groups. Some dogs and some people get tired of socializing sooner than others. Heck, I’m one of the most introverted people I know! I can certainly relate to all those introverted dogs out there.

What have you noticed about your dog when he leans on you?

Is he usually seeking attention? Power? Security? Probably all of the above, depending on the situation. Let us know in the comments!

Related posts:

Why do dogs raise their hackles?

100 thoughts on “Why Do Dogs Lean On You?”

  1. As a companion to large-breed dogs, I have found they usually lean on us because they want something from us. Usually it is attention, but sometimes it is because they want to go outside, or they think it’s dinnertime, or they drank all their water. Our Saint Bernard will lean and lean and lean until she gets what she wants. Our other dog will start with the lean, but will eventually progress to “talking” at us if we don’t get the hint.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hey Kari! That’s what I notice with most large breeds, too! Thanks for reading and commenting. Give your dogs hugs from me!

  2. As usual, great post. A comment about the “Cesar-Millan types”: In general, I really like Cesar and think that he’s got a pretty amazing sense of what’s going on with dogs. But what I find disappointing is that a lot of people seem to only pick up on one aspect of his approach, and that is to think that everything is dominance, when Cesar himself frequently discusses insecurity, attention-seeking, fearfulness, etc. In fact, your post is much more “Cesar”-like than I think most of the “Cesar-followers” would acknowledge.

    As for leaning, I know that Tarski leans in two very distinct situations, when he’s fearful/insecure (and then I step away and don’t let him lean) and when, as far as I can tell, he really is expressing some kind of affection: When he’s very groggy (usually in the morning when we let him out of his crate), he stumbles out of his sleep, and pushes his head into me or my husband, and just stands there, leaning his head and eventually his body as he yawns and stretches… And if we’re both there to let him out, he leans his head into one of us and his body into the other (as best he can)! It really is disgustingly cute…

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh I am a fan of Cesar, don’t get me wrong! Cosmo would also lean on me for affection and for the most part I could tell the difference between when he was seeking affection and when he was seeking security. He would ask for affection if I was sitting on the floor at home or sitting on the couch.

  3. Belle leans for affection. She loves to be petted and rubbed and lean on us. But that is the only time she does. I agree that little dogs are the most fearful with the most problems because people think it’s cute and not realizing that if it was a larger dog they would treat it differently. Thanks for always making sure that I think about my interactions with my dogs and theirs and my wellfare! 🙂

      1. I have a Saint Bernard he is almost a year old and he leans on everything! He won’t sleep in the middle of a room he has to sleep on the wall or by the door but he is always leaning in some way! He gets around just fine and plays with our other dogs but when he sleeps he is against something. Is that a problem or is that normal with large breed dogs? Thanks

        1. Lindsay Stordahl

          I’m guessing it’s just a security thing. If I were to sleep on the floor I’d rather be up against a wall vs. in the middle of the room too. It’s just for security.

  4. Jasmine leans for one reason and one reason only: to get people under her thumb. She will lean, wrap her body around the person, even push her head into their bodies. It’s her way asking for pets and attention, but I truly believe it’s part of her world domination program. It makes people melt and she can get then under her thumb one at the time. And it does work!

    She also loves to walk in between people’s legs and stop. “Ok, you can rub my butt now.” This is particularly funny if she picks a short person.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yeah, even if the dog is asking for attention, it is still a way to get what the dog wants. It’s a way to control the human 🙂

  5. I love this post – I had heard the same thing from Cesar Millan and while I like a lot of what he says, I don’t buy the “wagging = happiness, growling = dominance….” and other blanket rules like that.

    Panzer leans on me when I’m sitting at my computer and he sits on or next to my foot and puts his head on my foot. This isn’t dominance in any way in my book! He also does it when he wants a good butt scratch just like ol’ Ace! He does this also when I’m setting up to groom him, and I make him face his fears of the dreaded scissors, comb, brush, whatever… and sit down and take the grooming. 🙂

    He also stands on his back legs and puts his front legs on my knees, wagging incessantly. According to Millan this is dominance behavior by standing on his back legs. While I prefer him not doing this, I know it’s not dominance, it’s excitement because his family is home, or playing, or just saying “Puppy!” in the “let’s play” voice.

    I appreciated your notes about reassuring an insecure dog. This is so easy to do and so important not to do. I do my best to be a point of safety without reassuring. A calm presence as I help him face his fears.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      From what I can tell, Cesar Millan knows what he is talking about. He is able to interpret when a wagging tail means friendliness and when a wagging tail means aggression, for example. I don’t think he has blanket rules. The “Cesar-Millan talk” I was referring to in this post was directed towards his many fans who don’t quite understand dog behavior and are obsessed with dominance vs. submission. They don’t quite get it.

      One problem is that we tend to see dominance as a bad thing. But like Jana said in her comment, even an attention-seeking behavior really is a dominant behavior. On a basic level, a dog is showing dominance when he leans on a person in order to seek attention or food or whatever. I do not allow dogs to jump up on me or to put their front paws on me, mostly because I see it as rude. I am not so concerned about dominance vs. submission. I just don’t want a big dog jumping on me and I set the same standards for small dogs as I do little dogs.

      I think each owner just has to make sure she is setting rules for her dog according to her own standards. Most of us think it’s cute if our dogs come up and seek attention. Heck, that’s why we love dogs so much! Usually I give in and give Ace a head scratch whenever he seeks attention. But sometimes when I’m busy I make sure to ignore him and then he knows to go and find something else to do.

  6. My rescue schnauzer has begun leaning against our legs when we pet him, and I see it as a trust thing. It’s taken many months for him to relax and let down his guard, and while I don’t necessary believe in “alpha” relationships, I feel like he sees us as people who will protect him and it doesn’t need to be the other way around, and so when he leans against us, it seems like he’s relaxing.

  7. I am a huge fan of Cesar, but I agree, all my dogs love leaning on me. As I pet their back area and massage their back, they lean in even more. Its comforting for them so I believe they do it when in need of comforting.

    Though I am only speaking on behalf of my own dogs, it would be interesting to see more of it on video to see if the body language is different than what I see everyday from my dogs.

    1. Lindsay,
      You are absolutely right. Many dog owners, even long time dog owners fail at recognizing dog behavior.

      It is important to understand dog behavior or body language before even training them. Every dog is a different individual and will have a different response to just about everything.

      I’ve spend most of today looking into this theory ‘dog leaning.’ I may just have to run this test myself and post a Youtube video some day.

  8. We have 1 Americana Pitbull Terrier( Scout) and 1 Pomeranian (Duke)and both come to my husband and myself for security. Both dogs are 6 years old and we have never had any issues from either of them.

    Many people feel like the Pitbull breed is one that is displays dominance, yet our baby boy is sweet, loving and respectful of our wishes. I could not ask for a better behaved dog.

    When we are out in publix, like a park the Pom is the one who hides under our feet and seems to be scared, yet our APBT is all about running and playing with the fellow dogs.

    Scout does not realized he is 90LBS and often climbs into mommy’s lap for love and affection. When we have storms, he is the 1st one right on moms lap. It is for security and he knows mommy makes him feel better in some way.

  9. I’ve often wondered why our Lab leans her butt up against my thigh when I’m at the computer (we have a “knee chair”). She’s not the cuddly type but still expects to be the center of attention. I usually just reach down and tickle her belly. Other than that, she’s about as cuddly as an alligator. She doesn’t appreciate those goo-goo showers of hugs and kisses, which is a shame because she’s just so dang cute. Well, she is an “only child” so being the center of attention is all she’s ever known. Quite often I feel she takes us for granted.

    1. Melissa Victoria

      Lindsey, thank you for this interesting post. As my puppy grows and matures, she displays different and new behaviors that I spend way too much time analyzing to figure out. She is very sensitive to any amount of negativity, even a hard look. If i talk on the phone with my family (loudly, cuban stereotype) she hides in her crate. Last night she followed me around the dog park over engaging with the dogs. I didnt discourage it, but its a new behavior. Instead I practiced recall with all those distractions since she seemed to be focused on me, which is rare; Usually she ignores me. I call her cat-dog because she is aloof and doesn’t like cuddling or head petting. Occasionally she will lay near me but get up and leave if I stroke her yet she has separation anxiety and monitors me closely when I am petting a new (friendly) dog. She does this cat thing where she rubs against your legs and as soon as you go to pet her she wanders off which confuses me because it seems like an attention seeking behavior but as soon as you respond she is off.
      I believe she takes everything for granted!

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        Well she is an interesting one, isn’t she? 🙂 Ace is very attached to me and whines if I leave him behind when we are in public. However, at home, he could pretty much care less about me. He doesn’t care if I come and go. He usually doesn’t follow me around.

  10. I’m sure she does take you for granted! 🙂 My dog probably doesn’t like hugs or kisses or cuddling, either. But he tolerates it!

  11. My fiance and I just brought a new puppy home a couple of days ago. It was one of those ‘free puppies’ on the side of the road signs. We brought him home, he slept with us that night. But ever since we brought him home, he has been acting strange. I have had a puppy at his age before when I brought him but it was nothing like this. Our new puppy, Bear, follows us EVERYWHERE! To the shower, bathroom, from room to room, outside, even into the car. When we put him on his leash outside and leave him he barks and yelps continuously, which is a major problem because we have roommates. He is always whining and making groaning noises even when we are with him. And I can’t seem to interest him in any toys. I’m really confused and worried. What’s wrong?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      He sounds insecure. Make sure that, although you want to give him affection all the time, you also consciously create separation every day. That means shut the door and don’t allow him to follow you into the bathroom. Put him in a kennel at night or at least in another room. Leave him alone for a few minutes here and there, etc. Don’t pick him up every time you are on the couch. Make him sit on the floor.

  12. I have a rodisan ridgeback (shes still just a pup about 1 year) and I noticed something she does everytime I get home from work. She first goes crazy because she is so excited when i let her out of the cage (normal of couse) and I feed her right away and let her out. The thing that she does that i think is kind of odd is when i sit down to take off my work boots she will keep going under my legs to rub her back on me. It is kinda funny but I was wondering if any of you dog experts out there know if this is because of her breed being that she has a strip of hair on her back that grows the opposite direction. Anyways just curoius I have never had a dog before and I got this one because my friend could not keep it.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’ve known quite a few more submissive dogs that will do this when they are excited. I had a golden that would kind of weave through my legs when she was happy to see me and she would also lean on me. I’m interested in what others think.

      1. I dogsit regularly for a mixed breed that often does the same thing. He is very submissive and very friendly at the same time. He will rub against me several times when I first come into the house, and he is very insecure since he was abandoned prior to the people who have him now and the family is spending a lot of time out of state with a grandmother who is not in good health.. I think this has taken a toll on Mac and that he might be worried that he’s going to be left alone again.

  13. I found this website while trying to come to terms with euthanazing my wonder German Shepherd last month. She had cancer, was in a lot of pain, and too old to handle any operation. When the vet lady walked into the house I am sure Lady knew what was coming, because she dragged herself up and staggered to the opposite side of the house. I fetched her, and held her, and she leaned her head on my shoulder while she was being injected and it just tore me apart. I am battling to understand why she leaned on my like that, was it submission, fear, asking me not to do it? Has anyone had a similar experience or can anyone try to explain?

    1. It sounds to me as though Lady wanted to be close to you. Dogs don’t think in words and some things can’t be named. Maybe she wanted to be comforted, or maybe she wanted to comfort you. The only thing that makes sense is love. She loved you to the end.

    2. Melissa Victoria

      I agree. Before my dog had her CT scan, she leaned into my body and tried to fuse her body with mine which is totally opposite to her behavior. Internally I was on the edge of an anxiety attack even though outwardly I looked calm. They can sense our emotions and respond. She probably knew you were sad and wanted to comfort you. I agree, it was compassion for you.

      I’m sorry for your loss.

  14. Hello
    I have 3 dogs here. One 5 year old male Border Collie mix, and a 1 1/2 year old female Rotweiller mix, and a 6 month old female lab mix.
    My female Rottie mix often leans on me. At first I thought it was dominance because when we have company over, she will often lean against my legs and place herself between me and guests or other animals.
    She’s not an aggressive dog and very mild tempered well behaved but I feel like she’s claiming me somehow. (I usually ignore her when she does this)

    A few days ago I took in a 10 month old male chow/husky as a favor to a family member to find him a home and she’s been leaning more than ever. (understandable)
    Today, I let all the dogs run free on my 57 acres.
    The others took off running and playing while she stayed behind and leaned against my legs.
    Although she often leans on me, this was out of character. I looked down, pet her and she ran off to join the others. Almost as though she was waiting for verification or something.
    She’s not showing signs of insecurity and I don’t understand why she did this.
    If anyone has any insight I’d greatly appreciate it.

  15. Hi, I found your article very interesting. I was initially looking for a reason as to why my dog will come and stick his head in between my legs, under my arm and under my blanket if I have one on my knee. I have a feeling it is a security and trust thing but was wondering if you could tell me the psychological dog meaning. He usually does it when I am sat down. His ears are back, completely relaxed; no dominance whatsoever.

    Thank you

    1. Our aussie does that, but only to us. He loves people and will lean on them to get pets, but only with us does he shove his head under. Think about it, they are totally at your mercy in that position. I believe it’s his way of saying, I love you and I trust you, so pet me!

  16. I have two female shepherd mixes. Both are rescues. Our first girl Coyote was beaten badly, and has become extremely attached to me. She is well socialized but insecure even now. When we got Bear she seemed a little upset about it but they have quickly become friends. Problem is Bear is terrified of everything, and when I call Bear or try to pet her Coyote pushes her way in between. I know it is insecurity but I am not sure how to fix it. I have also noticed that Coyote will take toys I give to Bear. Bear needs worked with badly, but Coyote won’t stay out of the way. If i separate Coyote from me while i work with bear she spends the most of the day pouting, curled up in a ball. Any Ideas?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Work on Coyote’s obedience skills so that you can put her in a down/stay position and she will stay there with distractions for up to a half-hour, even when you are petting Bear or working with Bear. In the meantime, you can actually tether Coyote to a chair while you work with Bear. Ignore Coyote if she cries or whines. Don’t even look at her. Then, when she’s quiet, go over and pet her or invite her back to you and Bear.

      If Coyote chooses to pout later on, no big deal. Just ignore it, or if you want, take both dogs out for a walk. If you do something they enjoy, I’m sure Coyote will instantly forget about the pouting.

  17. I have a 10-11 month old Border Collie/Boxer mix (predominantly BC, she only really got the “boxing” trait from the Boxer side. Other than that she’s all BC!) She is definitely trying me when it comes to training her. She has “sit” and “lay down” very good but a lot of times when I tell her to sit she does so but leans her whole body against my shins and sits on my feet and looks up with me. A lot of the time she’s got her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth with little excited pants. And then sometimes she just looks up at me with those “puppy dog eyes”, esp. when she knows she’s done something to irritate me. I’ve been wondering what all this means. Sometimes she’ll come over and lean her head on my lap but I’ve picked up on her hints then that she wants to play or wants attention. But the leaning against me and sitting on my feet when I tell her to sit is perplexing me.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’ve known quite a few dogs that do that sit/leaning thing during obedience classes. It really seems to be a comfort thing. I’ve also seen it with more herding breeds than other dogs, actually. Is the behavior annoying to you? If it is, just teach her that sit means sit directly at your side. So, if she sits on you or leaning on you, physically push her into a sit where you want her and reward. It will take lots of practice and consistency.

  18. I have a 4 year old rescue Catahoula/ACD mix that does the same thing. When he gets excited or wants attention, he rubs against the person’s legs like a cat. He doesn’t stop even when the person pets him, he just keeps weaving back and forth rubbing on the person’s legs. I believe it is attention seeking and feels good, not that he is trying to take my space or other aggressively dominant action. He has had a rough background and occasionally gets anxious but usually this behavior comes out when he is excited, not anxious. I don’t believe it is comfort seeking at all. He has some comfort seeking behaviors, but usually those just involve being close to me, not even touching but laying at my feet usually. I do want to teach him not to lean, not because it bothers me, but because we are expecting a new addition to our family and I want to start teaching him early so he doesn’t try to rub against our baby or later our small child and knock them over. I have a 2 year old niece though and we have never seen him even try it with her. Any suggestions? 🙂

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Sometimes dogs are really gentle around small kids and won’t push them over, so hopefully your dog will have that instinct, too.

      One thing you can do is to make sure never to give your dog attention when she leans on you. Ask others to do the same. Either get up and move away or tell her to go lie down and stay on a dog bed. Usually dogs will learn to stop a behavior if they are not rewarded for it. It will take time and consistency, of course, which is not easy!

  19. Other peoples dogs (who I don’t know) have leant on me! Just walked up and rested their hips on my feet while I was talking or just sat next to me on the beach and then put their weight to one side to lean on me!
    I like to think they just feel comfortable around me..!

  20. I have two labs 1 year old they both lean on me and rub their heads and bodies on me. Sometimes they lift a paw and put it on my leg like theyre giving me a hug and they both do this strange bow everytime they see me. Literally everytime, they cant need to stretch that much can they? The downward dog. They lick me non stop and follow me all through the house more so than anyone else. They wait outside my door everymorning and try to get in my lap or nudge the other out of the way when i sit down. They dont fight but is this normal? The girl loves to lick me then lay on my feet or sleep against me. Is this territorial?

  21. Sounds like the are just really attached to you. They want to be near you, either for affection or security or both. The bow is usually a playful greeting.

    None of this is a problem unless they are bothering you or if they have issues when separated from you.

  22. I picked up my dog from the pound. After listening to Cesar Milan types and his show I thought my dog putting his paw on my leg was dominance related. So I put my hand on his paw, at which time a staring contest ensued until the dog gave up. But 2 minutes later he did it again. Well I was going to be consistent and dominant, so I repeated. And so it went for two hours, until he pissed the floor. Apparently his former owner trained him to sit and put one paw on her lap when he needed a walk. 🙂

  23. We used to have a greyhound and she would lean on us when new ppl were invited to the house.

    I was reading an article about greyhounds today which mentioned this was a particular tendency of theirs.

    Your article was interesting; I was wondering if one should always discourage the leaning in these cases – we normally reacted by absentmindedly fondling her ears – wasn’t it better that she was with us albeit leaning, than hiding in bed?

  24. We adopted a pitbull over 3 years ago and do not know anything about her background other than that she was found on the street. With that said, she has always been an attention hoarder. It never matters how much or how little attention you give her, she always wants more. One action that stands out is that she constantly wants to put her bum on you. She wants to sit her bum directly on your feet if you are sitting or standing, she will climb into your lap if you are sitting on the floor but climbs “out” only to leave her rear-end in your lap, she does not do a lot of face time and prefers to have her butt in your direction instead.

    Should we reward only the face time and ignore all of the times she wants to put her bum on/near you?

    Last, if you give an inch she will take a mile. If I give her some snuggle time when we get up in the morning, start our morning routine, then head off to work, then give her some more lovings in the afternoon, she will still chew something the next day. (chewing is rare but it seems to happen when I try to give more loving than less.) Or if we go for a long walk with other friends and their dogs she will still be under your feet for the rest of the day. It just feels as though she will crawl into your skin if she could, she just cannot get enough attention.

    We have an infant at home who is crawling and standing, and our dog does the same thing: butt is all up in the baby’s business or tries to sit on her. (it should go without saying that we do not leave the dog alone with the baby.) And it also happens with guests and we are constantly trying to get her to stop because the attention is not always wanted; or having her bum all over you.

    Sorry for the novel, I just came across your blog and enjoyed reading this entry! I have mentioned this to the vet in the past but they have no response or suggestions. Any help would be very appreciated!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      It sounds like this contact makes her feel more secure. With her back to you, and touching you, she feels safe.

    2. I have this same problem with one of our dogs. In this case it is creature comforts and not attention he craves. If you give this dog a finger, he will take a hand. If you give him your hand, he would eat your forearm too. It is seriously bad. I have come to the conclusion that he is just a demanding, pushy little dog. In your case, you have a Pitt and it sounds like her/his? pack instinct is really strong. Maybe get another dog and give them the run of the yard?

  25. Our mastiff is leaning on us more as he gets older, but im pretty sure its just because it makes it easier to stand with his arthritis. He also sits on our feet when we’re outside, but we have worked out that its only when its cold, and our feet keep his backside warm!

  26. My dog usually leans on me when im standing up doing the dishes or when shes eating, she will grab some food in her mouth then back up into my legs { so her body is up against mine} its as if she needs to know that im still there, and that im not going anywhere while shes busy eating her dog chow thats just my opinion on the subject. I think it all depends on your dogs personality

  27. This was a very good article. My dog is a “leaner” and I agree it is very situational. Most times he leans because he wants a good butt scratch or he is telling me that it is time to PLAY!!! In the morning he sits on my chest while I am sleeping which means, “Dude, get your lazy ass up because I really have to pee.”

    I generally tolerate his leaning because I know he is trying to tell me something and has limited means of doing so. I never have had the sense of domination as he knows his place.

    I guess I agree with the author’s point that you just can’t take a behavior and say it means one thing. Sometimes my dog licks me for a bonding experience and sometimes it is because I have BBQ sauce on my fingers!

  28. My 6-month old GSD puppy Merlin also does this leaning thing. If I’m sitting on a couch reading or watching TV he’ll come right up and sit leaning into me and sometimes put his head on my lap. His ears are usually folded all the way back and the tip of his tail will be twitching. I sometimes pet him sometimes ignore him…he does that for a little while and will go back to whatever he was doing. He does this mostly with me, sometimes with my husband but never with my 7-yr old son. I have noticed something weird, he is totally fine with me handling him, bathing, grooming etc, but he gets very anxious when I’m sitting on the floor and kinda pull him down for a cuddle. He immediately starts resisting, becomes hyper and sometimes puts his teeth on me, though he never bites, it more like trying to push me away. Is this normal? I have been patient with him on this and am trying to get him to be comfortable, but he is not showing any change. I dont want him to behave like this if I take him to the vet since he’s getting really big now. How can I get him to stop this behaviour. I spoke to a few professional trainers and was told he is dominant although his body language the rest of the time is anything but dominant….ears back, head down when approaching, does not block way or try to push his way thru the door first, listens to commands, gets up and moves out of the way when I approach. I’m pretty confused.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      He doesn’t sound dominant to me either. I think you’re doing the right thing by slowly pushing his comfort level when sitting on the floor and handling him. Maybe just try this for a few minutes each day. He may be showing slow progress that you don’t even realize.

      If necessary, don’t hesitate to consult with a different trainer who can come observe him.

      1. Thanks, Lindsay. I’ll keep working with him, hopefully he’ll make some headway :). I find your blog very hands-on in terms of you using examples from your life with your dog. Keep it up!

  29. I have a 9 mo old male Pitt/rottweiler mix that is a heavy leaner. At first I thought he was trying to establish dominance, because we also have an 8year old female Pitt that we’ve had since she was born. After reading this I’m not so sure. He’s bigger than our girl now & getting bigger. He leans on everyone who pets him & is knocking people off balance. It’s not an aggressive lean, people will reach to pet him, & he slowly starts to lean, then before you know it all his weight is against you, so I stop petting & ignore him until his weights is off me, then I’ll give him attention again, & within 45 seconds he’s on me again, with the exception of my 2yr old daughter, he doesn’t lean on her, so that shows me that he knows not to do it to her. He’s a good dog, any other suggestions on how to stop him from knocking company over.? He gets when they tell him to, but he wouldn’t have to “get” if he didn’t lean on so many people.

  30. My Jack Russell literally stands up on his back legs and slams the bedroom door shut when i am trying to get ready to go to work in the morning. what does that mean?

  31. Here is some insight into the leaning thing. I don’t let my dogs lean on me.


    Imagine you and I are standing next to each other in the middle of the lawn. I go over to you, and lean on you.

    What just happened?

    Yeah … I just knocked you off balance.

    Yes, this is a dominance thing. 100%.

    Insecure dogs still want to be in control. They are testing you, and your boundaries, to see if they can knock you off balance, or claim your space.

    Sorry to say.

    I say “NO” to leaning on me for another reason … it knocks my knee slightly out of alignment if a 60 pound dog drops her weight on me. I am 5’5″ and the “thrust” of the dog’s strength is about at my knee level if s/he is 2′ off the ground. If s/he starts wiggling add insult to injury. I have fibromyalgia and it can take me longer to recuperate from this small stuff, than it takes for other people.

    People don’t seem to realize just how strong and tough dogs are. We act like these are fragile, sensitive creatures, but that is largely because we think of them as extensions of ourselves, and we in a lot of ways are fragile and sensitive creatures. But here is a hint … My 60 lb dog could kill me in one take.

    To return the favor, would take me a lot more time.

    We underestimate dogs.

    I don’t let them lean on me, because they are:

    1. invading my space.
    2. being pushy (literally)
    3. causing a potential injury to ME.

  32. My German shepherd leans for attention which is something I want to wean him of. He also shoves his head between your legs when he has a head halter on that he really really wants off. My little Yorkie leans for security. If another dog is bothering him, and he is leaning on me, that’s my fault. It’s my job to protect my pack family from other dogs and keep them safe, which makes him more secure. Although he also leans on me when I put on his big scary raincoat. After a few seconds, a rub, and a tiny training session and treat he is all good 🙂

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      You know, I hadn’t really thought about it before in relation to leaning, but my dog leans and rubs on people to get his Gentle Leader off too. This is really annoying, and I’ve never really been firm about it. I usually just ignore it or even pet him! Next time he does it I’m going to gently but firmly tell him “no” and then ask him to sit and reward that behavior instead.

  33. I have 4 dogs in which 2 display that behavior. My boxer male tries to be dominant among all of us including the other dogs. When he leans on me I push him away. My other dogs a female lab mix leans on me when she is scare or other people are around me. I feel she is insecure and scared. I allow her to lean on me for a while then I gently push her away a few feet.

  34. My dog (Pit/Lab) leans on me all the time for different reasons. And I think Cesar’s message (That guy is great!) is know your dog. Sometimes my dog growls at me when we play….totally different than if he growls at the kids when he’s sleeping. And before anyone chimes in about “it’s never ok for him to growl at Alpha”….sure it is, so long as he stops when I say so. As far as the leaning goes….yeah..when it thunders or there are fireworks…he leans…and drools. Unfortunately I never had a thunder room to break him. But other times, he just wants to be pet. Leans, scratch head, then he flops down and presents his belly to be scratched. That’s not dominant at all….just wants a pet.

  35. my dog who is part lab part idk what lol, will climb onto my lap pushing agaisnt my body, then lick my face/neck then lay down on top of me anytime i sit on the floor…sometime if i sit in a chair but always if i sit on the floor or steps. idk why. could someone explain please. i just hug him and kiss him and tell him how much i love him.

  36. So, I had picked up my dad from work with my mom and my dog meeka ran out excited as usual. I always get jealous because I LOVE dogs and her! We went inside and she got her toy and brought it to the table, I went to her and sat on the table when she was standing up and I was sort of at her side. She leaned on me and looked at me… why? What does that mean? Btw I’m 11 so.. yeah.

  37. I was coming home from picking up my dad from work and my dog meeka was all excited and ran out to greet him. After that we went inside and she got her toy and ran to the front of the table. I went and sat on the table and I was sort of sitting on the table by her side. She was looking at me and leaned against me.. what does that mean? Please tell me. Btw I’m 11.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Sounds like affection or she may be a little protective of you. When is she aggressive? And towards who?

  38. I have a semi new chocolate lab and German Shepherd mix. He’s a sweet, intelligent, hyper, playful, energetic, strong, and much more! He’s about a year old and he walk’s glued to our side, and will follow us everywhere we go. He wants to be with our family at all time’s. His leaning has become a small concern lately, as he’s a very large, strong, super hyper dog. I’m afraid he’ll end up hurting someone, especially our 11 yr old daughter without meaning to. Why does he feel the need to walk as if glued to our side? He’s also a very protective dog. Thanks in advance for your two cent’s. ☺

  39. I can’t find information on a certain bowing behaviour. My dog and I do the playful bow, at each other, to start most of our fun and games. But, my dog has another bow I can’t find information on. He walks up to me, bows his head, places it against my shins, sighs and may or may not wag his tail. He sometimes bows so low as to place his muzzle on my feet, with his shoulders against my shins. He’s a very affectionate boxer mix, who loves hugging and being always by my side.

  40. Hi, I have a French Bulldog, he’s 27lbs and 8 months old (neutered as well). Often when we’re alone and laying down he’ll lay by my side but lean most of his weight on in. He never really looks at me just rather takes a nap or is chewing on his bone. But there are times when I’m standing and around other family he’ll walk past me but lean all his weight on me for a moment (if he catches you off guard it’s enough to make you stumble a bit as if he’s pushing as well) before walking away and doing other things, He does the same to my mom and her roommate. Or if we’re sitting in chairs and he walks by us he makes sure to lean all his weight on one or two of us before continuing onto his business. If I’m sitting on the floor, at his level, he’d do the same but basically stands next to me and pushes all his weight against me as he leans. He never gets aggressive and is distracted as soon as someone calls him or invites him for some petting. Any clue on what this may mean? He does have moments where he scurries away from my mom and roommate to find me and lean on me in that “U-shape” against my leg but this is the only time he actually looks up at me in which I pet him a few times, he’ll stop leaning on me but continue standing next to me until he’s decides to walk away again (I think this matches the security bit mentioned in the article but doesn’t seem related to his random leaning on everyone). I’m starting to wonder if he is having issues with dominance/power?

  41. My dog Holly loves to lean on people. Even when we have guests Holly will chose to lean on the guest and not us (the owners) Holly will also lean on your feet when people are standing still or have their feet on the floor.

  42. I have a Boxer Bulldog mix, he is about 4 months old. I got him when he was six weeks old. From day one he likes to be right under my feet. When I take him out to do his business he will walk between my legs almost tripping me in the process. After he takes care of business he will come back to where I’m standing walk between my legs and either stand there or sometimes sit between them. He does the same with my wife. I have been trying to find out more about this behavior. Can anyone explain why he does this. I have some ideas but not sure if they are correct.

  43. My GSD is a leaner. First thing in the morning, she always leans in for snuggles. But she’s also very leash reactive. When I take her for a walk and she’s sees other dogs, she leans her whole body into me — almost wrapping around me — all while barking at the other dog. Is that out of fear? Protection? How can we break her of that?

      1. oh no 🙁 I used to take her to doggy daycare a few days a week. I wonder if that would help her again…

  44. lean on me – if your not strong – I’ll be your friend – as you have been mine every minute of your furry life!

  45. Gill Vlahovic

    My insecure young dog has a habit of barging into me on walks. It’s more than a lean in my opinion. I am presuming it is a sort of power thing but I don’t know and tbh I don’t know how to react to it. There is nothing to make him feel insecure when he does it (I don’t think) and it is a real shove rather than a lean. He does this several times.

  46. I’m always amazed at the arrogance of humans to decide what the motive is behind animal behavior. That Cezar Milan guy seems to be a little too focused on interpreting everything as dominant behavior. I’ve never seen leaning as anything but trying to get close to a person the dog trusts. I went to the shelter to retrieve my dogs, and one of the shelter dogs was being walked. I sat and talked with the lady that was taking a particular dog for exercise, and the dog sat on my foot and leaned against my leg. She likely was doing it because I was safe, and I was paying attention to her. How anyone can interpret that as being dominant is amazing.

  47. My Lucy will go between my legs when she sees a lot of dogs somewhere or doesn’t like the situation. She does lean in on me when she wants attention, if I’m walking her and stop to talk to somebody she will either lean on me or nudge me. I tell her no She’s like a child then and I ignore her. It really is funny. Other times the lean is for affection. Then of course there’s the security one but then we’ll be hiking and she’s in between growling. I like to say hello to anybody ahead of me of coming at me so she knows they’re friendly.

  48. I’m pet sitting a friends three dogs. I have been watching them for 5 weeks, with two more weeks to go. They are great dogs.. but there is one that is driving me crazy. She is about 18-months old, was a stray that my friend rescued (at birth). She’s sweet little dog, however she wants to SIT on everyone. I have three dogs, she literally moves from one dog to another sitting on TOP of them. She leans on me, tries to sit on me. I have yet, in five weeks seen her actually sit somewhere on her own. If you try to move her, she is dead weight and fights against it. The other dogs will growl, bite at her.. but she is relentless.. they move, and she moves on to the next dog. What is going on???

    1. She is establishing her place in the pack. She knows she is strong and she is using it to let all of you know she is boss. And it is working because the other dogs eventually submit. If you are a visitor, you might not want to disrupt her behavior because that’s the nature of dogs. But the owners should not allow her to lean on them or other humans on the house. That’s why it’s not wise to let dogs on furniture especially with children in the home or a potential baby being born because they WILL lay on them and even though it’s cute… they are seeing where the dominant pack leader draws the lines. They will register that if the alpha allows children on furniture and not me… then their rank must be higher than mine… and they are good with that. Well, once it sinks in. And they will still protect all members of the pack. That’s how they work.

  49. The reason Cesar is good is because he doesn’t humanize dogs. They don’t think like us. When we say oh they just want love or attention… we are saying why we think another human would behave like that. If you watch the way dogs treat other dogs, you would understand. My dogs fight for my attention. When they lean on me it’s often to say, “She is mine.” When they lean against each other, it’s often after one of them has lost a fight and the dominant one will lean on the loser. People have to stop thinking of dogs as humans. You are part of their “pack”. They protect you, seek your attention, and behave for you because you have established you are the alpha. They are perfectly fine knowing their rank in the pack… even if it’s at the bottom. They “love you” because you are their pack leader, you feed them, you work them. If you allow a dog to tell you what they want from you, you are being trained by them. And that IS dominance. On a walk, you walk them, you don’t let them walk you and tell you which way to go. It’s especially important with large breeds, because in many cases, if they feel like they can tell you what to do or what they want and you allow it… the time you try to gain control they can try to put you in your place. Don’t assume a dog thinks like you.

  50. ..I just read another person’s account of their large breed St Bernard leaning on them….well, I have a Bernese Mountain Dog, a breed notorious for leaning, or sitting on your foot….our breeder told us of this, and said that BMD’s are very needy…..I went into this, fully understanding that, and my second BMD is exactly the same!!!….leaning is not an issue for me at all….I love it, and understanding the breed you have helps how you manage the behaviour….once I have hugged her, I tell her “all done”, and she walks away…everyone, people AND dogs, needs a hug now and again, and it works for us!!!

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