Why Do Dogs Lean on People?

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
fast facts

Lean on me… when you need a pat on the head! Have you ever met a dog that likes to saddle up next to you and lean on your leg? What’s up with that?

Sometimes dogs do strange things and, most of the time, there isn’t any obvious rhyme or reason to it – dogs will be dogs. There are some adorably strange behaviors that dogs exhibit that have a specific reason. One of our favorites has to be when dogs lean on people. Let’s talk about why they do it.

Theories about Dogs Leaning on People

Because dogs can’t just open their mouths and tell us why they do certain things, animal behaviorists have to take their best guess. In the case of dogs leaning on people, many experts say that dogs do it out of a desire to be close to their humans.

Related: The Basics About Dog Body Language

Dogs are fairly social creatures by nature and many breeds have a high need for physical contact and attention. A small-breed dog can simply hop into your lap when he feels like cuddling but, for larger dogs, leaning against your leg may be as close as they can get. Some dogs lean gently against their owner’s legs for a little bit of comfort but others will lean with the full force of their bodyweight.

Though many experts suggest that this type of leaning behavior is an expression of affection, some suggest that it may be a display of dominance. For the most part, however, theories of canine dominance have been disproven – it is no longer commonly believed that some dogs have dominance as a personality trait or that dogs do certain things to take advantage of their humans.

If a dog learns that a certain behavior elicits a desirable response he will be more inclined to repeat it, but dogs are not inherently manipulative in the way that old theories of canine dominance suggest. The fact of the matter is that if your dog learns that leaning against your leg encourages you to pet him, he will be more inclined to keep doing it.

Related: 6 Bizarre Ways Our Dogs Talk to Us

Should You Be Concerned About this Behavior?

For the most part, leaning is a harmless behavior in dogs – the worst thing that could happen is that you might become a little uncomfortable and need to change positions. If your dog starts to display this behavior more often, it could be a sign that he isn’t getting as much attention as he needs or wants. If you dislike this behavior, the best way to discourage it is to simply get up and walk away when your dog does it. If he learns that leaning on you doesn’t get him what he wants, he’ll be less likely to do it in the future.

If it’s just a question of more love, we say let your dog lean in. And if he does it to other people, make sure they’re comfortable with this canine show of affection. More than likely, they will be more than happy to share the love with your leaning dog.

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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