Lean on me…

Brad and Friend



As my faithful readers will attest, I love Reiner Veterinary Behavior and Consulting Services posts on Facebook. Their Tuesday’s Pearl is relentlessly wonderful. On August 25 of this year they posted this one about dogs leaning on their owners:

There are several reasons your dog might lean on you, but dominance is not one of them.


A question that comes up often in behavior appointments is, “Should I let my dog lean on me?” My answer is usually just another question: “Why not?”


Dogs are socially complex animals who communicate with each other, and with their humans, to convey a variety of needs and emotions. For social animals, it’s especially important to indicate to one another that no harm is intended, the situation is safe, and social connections are valued. Grooming another animal (seen more in primates and cats), playing and other positive interactions are known as ‘affiliative behaviors. They are the behavioral glue keeping the social group together.


IMG_1796Leaning is an example of an affiliative behavior. When a dog presses her head, body or butt into you, she’s most likely expressing affection, seeking attention, or trying to get you to put away your book and play, already.* In any case, the three motivations overlap. In my home it’s a rare day that I can watch a movie with my Aussie, Asher, climbing onto my lay and planting the side of his head into my face. I usually pause the movie and pay attention to him, in order not to suffocate.


IMG_1732Of course, if the outcome is favorable (the movie is paused, and kisses ensue), the behavior is reinforced and repeated. Leaning can therefore quickly become a learned behavior as well.


Even if social rank were relevant here (which it is not), it would only strengthen the argument that dogs are not interested in dominating their humans: affiliative behavior in wild social groups is more often  exhibited by the subordinate animal towards the dominant animal rather than the other way around. So if your dog leans on you, it must mean the opposite of dominance. But, really, this has zip to do with social rank, and much more to do with quirky affection. When dogs lean into us, we might as well submit to it.


Cue Bill Withers:

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on”

Hudson "cashews" into Emma

Hudson “cashews” into Emma


 *As I mentioned in my blogpost, Puppy Wiggle , I love to see dogs that curl in on themselves (or cashew) when greeting people. It is a form of leaning and most dogs who cashew will press up against, and look beseechingly at, the person they are adoring.

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  1. Great to know… Because it certainly always FEELS like they ‘re communicating love!!

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