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.
Leaning 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.
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”
Blog Posts by Category
- Training or “Why, Why, WHY?”
- Behavior or “What the heck?”
- Informational or Doggie Demographics
- Care and management or living together in harmony
- Philosophy of training or “Why be positive?”
- Toy Box or stuff that doesn’t fit neatly elsewhere
- Plato’s Forms Explained in Terms of Dogs. May 16, 2019
- Puppy Vaccinations: How they work and why your pup needs so many. April 1, 2019
- Does your dog bark, lunge, snarl, or growl when on leash? You are not alone! March 1, 2019
- Aging With Canines February 8, 2019
- Sometimes it is the dog, not the owner. January 16, 2019