Why Do Some Dogs Lean on People?

Dog Leaning On Leg Of Man Sitting On Sidewalk Cafe
Frank Aguilar / EyeEm / Getty Images

Is your dog a leaner? She might stand or sit by your legs and put much of her weight on you. Leaning is common in dogs, especially large and giant dog breeds. Many dogs that lean also like to lie with part of their body against yours. Is this common behavior normal, or is it a sign of behavior problems?

Why Dogs Lean on People

The answer is as simple as it seems: dogs lean on people because they want to be close to them. By nature, dogs are social animals. Most dogs enjoy physical contact with their humans. While smaller dogs can be picked up and cuddled (which might be part of the reason they jump) bigger dogs do what they can to get close. Some dogs are so affectionate that it seems they are trying to somehow get inside of us! They lean in with all their weight. Some sit on our feet, sleep with their paws on us, and snuggle up on the couch or bed. 

Some sources claim that leaning is a sign of dominance in dogs. However, dog behavior experts have proven that the old canine dominance theories are incorrect. Dominance is not a personality trait. Dogs do not lean on us to assert any kind of dominance.

Some also say that leaning a way for dogs to take advantage of their humans. And while dogs can figure out how to elicit a certain response in us, it's not because they are manipulative. It's because we have shown them (perhaps inadvertently) that specific behaviors result in certain responses from us.  So, if you give your dog any kind of attention (good or bad) when she leans, then she will lean on you whenever she wants attention. 

In some cases, leaning may be a sign of fear or insecurity. It's true that dogs may cower or hide behind us when they are in fear, but that dog usually exhibits other signs of fear in addition to leaning. Dogs in need of confidence may be fearful or insecure. If you think this is the case with your dog, then it's best to ignore the leaning (don't encourage or discourage it). Use training to boost your dog's confidence.

Could Leaning Be a Problem?

Leaning is a harmless behavior in dogs. In general, leaning on people is not a considered a behavior problem unless it really bothers you. If you really hate it when your dog leans on you, simply walk away when she does it. Give her absolutely no attention until she stops leaning. Eventually, she will probably figure it out. If you need help with this and other training, consider hiring a dog trainer.

Some dogs try to be in physical contact with their humans as much as possible, even going so far as to follow their humans around the house. When this happens constantly, the behavior could be a sign of separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety typically experience severe anxiety when you leave them alone, but many begin to work up this anxiety if they suspect you might be leaving the house soon. Some dogs cannot bear to have you out of their sight. If you think your dog suffers from separation anxiety, talk to your veterinarian about your concerns. Your vet might refer you to an animal behaviorist for help. Your vet or veterinary behaviorist may also prescribe medication, though this is ideally the last resort.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.