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Why Do Dogs Like to Lean on Us?

One of my dogs, Max, is a big guy. When we're outside in the dog pen, he likes to come over and sit beside me. However, he doesn't just sit, he leans and if I'm standing up and not paying attention, he knocks me sideways because his lean is more of a flop against my legs. All of my dogs like to lean on me at times, but why do they snuggle up next to our legs or beside us on the couch?

Kelly, the matriarch of my dog family, will either sit beside me on the couch or climb onto my lap and lean against me. Then she lays her head on my arm or chest and melts my heart with her eyes as she gazes into mine. Some of the time, I know she's trying to butter me up for some CANIDAE Tidnips treats, but usually it's because she likes to cuddle whenever she gets the chance. Keikei and Riley are fond of sitting on my feet when I'm standing or sitting, which keeps my feet warm on a cold night.

Cuddling is one reason dogs lean against us, but think about how dogs, especially small dogs, see our world. It can be a pretty intimidating place for some canines. A dog that feels unsure of himself or is shy will press up next to your legs for security. A scared dog may move behind you and seek comfort knowing you are there to protect him. It's his way of saying you make him feel safe.

Dogs communicate with us on all levels and there's a reason for what they do. We are the ones that have trouble understanding what they are trying to tell us. But when you think about how we communicate with someone we care about, we respond in similar ways as dogs. How many times have you seen a small child hugging his mom's leg or leaning against her while she's chatting with someone. A shy child might peek out from behind his mom as he leans against her for safety. What parent hasn't had their child sit next to them on the couch or in their lap and lean up against them? Whether it’s for security or just to cuddle, it's the same reason why dogs lean on us – because we make them feel secure, and because they love us.

If your pet leans against your leg or sits in your lap because he's insecure or fearful, it's important not to give him attention that can reinforce his behavior, especially small dogs. As a pet parent, my job is to give my dogs a chance to be who they are as an individual and provide them with a sense of security when it's needed. But I also want them to be confident and able to deal with anything that comes their way and not look to me as a security crutch. Sometimes, they need to be allowed to work through their insecurities in order to learn nothing bad is going to happen to them. If I constantly reassured my small dogs it's OK if they act out in an aggressive way towards someone else or other dogs when they were scared or insecure, I'm giving them feedback that says I'm alright with their aggression, which I'm not. I expect my small dogs to behave just like the bigger ones and I want them to be independent. 

Some dogs find dog parks intimidating and lean on their owners legs while checking the other dogs out. Some canines just don't like being around a bunch of other dogs; it depends on their personality. As owners, we think dogs want to be around their own kind. If yours is hesitant at the park, encourage him to play, but don't beat yourself up if he doesn't want to. Keeping a dog socialized is important and going to the dog park is a good way to give him exposure to other pets. As long as he's not showing signs of fear or aggression, there's nothing wrong with a shy dog leaning against your legs for security. Be patient and give him time to work out his shyness on his own. Don't reassure him everything will be fine. Just let him watch as you move around the park and walk away if he becomes stressed. Try again later or when the park isn't as full. 

For most dogs, a lean is just their way of telling us how safe they feel when we're around. It's a relaxed gesture of satisfaction. And it's never a bad thing when your dog shows you how much he loves you by snuggling up next to you.
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