Why does my dog lay on me?

It is very common for dogs to lay on their owners and there are many possible reasons why they might show this behavior. 

Since their domestication around 30,000 years ago, dogs have developed a range of behaviors designed to maintain a close proximity to humans as a species. This is because the success of their species is arguably dependent on them maintaining the close bond with our own. 

Such behaviors include those that preserve and nurture the strong relationship between dogs and humans by facilitating communication and satisfying the instinctive need in both species for warmth, companionship and security

Despite the close bond we have with dogs, communication barriers still exist- mainly due to the fact that we communicate verbally and dogs predominantly rely on body language to tell us what they are thinking. 

They can learn some of our words and we can learn the meaning of some of their behaviors, but often it can be difficult to interpret what their behavior really means. 

You may have wondered why does my dog always lay on me? and there can be many possible explanations. 

In this article we will look at the reasons your dog may lay on you, when it is nothing to worry about, when it may be a problem and what you can do about it.

Table of Contents

1. To show you affection

The most common reason a dog will lay on its owner is to have a cuddle. Dogs genuinely love to be fussed by humans and they provide affection in return.

We cannot say for sure whether dogs experience love in the same way we do, but science tells us that both humans and dogs experience an increase in the hormone oxytocin when they interact. 

Oxytocin is associated with feelings of love and trust in humans and it is the hormone responsible for the development of the parent-child bond. 

When your dog lays on you, it is likely that he is being affectionate and seeking to strengthen the bond between you. Oxytocin release creates positive emotional state so cuddles are really beneficial for both you and your dog.

2. Warmth and comfort

Staying safe and warm is key to survival and all species have evolved strategies to avoid danger and maintain the correct body temperature. Many animals will huddle together to keep warm and dogs are no different. 

To a dog, a human is a giant hot water bottle and it is no surprise they enjoy snuggling up with us, especially when the temperature drops. Smaller dogs, senior dogs and those with short coats are more likely to feel the cold and seek additional warmth by laying on you. 

Dogs also feel safer when they snuggle up with us and they may lay on you as a source of comfort

This often happens at night, so if you’ve found yourself lying awake in bed wondering why does my dog sleep on me? the answer is probably because your dog feels warm and incredibly safe when sleeping on you. 

If you have recently got a new puppy and you’ve noticed that they like to sleep on you, this is no surprise. Puppies snuggle up to their mother and littermates to feel warm and safe and when they leave their mother, they seek the same comfort from their owner.

3. Attention seeking behavior

Have you ever got home from a day at work, flopped down on the sofa and your dog has immediately jumped on your lap? 

If Fido has been at home on his own all day, it is likely that he is craving attention and as soon as you sit down he sees this as his opportunity to get the attention he needs. 

A nice long fuss on your lap may be all he needs to feel better, much like a child hugging a parent when they get home from school.

If your dog lays on you a lot and you don’t think he simply wants a cuddle, it is worth considering whether this is a sign that his needs are not being met. 

If a dog’s requirement for adequate attention and positive interaction, physical exercise and mental stimulation are not being met, they will find ways to tell you. If your dog lays on your chest staring at you, this may be attention seeking behaviour. 

Why does my dog lay its head on me? This is another common way for a dog to get your attention. This can become a learned behaviour and as soon as your dog learns that laying on you or staring at you is the most reliable way to get your attention, he will continue to do it.

Of course, if your dog is laying on you and staring at you, it may just be that he is telling you it’s dinner time!

4. Insecurity and anxiety

Sometimes laying on you can be a sign that your dog is a little insecure and is reliant on your presence to feel safe. 

This can also be associated with separation anxiety so you notice your dog lays on you a lot, follows you around the house and is generally quite clingy, it would be a good idea to video his behavior when you go out to make sure he isn’t becoming stressed when left alone. 

Rescue dogs can often be insecure and can develop very strong attachments to their new owners, wanting to maintain close proximity at all times and they may lay on their owner frequently to help them feel safe.

If your dog is specifically anxious about something, they may lay on you for reassurance. 

Owners of dogs who are scared of fireworks or thunderstorms often report that their dog lays on them while they are feeling anxious. If your dog does come to you to seek comfort during fireworks, it is absolutely fine to comfort and reassure them. 

Contrary to popular belief, you will not make your dog more scared or reinforce their fear by comforting them. If you stay calm and provide the safety and security that your dog needs, this will help him feel better when he is anxious.

5. Guarding behavior

Sometimes, dogs may lay on their owners because they are guarding them from other dogs or people in the household. Guarding behavior can be quite subtle. 

You may notice your dog quickly jump on your lap when another dog approaches, or your dog may lay on your lap with a fixed stare at the other dogs in the room. This behavior is designed to tell the other dogs not to approach. 

This staring behavior may escalate to laying on you and growling or even snapping when other dogs or people approach. If your dog shows this behavior, the first step is to work out why.

Dogs can develop guarding behavior as a result of feeling unwell, because they feel anxious or threatened, or because there is increased competition for resources such as human attention or comfy resting spots. 

If your dog has only recently starting laying on you and guarding you from other dogs or people, a vet check would be a good idea to rule out pain or other medical causes of the behavior. 

Try to avoid telling your dog off for this behaviour- punishment increases anxiety and could in fact make guarding behavior worse. Work on ensuring the dog’s needs are being met and try to identify the triggers for the behavior so you can avoid it happening in the first place. 

If the behavior continues to be a problem, seek help from a qualified canine behaviorist.

6. Breed specific behavior

Some breeds are more likely to lay on their owners than others. Different breeds were bred for different purposes and some dog breeds were simply bred to be companions. 

These include Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Pekingese, Maltese and Coton du Tulear and dogs of these breeds are likely to be found laying close to or on their owners. Of course, dogs of other breeds will also lay on their owners, especially if they have a good relationship with them.

Small, short coated breeds such as chihuahuas and dachshunds will often lay on their owners to seek warmth. 

Dogs of certain personalities are also more likely to lay on their owners and this is not always related to size- there are many large and hairy dogs who like to be lap dogs, I’m sure many owners of Saint Bernards will agree!

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FAQs

Why does my dog sit on top of me? Is he being dominant?

Many owners worry that their dog is trying to be dominant if he lays on them or tries to sit on top of them. The good news is that this is very unlikely.

It used to be believed that dogs, like wolves, were constantly striving to increase their rank within the pack. This theory has now been disproved as we now know that wolf social structure is much more complex and is based on cooperation far more than dominance-related conflict. 

Dog behavior changed with the process of domestication and as a species they strive to live in co-operative harmony with humans. When dogs show aggression or other unwanted behaviour, this is often due to their needs not being met or them not coping with a particular situation. 

This often leads to misinterpretation of their behavior as ‘dominant’ due to outdated canine behavior theories. The reality is, if your dog is sitting on top of you it is far more likely to be comfort seeking or attention seeking behavior than striving to be ‘top dog.’

Should I stop my dog laying on me?

If your dog is laying on you to show affection, for warmth, comfort or security, there is no need to stop them laying on you. This would be classed as normal dog behavior. 

If you stopped them laying on you, in some cases it could cause more problems as you will be taking away an important source of comfort and security and this may lead to a dog becoming more anxious and needy. 

If your dog is laying on you as an attention seeking strategy, try to work out what is driving this behavior and rectify the problem. 

For example, if your dog has pent-up energy due to a lack of exercise and is laying on you to try to initiate some interaction, increasing his exercise and mental stimulation should reduce the attention seeking behavior.

If your dog is laying on you and guarding you from other dogs or people, it is important not to let your dog rehearse this behavior as it may get worse over time. 

Part of the solution may be to stop your dog laying on you if there are other dogs or people around. It may be better to encourage him to lay in a dog bed instead and make sure you reward him any time he is not guarding you when there are other dogs around. 

If you do decide to stop your dog laying on you, make sure he is still getting the attention and physical contact he needs. If your dog laying on you and guarding you is a problem, it would be a good idea to seek the help of a qualified canine behaviorist.

Why do dogs lay on you? Final thoughts

As you can see, there are many reasons why your dog may lay on you, sit on you or rest his head on you. Most of the time this is normal dog behavior and he is simply communicating with you or showing you affection. 

Sometimes a dog laying on you can be a sign that their needs are not being met or it can be indicative of a more complex behavior problem. 

If you notice changes in your dog’s behavior and he is laying on you more than he used to, get him checked by a vet to make sure this behavior change isn’t due to him feeling unwell.

If your dog laying on you is associated with aggression or other challenging behaviors, ask your vet to refer you to a qualified canine behaviorist. Otherwise, next time your dog lays on you, just snuggle up and enjoy those canine cuddles!

You might also like: Why do dogs sleep on their backs? | Do dogs sleep with their eyes open? | Dog wagging tail in sleep: Doggy sleep questions answered

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