Why do dogs lean on people?

There are plenty of reasons why a dog would lean on her owner. I am oversimplifying things by listing only three.


Here are three possibilities:


Dogs lean on people for affection.


Most dogs love attention and affection. Leaning on us is just one way to seek that affection and connect with the person. We humans are good about giving dogs the affection they’re seeking!


Dogs lean on people for security.


A lot of insecure, shy or fearful dogs will lean into me if I’m a person they trust. They use me as a safety blanket. No one can sneak up behind them if they have their back to their safe person (me). No one can grab them.


Once, when one of my dogs was leaning into me, I remember someone telling me “Gosh, he’s so dominant!” But really, it was the opposite. My dog then was generally a very submissive and worried puppy. He felt safer getting as close to me as possible.


Even outgoing dogs need a little reassurance sometimes. Some dogs are always trying to do the “right” thing, and sometimes they’ll lean into me for (I assume) some reassurance. Like, “I’m doing OK, right?” This is when I pat him on the sides and tell him he’s being a good boy.


Dogs lean on people for control.


Our dogs do lean on us to manipulate us. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be about (dare I say it?) dominance. Simply, the dog wants attention, so he leans into you.



Is this insecurity? No, not in this case. Attention seeking? Yes. Controlling? Definitely.


Other examples of how dogs lean on us to control us:


  • The dog wants you to pet him instead of your other dog, so he leans into you.
  • The dog wants to remind you it’s time to eat, so he leans into you.
  • The dog wants to go outside, so he leans into you.


How do I stop my dog from leaning on me?


It’s not necessarily a bad thing if your dog leans on you. I don’t mind a bit when my dogs lean on me (unless they’s just jumped out of the water).


But maybe your dog leans on you a little too often or during inappropriate times. If you’re trying to sit and drink your coffee, you may not want your 70-pound dog backing his ass into you, for example.


Or maybe you’d just like to help your dog lessen her dependence on you. If your dog has separation anxiety, it’s a good idea to look for ways to create mild separation. Requesting him to stop leaning on you all the time would be a start!


No matter what your dog’s motivation is for leaning on people, it’s important to teach your dog some commands that communicate your need for space.


Dogs lean on us to communicate what they want, but it’s also important for them to respect our space. You wouldn’t want your boyfriend hanging on your arm all the time, would you? Our dogs don’t need to be touching us 24/7 either.


Useful commands all dogs should learn for creating space:


  • Teach your dog a command that means “go to your bed and stay there.” I use the command “go to your bed.”
  • Teach your dog down and stay so you can get him to lie down and stay at any time.
  • Teach your dog a command for “back up.” Tell him “back up” and to give you a few feet of space. Very useful!
  • Teach your dog a command for “out!” which usually means “Get you ass out of this room(ie the kitchen or bedroom)!”


In addition to these commands, you can also just get up and walk away from your dog if he’s leaning on you too often. Every dog is different, so you’ll want to think about your particular dog.


For example, if your dog is constantly leaning on you at the dog park, it’s probably because he’s overwhelmed. You can try stepping away from your dog (and it helps to keep moving), but if he’s still hiding between your legs, maybe you should try socializing him with just one or two dogs next time instead of 15.


Every dog is different, and it’s all about knowing your own dog. I’d love to hear what the rest of you think about this.