Dogs have lots of quirks and one of those might be putting his head on you, but what does this mean? While most people find this behavior quite sweet, it can occasionally point toward other underlying issues. Let’s explore this a bit further and look at some of the reasons why your dog might like to put his head on you.
What does it mean when a dog puts his head on you?
The following is a list of possible reasons why your dog might like to lay his head on you. Of course, he may also have his own reason that we don’t know about, but most will fall into one of the following categories.
1. Your dog is greeting you
This might be your dog’s way of acknowledging you and saying hello! Just like people have different ways of physically greeting each other through kisses, hugs, and handshakes, your dog may choose to greet you by putting his head on your lap. It’s a greeting that is hard to ignore, and most people will quite like their dog coming up to them in this way.
2. Your dog is “marking” you
Some dogs put their head on you as a way of claiming you. His natural scent will also rub off on your clothing, thereby “marking” you. He is showing others that you belong to him and can be a symptom of other protective-type behaviors.
While this can seem quite sweet, it actually has the potential to become a difficult situation, especially if your dog starts to show aggression. If he is growling or baring his teeth at family or friends that come close, then this is a potentially dangerous situation. Seek help if your dog is acting in this way.
3. Your dog is offering support
Dogs are quite attuned to their parents’ moods and emotions. Many dogs will offer comfort and support, especially if they can sense something is wrong. Most people would find this behavior very reassuring and it can help give them a much-needed boost if they are feeling down or unwell. It also shows what a close bond your pet has with you, and how much he respects and cares for you.
4. Your dog needs something/is seeking attention
It can be very hard to ignore a dog that has its head in your lap, especially a large or giant breed one! Some dogs will come and put their head in your lap if they need something. This could be because they want a walk, or to go out to the bathroom, or because they are begging for food.
Some dogs will just do it as a way of getting your attention. If putting their head on you generates a response of some sort, then you will be giving your dog attention. So, if they are bored or feeling neglected it can be a reminder that your pet is there and needs you.
5. Your dog is scared/anxious
Dogs that are feeling scared may want to be physically closer to their alpha, pack leader. The pack leader usually offers protection and guidance so if your dog is anxious then it makes sense that they would want to be near you. Some dogs may demonstrate this type of behavior when fireworks are being let off, or when there is a thunderstorm. Others may do it because they fear being left alone, which is a symptom of separation anxiety.
While putting his head on your lap is at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of problematic behaviors it is worth keeping an eye out for other issues. Some dogs with phobias will start to become unsettled, more vocal than normal, or show destructive behaviors in the house.
It can be worth contacting a qualified animal behaviorist for help and advice if your dog is showing symptoms of a wider problem. Disorders like separation anxiety can escalate, so nipping it in the bud early is well worth it.
As a general rule, making sure your dog receives lots of exercise and mental stimulation can help with many issues, as a tired happy dog is less likely to feel anxious.
6. You are rewarding the behavior
Sometimes we subconsciously reward the behavior, which drives some dogs to continually repeat it to get the same response. Most people will automatically stroke a dog that puts its head in your lap, or they might talk to him and praise him verbally. This drives your dog to do it time and time again.
This is no bad thing, as long as you don’t mind your dog putting his head in your lap. Most people see it as a good form of interaction, and better than a boisterous dog that is jumping up and pawing at you.
7. Your dog is testing limits
Your dog may be trying different things out to see what behavior is acceptable or not. This is particularly true of puppies who are learning social etiquette. Most pet parents won’t mind their dog putting his head on them, but if the behavior bothers you then you should gently let your dog know what is acceptable.
Try and give your dog a command word like “bed” and direct him from you towards his bed instead, praising him if he does the right thing. Ignoring your pet can also work sometimes. Not rewarding him with any head stroking or verbal attention may mean that he soon tires of putting his head on you. If he’s still not getting the message then a firm “no,” and standing up and moving away could help.
8. Your dog is feeling unwell
If your dog feels under the weather, he may become a bit more clingy than normal and in need of extra attention and cuddles. Putting his head on you may be one way that he can be comforted and is his way of letting you know that he is feeling a bit fed up. While on its own laying his head on you is not a symptom of ill health, if it accompanies other signs like lethargy, inappetence, vomiting, or diarrhea then you should call your veterinarian.
9. Your dog is seeking warmth
Some dogs want to be physically close to you because they enjoy your body heat. This is especially true during the winter months, especially in elderly and small dogs that struggle to maintain their temperature. You might also enjoy the heat you get back in return! Making sure he has his own cozy, draft-free bed can help counteract this behavior.
10. Your dog loves you
Very simply, your dog may put his head on you because he loves you and wants to be close to you. Dogs can’t show their affections in the same way that people do, so laying his head on you may be as close as he can get to hugging you. Most people can’t resist returning this affection with a head scratch or ear rub.
There are many reasons why your dog may like to put his head on you. In most cases, it is a sign of affection and a way of getting physically close to you, but occasionally it could be a symptom of an underlying behavioral or health complaint. If you notice anything about your pet that you aren’t sure about then contact your veterinarian for advice, but otherwise enjoy bonding with your pet and make sure to give him an extra ear rub or two!