Why does my dog lay his head on me?

For most people, it is a lovely feeling when your dog comes and lays his head on you. The majority of us enjoy this kind of interaction with our pets, but you may also be wondering why he does it. What does your dog get from it or what is he hoping to achieve? Here we look at the reasons why your dog may lay his head on you.

Reasons why your dog might lay his head on you

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1. For warmth

Your dog may want to lay his head on you for warmth and comfort. Snuggling up against you and putting his head in your lap will mean that he can share your body heat. You might find your dog wants to be close to you during cold weather, or because he’s very young or old and needs to feel extra cozy.

2. For protection

Some dogs will want to stay close to you for protection. As the alpha of the pack your dog looks to you for safety and security, so laying his head on you gives him that extra reassurance.

Alternatively, your dog may be wanting to protect you. They may see you as vulnerable and want to keep an eye on you. While this behavior can initially seem endearing, just be careful that it doesn’t escalate. Some dogs will show signs of aggression when other family members get too close to you, for example, which is not acceptable.

3. For affection

dog-shows-affection

They may do it because they love you! This is the nicest reason of all, with your dog just wanting to show his affections for you. Dogs are not able to cuddle as such, so laying a hand or a paw on you is their way of bonding with you. They may show affection to their primary caregiver more than other members of the family (the person that walks them and feeds them).

4. To communicate a need

Sometimes your dog may be trying to tell you something. By laying his head on you and looking at you with those big eyes, he could be trying to communicate a need to you. Common ones include needing to go out to the toilet, wanting to play, wanting to be stroked, and begging for food.

Sometimes this behavior can become a bit irritating if your dog is persistent and won’t settle. Keeping your dog well exercised and stimulated during the day should mean he’s less likely to pester you when you come to sit down in the evening.

5. Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is an issue that some dogs can suffer from. These dogs will usually not want to leave your side and can be very distressed when you leave them. They will often follow you around the house and want to be as close as possible to you. This can start to become a bit wearing, and for your dog, it can be quite stressful living in the fear that he could be left on his own.

You will need to work on training your dog to be happy to be left in his own company as this problem can get worse, with anxious dogs often becoming vocal and destructive.

How to discourage your dog from laying his head on you

While for many pet parents it may not be a problem to have their dog laying their head on them, for others it could be a concern. If your dog is persistent or it feels like they are pestering you the whole time rather than being affectionate, then you may want to consider the following steps to help improve the situation.

Crate train using positive reinforcement

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Crates can give some dogs the security and comfort that they might be craving, providing a safe and quiet space. The crate must be the right dimensions for your dog, allowing them enough space to stand and sit up in as well as lie down and stretch out. You should never use the crate as a place of punishment otherwise your dog may develop an aversion to it. Follow these steps to help gradually introduce your dog to a crate:

  • Start by making it welcoming with comfy soft bedding and his favorite toys inside. Position the crate somewhere draft-free.
  • Make sure the door is secured open so that it doesn’t swing shut and scare him while he is getting used to the crate.
  • Start by throwing treats inside it, and praise him if he enters it.
  • You could increase the amount of time he spends in the crate by feeding him his meals in there.
  • Once he is comfortable going into his crate, try gently closing the door for very short periods. If your dog becomes distressed, stop and let him out. Build up the time gradually.
  • It is useful to teach your dog to accept the crate door being shut, as you may wish to transport him in it from time to time (e.g., car journeys). Otherwise, it is likely the crate door will just remain open at home so that he has free access in and out.
  • Remember, the crate is your dog’s safe space so don’t allow people to bother him when he’s in there, or climb in the crate with him. Small children will be particularly tempted to do this, so set boundaries.

Don’t reinforce the behavior

You may be accidentally encouraging the behavior. If you are absent-minded and stroke your dog when they lay their head on you, or you give them a treat, then you are reinforcing the behavior. Your dog has been rewarded and will therefore continue to do it.

Instead, you should ignore your dog, or get up calmly and quietly and leave the room. If you repeat this enough your dog will get the message that you don’t want their head resting on you. Try and direct them to their bed with a command word too, so that they know what is expected of them. Remember to praise your dog when he does the right thing.

Consider what was going on when the behavior started

Try and think about how and when your dog first started this behavior. If it coincided with a scary event like fireworks or a thunderstorm then your dog may have developed anxiety. Seeking professional help may be a good idea to assist with any underlying issues. Things like calming pheromones and desensitization programs can be helpful.

Provide an alternative place for your dog to lie down

Make sure there is a good alternative for your dog. Ensure he has a comfortable bed or crate that is appropriate for his size and is in a cozy, draft-free area. Your dog may like to have his bed brought into the room that you’re in so that he can keep an eye on things, even if he’s not snuggled right next to you.

Reduce separation anxiety

If your dog has separation anxiety then you should concentrate on trying to help improve this. Dogs that can’t leave your side may start to show other undesirable behaviors like destroying things or howling and barking when they are left on their own. Even short periods of isolation can be stressful for these dogs.

You may need to get professional help to tackle the problem effectively. A qualified animal behaviorist may be necessary. As well as implementing a training program, make sure your dog is getting out regularly for walks and receiving lots of positive mental stimulation, as a dog that is tired and happy is less likely to suffer from behavioral issues.

Conclusion

The main reasons your dog will want to lay his head on you are for warmth, comfort, and to stay close to you. Some dogs may be trying to tell you something like they love you or they want you to do something for them. Most of the time this behavior is completely harmless but if you are worried that it points to a broader underlying issue then don’t hesitate to get some professional advice.

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