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Why does my dog lay on top of me?

Though many of us find it adorable when our pup lays on the couch with us for a snuggle, it may not be appropriate for everyone, prompting the question “why does my dog lay on top of me?” This article will discuss some of the more common reasons for this behavior, including training techniques to discourage and direct your dog to more suitable alternatives if you choose…

Reasons why dogs lay on top of their pet parents

Canine behavior

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One of the most common reasons dogs like to cuddle up to and lie on their pet parents or other dogs is simply because it’s a natural canine behavior! Puppies instinctively pile up and snuggle together to keep each other warm before they’re able to regulate their body temperature. Even as adults, our dogs often continue to find comfort this way and will also seek out body heat to keep themselves warm.

Seeking comfort and affection

Your dog wouldn’t lie on top of you if they didn’t feel safe or comfortable. This means they have formed a strong bond with you and simply might be lying on top of you to show affection. As we previously learned, this is a natural behavior for dogs, providing both comfort and warmth.

If this is a new behavior that has started suddenly (especially if your dog doesn’t usually like close physical contact), it could also be that they’re feeling unwell and seeking comfort from you. In this case, it’s best to book an appointment with your veterinarian to get them thoroughly checked over. You may also notice other signs of illness or injury such as poor appetite, limping, weight loss, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Attention seeking behavior

When we give our dogs attention for performing a particular behavior they are likely to repeat it, especially when the reward is positive, like cuddles or treats. This is known as positive reinforcement. So if your dog has learned that they get belly rubs whenever they lie on top of you on the couch, they will want to do it again and again…

Communicating needs

Sometimes your dog is just trying to tell you what they need or want! It could be that your dog is craving a warm and comfortable bed and that’s why they’re choosing to lie with you on the couch. Or that they’re in pain and need more support or have difficulty lying down.

Remember as well that certain breeds have become more adapted to their roles as lapdogs over time and are more likely to want to sit or lie on their humans – Pomeranians, pugs, and Shih Tzu’s, I’m looking at you!

Protective behavior

Dogs that lay on top of their parents tend to be closely bonded to them, which is wonderful unless they start to become overly protective or territorial. Territorial aggression usually occurs at home and tends to be directed at other animals, visitors, or family members when they approach the person your pet is trying to protect. Signs of territorial aggression include:

  • Freezing
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Lunging
  • Chasing
  • Snapping or biting

These behaviors are not just distressing for your family and your pet, but they can also cause serious injury. If your dog is showing any of these signs, the best thing to do is consult a veterinarian or specialist in veterinary behavior as soon as possible. Early socialization as a young pup to lots of different people and visitors is the best way to prevent territorial aggression.

Separation anxiety

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Dogs that are very closely bonded with their pet parents may have difficulty coping when you leave the house or go away if they haven’t learned to be left alone. This is known as separation anxiety. This is not to say that your dog lying on top of you is a sign of separation anxiety or that it will cause it, just that having their own bed and space to settle in can help train your dog to be more independent.

Dogs with separation anxiety tend to show signs when their parents are leaving or have left the house. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to detect if there’s no one home to watch your pup! A pet monitoring camera can be used to see how your dog reacts, even if you aren’t sure there’s a problem.

Signs of separation anxiety in dogs include:

  • Pacing
  • Vomiting
  • Destructive behavior such as chewing on furniture
  • Toileting inside
  • Drooling
  • Barking, whining, or howling
  • Shaking

If your dog is showing any of these signs, it’s important to speak to a veterinarian or a specialist in veterinary behavior who will discuss a treatment plan. This will usually involve interventions like training your dog to be left for short periods of time and then building up, using positive reinforcement like interactive puzzle toys, and creating a safe space for your pup.

How to discourage your dog from laying on top of you

Though for many of us, having our pup lay on us to snuggle can be an enjoyable experience, it might not be so cute if your dog is a 120lb Irish Wolfhound! It can also be a problem if you have an injury, your dog is becoming overly attached to you, or it’s simply not a behavior you’d like to encourage.

1. Don’t reinforce the behavior

When your pet tries to lay on top of you, don’t push them down or yell – simply stand up slowly and quietly and walk out of the room if needed. Your pup will soon learn that they don’t get any attention (positive OR negative) from trying to jump up when you’re lying down. Research has also suggested that punishment-based training increases stress and may lead to anxiety issues in dogs.

Instead, reward them with a treat or praise when they are sitting quietly and any time they are settled on their bed or the floor. Essentially, ignore the behaviors you don’t want and reward the ones you do. This type of training is known as positive reinforcement and is the most effective and humane way to train dogs.

2. Provide an alternative place for your dog to lie down

If you don’t want your dog lying on top of you, you need to give them a comfortable alternative. If you have an older dog with arthritis, for example, they might prefer an orthopedic pet bed to give them extra support. Heated pet beds and those with raised sides are other great options if your pup likes to snuggle up and keep warm.

When your dog has settled or is trying out their new bed, reward them with praise or a few treats. You can also reinforce this behavior using the cue word “settle” or “bed” and start training your dog to go to their special spot on command.

3. Crate training

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Teaching your dog to settle inside a crate is another alternative and has the added benefit of keeping your pup secure overnight or if you need to leave the house briefly. It’s also an excellent way to toilet train dogs who, naturally, don’t want to dirty their sleeping quarters. The crate should be used as a safe space, like a den, where your dog has learned to spend quality time using positive reinforcement only, and never as a punishment.

Find more information on crate training here, or by asking your veterinarian.

4. Consider what was going on when the behavior started

If your dog laying on top of you is a new behavior try to think about any possible triggers that might be linked to it. Is your dog showing any other signs of illness or pain? Are they behaving abnormally? Have there been any major changes to their environment or household?

If so, your dog may be seeking comfort from you due to an underlying illness or injury, or due to a major change in their lives such as the loss of another pet. In this case, it’s always best to have them checked by a veterinarian, even if you aren’t sure or there are no other obvious signs.

5. Treat separation anxiety or any other behavior issues

If your dog is also showing signs of a behavior problem such as territorial aggression or separation anxiety it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Many of these issues are much more successfully managed if a training plan is started early before the behavior becomes repetitive and accidentally reinforced.

Conclusion

In most cases, your dog laying on top of you is a natural behavior that we as pet parents tend to reinforce with cuddles and attention. However, it’s important to be mindful of our dog’s needs and keep in mind that they may seek out extra attention from us when injured, unwell, or experiencing behavior problems.

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