It’s no secret—dogs are social creatures who love nothing more than spending time with their favorite humans. So, if your dog likes to snuggle up next to you or even right on top of you, they could be expressing their affection. Don’t worry, if their affection is too much, there are ways to gently persuade your dog from laying on you all the time.
But dogs do communicate through their body language and behaviors—so where they choose to lie down can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling, says Senior Tail Waggers’ Certified Dog Behaviorist Mindy Waite, Ph.D. (CPDT-KA) and a dog behavior researcher at the University of Wisconsin. “There are many possible reasons for dogs lying on humans,” Dr. Waite says, and they range from comfort to biological social dynamics.
Why Do Dogs Lay on Their Humans?
Dr. Waite can think of a few possible reasons dogs lay on their humans, some completely normal and others a reason to chat with your vet or canine behavioral specialist.
Laying on top of their human is one way dogs show affection. Dogs form strong bonds with members of their pack—and that includes you! When your dog lays on you, it is a way of mimicking the close physical contact that they would share with another dog or with their mom when they were a puppy.
When dogs (and humans) experience close physical contact, it triggers the release of oxytocin, a happy hormone associated with the feeling of love and thought to increase bonding. In other words, when your dog lays on you, they’re simply trying to show you how much they love you.
They Want Attention
Your dog might be sprawled across you to get your attention. If you usually give them lots of pets and scratches when they’re lying next to you, they’ve likely learned that the best way to get your attention is to lie on top of you.
You’re Warm and Comfortable
If your pup doesn’t like their doggy bed, they might decide you’re the warmest and softest thing to lie on. After all, the normal body temperature for a dog is 101 to 102.5° Fahrenheit, which means many breeds enjoy an environment slightly warmer than we do. “However, many large dogs will lie on their people in positions that look quite uncomfortable, so comfort and warmth may not always hold true,” Dr. Waite adds.
It’s In Your Dog’s DNA
There may be some evolutionary reasons your dog lays on top of you, Dr. Waite says. “Many wild canid species will sleep while in physical contact with other members of their group,” she explains. This provides them with both warmth and protection from predators. Similarly, humans unknowingly replicate this pack behavior by holding their pups and adult dogs as they sleep.
Of course, every pup has unique preferences when it comes to sleeping and snugging arrangements. “Many dogs don’t like to lie on top of their humans or don’t want to touch their humans while lying down at all,” Dr. Waites says. Other pups seem to enjoy the physical contact but might not choose to sleep directly on their human. But for those dogs who do enjoy snuggling up close, there’s a good chance that it’s simply in their DNA.
It Makes Them Feel Safe
According to Dr. Waites, dogs often feel safer when they’re close to their humans. “Some nervous nellies feel safer if they are on or near their people, such as during thunderstorms,” she says. It’s normal for dogs to have reactions to anxiety-inducing situations like during fireworks, social gatherings, or a visit to the vet.
Other signs of anxiety in dogs include:
- Inappropriate urination
- Whimpering or whining
- A tucked tail
- Excessive drooling
- Hiding, avoidance, or trying to escape
- Trembling or shaking
If your dog is showing signs of prolonged or continuous anxious behaviors, it’s best to consult your vet or canine behavioral specialist.
Your Dog Is Comforting You
Have you noticed that your dog is more likely to lie on top of you when you’re feeling down or sad? Studies have proven what most pet parents already suspected; dogs can sense when you’re sad (and angry, frightened, or happy). Using visual and auditory cues, pups evaluate social intentions and act accordingly, a behavior they’ve perfected over thousands of years of domestication.
Your Dog Is Asserting Dominance
Some dogs will lay on their pet parents as a way of showing dominance over their humans or to assert belonging of their humans to other pups—two behaviors that shouldn’t be encouraged.
All dogs can develop these tendencies, although they can be more prone to develop in dogs like the guardian working breeds, ancestorial breeds, and toy breeds. Dogs who are protecting their humans or showing dominance by laying on them will likely display other behavior issues, like snapping, snarling, or growling. Proper socialization from a young age and working with a canine behavioral specialist or training can help curve these unwanted behaviors.
If your dog has begun displaying dominant behaviors, it’s important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian. “Underlying health conditions can cause a dog to have hormonal or mood imbalances and poor eyesight or hearing,” all of which can cause your dog’s behavior to change, Mike Morrison, owner of Wag UR Tail Dog Training says.
They’re a Trained Service Dog
Many well-trained service dogs lie on their humans as part of their service work. “This can function to alert people or bystanders to oncoming medical issues or keep the person safer while they’re having a seizure,” Dr. Waites explains. Other service dogs are trained to lie near or on their humans to prefer deep pressure therapy for anxiety.
How to Encourage Your Dog to Lay on You
If your dog doesn’t lie on top of you, don’t take it personally. Dogs, like humans, have different preferences when it comes to physical touch. But there are some ways you can encourage your dog to snuggle more closely.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
Show your dog that you’re comfortable with them lying on or near you. Lower to their level and invite them to lie on top of you. If they’re hesitant, try offering a treat or toy as an incentive, but never force your pup to lie down on you.
You can also try offering your dog a comfortable place to lie down on or near you by placing a soft blanket where you would like them to get comfortable.
History Behind Why Dogs Lay on Other Dogs
Lying on top of other dogs is a behavior common among a litter of puppies who huddle together to stay warm. Puppy piles are cute, but adult dogs laying on top of each other isn’t always a friendly gesture.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
If a dog tries to lie on top of an unfamiliar dog, it may be a sign of dominance. It’s important to discourage this behavior in dogs. If another dog does this to your dog, notify the pet parent rather than intervening.
How Can I Keep My Dog from Laying on Me All the Time?
If you’re looking for ways to keep your dog from laying on you all the time, there are a few things you can try.
Don’t punish them. Get to the root of what is causing the unwanted behavior—without unnecessary punishment or scolding. Scolding your dog for lying on top of you could lead to your dog being fearful instead of understanding and fulfilling your dog’s needs.
Give them their own space. Provide your dog with their own bed or blanket to lie on. You might need to provide your dog with a few different options before discovering the bed they prefer.
Use positive reinforcement. Every time your dog interacts and lies on their bed or blanket, give them a treat or praise them verbally. When your dog lies on top of you, don’t encourage the behavior with positive reinforcement—that is, instead of giving them an ear scratch when they lie on top of you, ignore them or gently set them aside.
Socialize your dog. Continue to socialize your dog through adulthood. Socialization might include trips to the park, walks in the neighborhood, and doggy daycare or obedience classes. The more exposure dogs have to different people and places, the less anxious they will feel—and the less clingy dogs will be.
Why does my dog sleep on me but not lay on me during the day?
Sleeping is a vulnerable state for any animal. Your dog may choose to sleep on you at night for their protection and your own—it’s a sign they trust and love you. If your dog doesn’t lay on you during the day, they may be preoccupied with their toys. Or, because you’re not asleep, they may not feel the need to protect you.
What does it mean if my dog paws at me?
If your dog puts their paw on you, they’re likely asking for attention. Resting their paw on you could also be a gesture of affection and comfort.
Why would my dog keep pushing its head into my chest?
Dogs put their head on your chest to get attention, a nuzzling behavior they learned from their mom. Nuzzling could also be a sign of affection, or if your dog is anxious, a way to comfort themselves.
Do dogs have favorite people that they lay on the most?
Dogs build strong bonds with people who care for them and show them attention. If you are the member of the family that pets your dog the most and feeds them, they may choose to lay on you the most.
Could my dog be sick if it lays on me when it normally never lays on me? Dogs lay on their humans for many reasons. If the behavior is new or is accompanied by other changes, like a loss of appetite, they should be seen by the vet to rule out any underlying medical concerns.