Does your dog rest his head on you? Here are the most common reasons for this behaviour and an explanation of what it means.
- Why Does My Dog Lay His Head On Me? (6 Potential Reasons)
- A Dog Laying His Head on Your is Not a Sign of Dominance
- Frequently Asked Questions
However, this behaviour can sometimes indicate anxiety or stress, so it’s important to assess your dog’s overall body language.
In this article, we’ve listed six of the most common reasons for a dog laying his head on you. We’ll also discuss what this behaviour means (in short, it’s not a sign of dominance!)
Why Does My Dog Lay His Head On Me? (6 Potential Reasons)
They Find it Comfortable (And Love Cuddles!)
Your dog may place his head on you for physical comfort and emotional support.
Scientific studies have shown dogs experience a surge in the “love hormone” called oxytocin during a positive interaction with their owner.
Physical contact is an example of an interaction that can cause the release of oxytocin. So, laying on you is relaxing and comforting for your pet.
Laying his head on you may also be physically comfortable. Your legs or lap are essentially warm, soft pillows, which many dogs enjoy resting their head against.
They Feel Anxious or Stressed (And Want Security)
Dogs seek comfort when they’re anxious or stressed. Placing their head on your lap is one way to get as close as possible to you, which could reduce anxiety and help the dog to feel more secure.
Anxiety is much more common in dogs than many people realise. For example, a study of over 13,000 dogs in Finland found that 72.5% of dogs showed signs of significant anxiety.
There are many potential causes, but three of the most common reasons for anxiety in the study include:
- Sensitivity to noises in the surrounding environment
- Fear of strangers, new situations, or other dogs
- Fear of certain types of surfaces or heights
How do you recognise anxiety when your dog puts his head on you?
The key is to look at your dog’s overall body language. Look for other signs of anxiety, such as the ears being pinned back, tail down, panting, yawning, and lip licking. These could all indicate that the dog is stressed rather than enjoying a cuddle.
You should also pay attention to the environment. For example, does your dog lay his head on you when there are guests? Are there loud noises outside? Or has there been a change in circumstances?
If you suspect your dog is anxious, try to identify potential triggers. Sometimes these triggers are easy to remove, but if not, then your notes will help a canine behaviourist uncover the cause of the problem.
What About Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is when a dog cannot relax or comfort herself when left alone. It can cause symptoms like toileting indoors, destructive behaviours, and excessive barking, as the dog becomes distressed when you leave.
The AKC estimates that 14% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety, although a much higher percentage are likely to experience some level of anxiety when their family goes out.
As separation anxiety happens when the dog is alone, putting his head on you is unlikely to be a symptom. However, if your dog does this whenever you’re about to leave, you may be giving signals that you’re going somewhere else.
They Want to Guard You
Dogs develop strong and loving bonds with family members. This can sometimes manifest in protective behaviour if the dog feels a person or another dog might threaten the owner.
A dog may “guard” by placing her head on you. In terms of body language, the dog is indicating she thinks there is a threat and is willing to protect the person.
As this situation could appear similar to anxiety, it’s essential to assess your dog’s overall behaviour.
Watch for other signs of guarding. For example, if someone approaches you, does the dog start to growl or snarl? Sometimes a snarl can be subtle, so look for even a slight baring of teeth. You should also check for other stress signals, such as a tense posture or staring at a potential threat.
You should never punish your dog for protective behaviour, as this can worsen the problem by causing extra stress. You also shouldn’t attempt to force an interaction with the perceived threat.
However, teaching your dog that you’re not under threat is also essential. As guarding can escalate into defensive aggression, we recommend you consult with a qualified canine behaviourist.
Note: There is anecdotal evidence that dogs may become more protective of their owners if they are old, unwell, or pregnant. Some dogs also appear to be more protective of children.
They Want to Provide Emotional Support
Have you noticed your dog lays his head on you when you’re feeling sad or stressed?
Studies have shown dogs can feel their owner’s distress. Scientists have even found that dogs often try to help their owners when they are sad.
So, if you’re crying, stressed, or otherwise unhappy, your dog may provide emotional support by laying her head on you.
They Want Attention or Dinner
Dogs can’t communicate their needs in the same way as humans, so they often need to improvise.
By touching you with his head, your dog may be trying to get attention (or tell you it’s time for dinner!) If you give him a stroke or other attention, this behaviour may be accidentally reinforced.
Never punish your dog for trying to get your attention, even if it seems annoying or frustrating. Instead, think about whether your dog’s needs are being fully met. Examples could include:
- Is your dog getting the right amount of physical exercise throughout the day?
- Is your dog bored? Do they get enough mental stimulation?
- Are they being left alone for long periods during the day?
- Do you provide them with lots of attention and affection?
- Is your dog getting a nutritionally complete diet with the right amount of calories?
Remember, attention-seeking isn’t your dog being naughty. It’s just a dog’s way of telling you that they need something.
With that said, attention-seeking behaviour can become obsessive. So, consider whether your dog’s needs are being met, but try to avoid reinforcing the behaviour the moment it happens.
Related Article: Why Does My Dog Put His Paw on Me
They Want to Show You Love
The simplest explanation is that she loves you!
Touch is one way that dogs show affection. A head placed on you signifies a strong bond and trust, so it’s something to be treasured.
A Dog Laying His Head on Your is Not a Sign of Dominance
The myth that dogs are trying to become “pack leader” has been proven incorrect.
Dogs aren’t plotting to become the alpha of the household – they are simply reacting to their current emotions, feelings, and environment.
In most cases, a dog laying his head on its owner is seeking comfort, giving affection, showing love, or offering emotional support.
It can also mean that the dog is anxious or feels threatened on the owner’s behalf.
But this behaviour definitely doesn’t mean that the dog is trying to be dominant. You should never punish your dog for laying his head on you – even if you think he is trying to get attention – as this will damage your bond and cause distress.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Does My Dog Lay His Head on My Chest?
A dog may lay his head on your chest for any of the reasons above. These include showing you love, providing emotional support, or feeling more comfortable.
If you’re laying down, your chest is perfect for a dog to lay his head on – especially if he’s a larger breed. It’s warm, comfortable, and ensures that he’s as close as possible to you.
Laying on your chest is not a sign of dominance or aggression.
Why Does My Dog Lay His Head at My Feet?
Dogs feel most relaxed and secure when near their owner.
However, many dogs prefer not to physically cuddle, as this can feel overwhelming or too intense.
For this reason, your dog may choose to lay by your feet. This means he’s as close as possible to you while resting, without feeling crowded or trapped.
Anecdotally, I’ve also noticed that dogs are more likely to lay near their owner’s feet when they can sense the person’s stress or sadness.
Tip: You shouldn’t force your dog into a tight hug. While dogs may tolerate a hug from someone they trust, most won’t enjoy it as it causes them to feel confined and vulnerable.
A dog laying his head on you is often providing affection, love, or emotional support. However, it may also be a sign of anxiety or a guarding behaviour.
Do you have any questions about why a dog might put his head on you? Please use the comments section below. You may also want to read our guide to why a dog might sleep on you and why dogs go between their owner’s legs.