Whether you’ve owned one dog or ten, then you know that, like people, dogs have as many personalities as there are breeds, shapes, and sizes of dog. They can be clowns, they can be serious, or deeply devoted protectors.
One of the ways dog personalities manifest is through certain behaviors. To humans, some of those, like burying their furry head in your armpit, can seem bizarre.
We’ve had the pleasure of living with several dogs over the years, and more than once have found ourselves asking, what does it mean when the dog buries their head into me?
So, we started researching the problem. And it turns out that if your dog buries their head in you, the reasons for it can be as different as one dog is from another.
1- You Smell Good
When it comes to answering the question “why does my dog bury their head in me,” this is an unlikely answer. Dogs have powerful noses, and they love a good smell. They especially love your smell. That’s because, as pack leader, you represent safety and protection.
A dog that buries its head in you is trying to immerse themselves as completely as possible in your smell. And it happens, one of the best places to pick up your smell is in the crook of your arm.
This is ideal for dogs because smell is how they announce themselves to the world. It contributes to their herd identity. By burying their head in your arm, they’re integrating your smell with theirs, effectively telling outsiders that they are your dog and no one else’s.
2 – They’re Showing Love and Affection
Another answer to ‘Why does my dog bury his head in me’ is that they’re being demonstrative. Think of this behavior as the canine answer to the hug. But since putting their paws around you and patting you on the back isn’t in the doggy lexicon, and smell is, they do what they see as the next thing.
They climb into your personal space, snuggle up and enjoy your smell.
It may seem strange, but from your dog’s perspective, it’s probably no stranger than you stroking them. After all, when you pet a dog, it releases pheromones, which do everything from soothing the dog to reinforcing their herd smell. Why wouldn’t a devoted dog want to reciprocate?
3 – They Want Reassurance
Dogs are pack animals, so another reason your dog hides their head in your arm is that they need comforting.
However, you shouldn’t take this to cancel out our earlier discussion of love and affection. Both can be true. Many solutions to why your dog buries their head in you may depend on circumstance. A dog may want comfort if they experience:
- Loud vehicles
Dogs are notoriously nonplussed by loud noises, and while some run under the bed to wait for the noise out, others might cuddle up to you.
But comfort doesn’t need to be noise-induced. Your dog might try to hide their head after an upsetting encounter with another dog or a trip to the vet.
Who’s Comforting Who?
It’s also worth noting that while some dogs feel that by hiding their head against you, they receive protection, other dogs think they are offering it.
We happen to live with two small dogs, and they don’t see why size should stop them from being a self-appointed security system. To that end, it’s a safe bet that when we all cuddle up to watch TV, they push their heads in us for a good, old-fashioned cuddle. But other times, they push their heads in us to let us know they’re watching our back.
4- Your Dog Is Marking You
Earlier, we talked about dogs that push their heads against you to pick up your scent. But the opposite is also true.
Since dogs are pack animals, it’s as important to them that you smell of the right dog as it is that they smell of you. And since a significant part of dogs’ scent glands live in the face, one theory is that by rubbing their head against you, your dog leaves his scent on you.
Now, the next time an unsuspecting dog noses his way up to you, he will know you aren’t available for adoption.
What to Do When Your Dog Buries Their Head in You
Not everyone wants a dog to bury its head in them. This can be especially true of large dogs, who don’t realize their size. Here are several ways to tackle the problem.
Discourage the Behavior
Start by refraining from petting or praising a dog that buries its head in you. Both of these actions are signals that you appreciate what they’re doing.
Redirect Your Dog
The next step is to redirect your dog’s focus away from you. Many owners find an excellent way to do this is by burying treats, either in:
- Sofa cushions
- Puzzle toys
If you aren’t fussy about your furniture, the sofa can be ideal for this kind of redirection. It allows your dog to stay close to you while burrowing into something other than your arm or lap.
Diagnose the Problem
If you suspect your dog does this out of separation anxiety, the best thing you can do is treat the problem rather than the symptom. Consider:
- Dog psychologist/trainer
- Pheromone dispensers
- Calming collars
Also, talk with your vet about the best way to treat separation anxiety or nervousness in your dog. As they become more secure, they may hide their head less often.
Dogs try to hide their heads against you for various reasons. Whether it’s self-soothing or intended to comfort you is debatable, but it’s a behavior many people find comforting.
Of course, not everyone enjoys the experience of sacrificing their personal space to a dog. If that’s the case, you may want to investigate ways of discouraging the behavior.
But it’s also worth noting that sometimes the act of a dog burying its head in you isn’t demonstrative; it’s communicative. So, pay attention. What you think is a cuddle may be the secret signal for interlopers in your kitchen. Learning to tell the difference will help you decide whether you encourage or discourage head-burying behavior from your dog.
Personally, we enjoy it. But how you approach the situation is between you and your dogs, and there are no wrong answers.