Aside from dog treats, walks outside, and playtime at the dog park, your dog looks forward to spending quality time with you. Dogs generally like being close to their owners. While some are more independent than others, many dogs become their owners’ shadows, constantly following them around and getting as close to them as possible.
They follow you to the kitchen, the living room, and even the bathroom. Regardless of their size, you’ll find many dogs love occupying the spaces closest to you and will even lie on your lap or your chest if you’re lying down.
This behavior and instinct make dogs ideal companions for people. You may not always understand it, but more often than not you enjoy, are amused, and find relaxing the joy they find in being near you.
What makes dogs lay on top of you? Dogs are essentially pack animals descended from wolves. From very early on in their lives, this behavior is reinforced. They’re born into litters with many siblings to cuddle with and stay close to for warmth and protection.
As they grow up and forge bonds with their human owners, they learn to view them as members of their pack. Laying on top of you is your dog’s way of basking in the same companionship and sense of safety.
It may not always be ideal especially if your dog is of considerable size and weight, but there’s no reason to be concerned if your dog has a habit of laying on top of you. Similar to how humans like hugging and other forms of contact, dogs also enjoy the comfort and companionship that comes from laying on top of you.
You may have to set boundaries particularly if your dog laying on you causes you physical discomfort, but other than that, you don’t have to worry about the behavior. Look at it as your dog’s way of showing affection or as validation that your dog is comfortable with you and considers you part of the pack.
Apart from deriving comfort and a sense of safety from your presence, the main reason dogs lie on top of their owners is because of their protective instinct. Part of being a pack animal is protecting its members. As their owner, you are a very important member of the pack to them.
This protective instinct manifests itself in other ways which you might have observed. They bark when there are intruders, stay close to you when they feel that their surroundings are unfamiliar and threatening, and exhibit other territorial behavior towards places and people they consider important to them.
Dogs’ protective instincts come from their wolf ancestry. To have a deeper understanding, let’s take a look at the pack mentality of wolves. Wolves travel together and exhibit many behaviors that demonstrate loyalty and care among the members of their pack.
A great example is how stronger alpha wolves will refrain from eating until younger, weaker wolf pups have had their fill. They also lick each other’s muzzles in greeting and leave their smell in areas they consider theirs by urinating.
If these behaviors sound familiar, they should because you own an animal that’s descended from these majestic creatures that exist in highly socialized environments.
Dogs inherit much of their behavior and their protective instincts from wolves. Notice how even when you go on vacation with your dog it will continue to guard and protect the house that isn’t your home because in its eyes you need protecting.
Lying next to you or on top of you is your dog’s means of assuring you that it has your back and will do everything to protect you even if there’s no real threat or danger.
Many dog owners leverage this instinct to protect themselves, their families, and their property. Your dog can provide you with the warning you need, buying you precious time to defend yourself. As inherently loyal animals, your dog will put its own safety on the line to look after you and the rest of the family.
Can these protective instincts become harmful or undesirable? As with all things in excess, yes. Dogs that have become too aggressive can be problematic for their owners. They may become overly aggressive even when the situation doesn’t call for it. If your dog starts snarling all the time, is threatening, and bites strangers, it will be difficult for you to have visitors and enjoy walks around the neighborhood together.
When dogs’ protective instincts threaten people and animals unnecessarily, it becomes a behavior you need to address. The best way to deal with an overly aggressive dog is to engage in behavior modification training with help from a qualified dog trainer. Discourage threatening behavior and positively reinforce your training with praise, toys, and treats. The older dogs get, the harder it becomes to retrain them so it’s best to perform behavior modification as early as possible.
Other Reasons Your Dog Lays on You
Your dog’s protective instinct isn’t the only reason why your dog lays on top of you. Here are other causes for this behavior:
From an early age, dogs know that physical contact means comfort and warmth. Since they share a special bond with their owners, they are comfortable snuggling up to you and on top of you for warmth.
You’ll notice this behavior more if you and your dog share a strong relationship. Dogs who are comfortable with their owners will have no hesitation plopping down on top of their owners even if sometimes it puts their humans in uncomfortable positions.
Dogs with short coats and little body fat need additional warmth particularly during winter and your body is a great source of that.
This is the most obvious reason of all. Your dog loves you and it shows affection by being as close to you as possible.
Since dogs don’t have a concept of personal space, they will lie on top of their owners to relish that strong connection. Allowing your dog to do this further strengthens that bond by making it feel like its affection is accepted and reciprocated.
You’ll get further confirmation that your dog is being affectionate if it starts licking you. Licking is the equivalent of human kisses. The next time your dog lays on top of you and starts licking you, you’ll know what it’s trying to say.
Interactions such as face-to-face and eye contact produce feel-good sensations for owners and their dogs. The same is true whenever your dog lays on top of you. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, several studies have shown that positive interactions between dogs and humans result in a surge of oxytocin, a type of hormone that has been linked to positive emotions. Additionally, scientific findings attribute our ability to create and strengthen social bonds to oxytocin.
Have you been spending enough time with your dog lately or have you been distracted and focused on other things? If your dog feels neglected or feels like it hasn’t been getting enough attention from you, it will resort to attention-seeking behaviors such as lying on top of you.
Remember, pack animals are social animals that require interaction. While they don’t all need the same level of attention, you should ideally budget some time to spend with your dog. It’s essential for their well-being.
When your dog lays on top of you for attention, it is their way of physically demanding that you spend time with them or asking you for something they want. However, it isn’t always a sign of neglect or feeling neglected. It could also occur even if they have everything they need and are happy.
Dogs will be dogs and sometimes they lay on top of you because they want to have a bit of fun or are bored. Since we can’t always decode dog behavior, sometimes we just have to lay back and enjoy being with them.
What if you already give your dog copious amounts of attention and still notice it engaging in attention-seeking behavior? Some dogs can get excessively needy which is challenging because dog parents need some alone time too.
You may be juggling different responsibilities at once so you can’t give your pet as much time or perhaps your dog is getting in the way of your daily activities around the house. Sometimes, you just want to lay down without a dog on top of you.
Dogs are naturally and understandably more needy when they’re young, but they usually become more independent and grow out of attention-seeking behavior as they mature. If your dog continues to display too much attention-seeking behavior such as lying on your chest all the time, whining, barking, putting their faces close to yours, and constantly bringing you their toys, there are ways to discourage this behavior and teach your dog to enjoy its own company more.
Teaching dogs to be more self-reliant isn’t just healthier for them but will also lessen the inconvenience and exhaustion that clingy dogs cause their owners.
The best way to make them less needy is to be mindful of how you might be unknowingly encouraging such behavior. Do you tell your dog “stop,” or “no” whenever it’s demanding your attention? You may be surprised to know that talking to them even when you’re giving them commands to stop certain behavior is rewarding them with your attention.
To discourage your dog from excessive neediness, ignore your dog. This includes your absolute withdrawal from them as long as they are demonstrating neediness. Don’t make eye contact and don’t pet them. If you’re lying down and they’re on top of you, get up and change positions so they can’t get on top of you.
You may feel guilty at first but think of it as helping your dog strike an emotional balance so it can be happy and less anxious even without your constant attention. You can even distract it from the behavior with a toy that will keep it occupied. Another method you can try is tiring your pet out with enough exercise since a tired dog won’t have as much energy to seek attention.
Whenever you give your dog attention by way of ear scratching, making eye contact, petting, or talking to it, you encourage it to carry on with whatever it is doing. If your dog lays on top of you and you like it, then reward it with interaction. It’s a way of validating the contact and giving them your approval.
Dogs are intelligent and the way we respond to what they do can shape how they behave in the future. As their owner and alpha dog, it’s up to you to gauge and respond if your dog laying on you is still within the permitted boundaries or if it’s bordering on the excessive.
However, keep in mind that dogs are by nature social animals and they will always need some level of attention from you whether it’s by laying down on you, playing games with you, or just getting you to talk to them. Their loving and loyal companionship is one of the reasons why we adopted them in the first place.
The next time your dog snuggles onto your lap or finds its way onto your chest to lie down, know that they are just following their instinct to interact with you, the most cherished member of their pack.