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Why Dogs Lean and Other Ways Dogs Show Affection Towards Us

Johan and Rodrigo, Dog Leaning, Why Dogs Lean

A couple of years ago I was at the dog park with our littermates, talking to man about the joys of dog ownership and his dog kept leaning on him and he thought that it was his dogs way of showing dominance.  I actually used to think this too and it may be the case with some breeds, I honestly don’t know, but with our dogs, it’s a show of affection and a show to other dogs that I’m their human.

Recently, our dogs were allowed off leash at the end of a walk to greet another dog.  I was so proud of each of them, because they’ve all come a long way.  One thing I noticed was that each time Rodrigo made a good decision (not humping his new friend), he came to me for praise and then to the other dog parent.  He gave us both a lean, happily wagging his tail in celebration of his accomplishment (not humping his new friend).

Why Dogs Lean

Our dogs lean to show affection, solidarity, and when they need to feel secure (like at the park or during a thunderstorm).  They show affection every day and I relish in every moment and have even gotten behind on my blog at times, simply because I didn’t want to pass up on a good sofa snuggle.

  • Our dogs follow me from room to room, waiting at the bottom of the stairs when I head up.
  • When I come home, there are lots of barks, tail wags, and jumping; we’re working on the jumping.
  • I love it when Rodrigo sits close to me and lays his head on my chest, occasionally lifting up for a kiss.
  • Sydney either lays across my lap or at my feet, while Blue is on the back of the sofa like a cat, with his head on my shoulder.
  • Our dogs lean when they’re trying to get me to focus on them or when they need a hug.

And when our dogs lean? It’s wonderful.

  • Rodrigo leans against both of my legs.  He prefers to lean with is left side over his right – not sure why.
  • Sydney likes to walk between my legs so that I have easy access to her tummy.  Yes, I’m looking down at her bum, but she’s my baby, so I don’t mind.
  • Blue does a Rodrigo-Sydney combo with his leans.

Recently, I met a woman who had a gorgeous, sweet Australian Cattle Dog she’d recently adopted who did a wiggle lean, rubbing against your legs like a cat.  She learned that this was a common Cattle Dog greeting and welcome into the pack.  Within 10 minutes, I was a pack mate.

I love it when our dogs lean; with our dogs, it’s all good.  And if you want to learn more about why dogs lean, check out this post on ThatMutt.com.

Then come back and tell me, why do your dogs lean on you?

 

53 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post! I’m with you; I definitely see the lean as a sign of affection, and in the case of our shy German shepherd, a sign of her needing reassurance or comfort from me in stressful situations. But she’ll often lean hard just when she wants me to play with her, too. It’s one of her favorite methods of physically interacting with us, and it always warms my heart!

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    • Me too. I love it when our dogs come in for a lean. I call them hugs.

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      • I’ve heard them called dog hugs, too, and like the sound of that.

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  2. I love when my dogs lean on me too (although not as much when its really hot outside); I’ve also found that they both love to lay on my feet. I think its because that way–they know just the instant that I plan to get up (and maybe they can convince me to go to the kitchen and get cookies….)

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    • LOL – two of our dogs will lay at my feet too. The third, our youngest, likes to just lay where he can touch me or see me.

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  3. I absolutely love it when my dogs lean on me! Leroy does it a lot more often than Sherman and I melt every time. Sometimes I stumble a bit when he leans all his weight on me but I’m ok with that!

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    • LOL – I love the image of your dogs leaning on you. Plus all that fluffy hair; how can you NOT love a snuggle from them?

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  4. This is great insight on something a lot of trainers call a “bad habit.” I also love the lean but I do have to train it away because it is not safe for therapy dog work.

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    • Very interesting perspective. That makes sense. We watched a program this weekend about how people determine if a puppy will make a good therapy dog and it’s definitely a different study that what we did choosing a puppy for our family.

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  5. This is great and so is the article you referenced. It’s definitely good to look at the different meanings of something that looks the same to the naked eye. Looking at it as a unique act for each situation and each dog is so important. When Kayo was super insecure, she leaned on me all the time; it was a sign of ownership and controlling the situation. No bueno. Now she never leans on me or sits on me that way when we’re out. She’s confident and outgoing and from where she came from that feels way better to me. But when we’re at home, she definitely lets me know when she wants affection through her lean. As long as she’s not pushy and it’s not coming from a place of insecurity, I love it. Because Kayo had such difficulty I tend to be more “strict” but I appreciate when information comes out that’s balanced and shows all sides of the picture!

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    • I can understand that; that makes me think of my interaction with Sydney. By allowing her to hide between my legs when we were around other dogs, it perpetuated her fear of them, so I would walk around. She would still stick close, but she wasn’t beneath me and gradually her confidence grew.

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  6. I read your lovely piece on your dog leaning on you. I have a 100 pound Doberman, and he leans on me when I am using the toilet, like he’s saying “I can support you through this difficult time, I don’t understand why you’re not out marking your territory.” He leans me when I get home from work. He leans on me when it’s storming outside. He leans on me when he’s been naughty and gets caught.

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    • Yep, I forgot the naughty and getting caught. And why AREN’T you marking your territory? LOL

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  7. That is so cute! I never thought much about the leaning thing before but Shiner does it all the time. And she really puts her body weight into to it too lol…

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    • Love the imagery – *smile*

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  8. You know i have never had any of my dogs lean on me. Well at least not standing up. When i am outside with them they always stretch their paws up to me like they want to be picked up. My dog Princesa every now and then will lay next to me and put her head on top of my stomach. But my dogs are very independent. When they don’t want any affection they will go to another room or the other side of the bed.

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    • I sometimes wish our dogs were more independent, but I wanted Velcro dogs and that’s what I have. Times 3. :)

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      • I wish my dogs were more needy i guess you can call it. Sometimes they do have their moments but not many.

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  9. My dogs lean too. I find it adorable.

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  10. I have always thought it was a sign of affection too, but my husband and I have a different question. Occasionally Dakota will come over to us (mostly my husband) and offer him his BUTT!!! He wants to be petted but offers his BUTT first. Thoughts?

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    • It’s because Dakota trusts you and wants to be scratched. Rodrigo does the same with me – the area of his lower back is his fav for scratchies.

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  11. Aww. This is such a cute story. Lol at “not humping his new friend.”

    I love when dogs lean. The dog I walk a couple times a week does this when I go in their house. It makes me feel good that I’m accepted and even loved by him.

    He walks over tail wagging and leans hard on the front of my legs, with head turned to the side a little. He’s a big dog and he stands to the top of my thighs. And I swear he is grinning as he leans too.

    His lean is hard too. So sometimes I stumble backward just a little. I’ve always seen it as a big hug in greeting me. As if to say, “I’m so happy to see you. Yay that you’re here.”

    This story gave me chills and even made my eyes well up a bit.

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    • That is so welcoming, Laura – I love that you’re part of the pack.

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  12. For a number of reasons, I definitely don’t think leaning is a dominance thing… I think it’s an adorable, mushy way for our dogs to get right up close! And get their ears scratched while they’re there! My Emmett is a big leaner. I know someone mentioned that they needed to train it out of their therapy dog. I found the opposite to be true with the particular patient population we worked with (until he retired this summer). We did AAT with a group of kids who were taken from their homes for various reasons and were living in a residential mental health facility to get full-time treatment and care. Most of them were reserved, withdrawn, scared. Then Emmett would lean his big old head up against them, and they’d SMILE! They’d gush, “He likes me!” It’s such a precious, personal behavior… I find it heartwarming!

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    • That’s a great perspective, Maggie. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. Lovely article! I definitely see it as a sign of affection. A man comes into the bookstore where I work with his Golden Retriever. The dog wears sunglasses, a hat or headband and carries a little purse in his mouth. When anyone goes to pet him he wags his tail and leans into them. Dakota doesn’t lean her body, but she rests her chin on my hand while I pet her with the other hand. Corgi version of the lean? I’ll go with that.

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    • Our Blue does the same thing with his head and it melts my heart.

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  14. Rita is not much of a kisser, so I think her leans are definitely her way of showing affection. She doesn’t do it in a pushy, demanding way. It’s very sweet. She was leaning against my husband’s legs this morning while we ate breakfast. He reached down to rub her neck and she looked up with such a loving look. So sweet!

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    • That is sweet, Jackie :)

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      • It occurred to me that someone might read my comment and go “She just wanted your husband’s breakfast.” But she actually hates what we have every weekday for breakfast – whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a little cup of yogurt. She’s the only dog I ever had who hates peanut butter! Doesn’t like yogurt much either. If we offer her a bit, or a cup to lick, she turns away with a look like we are offering her arsenic! She’s such a funny little thing!

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        • I know what you mean! Our dogs lay around our table. We’ll get a look just in case food is being shared, but once we make it clear that’s not happening, they just lay down around us and take a dog-nap.

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  15. I lean usually to claim that human I am leaning on. I am leaning also because I want to show how much I like them but I want everyone to know this human is mine. My sister leans more for affection, so I guess dogs lean for slightly different reasons.

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    • I hear ya! I think our dogs like to claim me in pubic and get hugs in private. Thanks for stopping by and congrats on your upcoming book! Very impressive :)

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  16. Our golden retriever Luke leans when he wants attention. My miniature pinscher Scooby leans in to show affection. And although they aren’t necessarily super tightly bonded buddies, in a recent photo session, my friend caught a shot where the little guy is leaning into the big guy. The pic absolutely melts my heart!

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    • Just reading about the picture melts my heart! So sweet!!!

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  17. Great post! My dog Henry leans and follows me room to room (including into the bathroom). Dogs are truly pack animals and they know that we are leaders of their pack.

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    • I completely agree :)

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  18. I completely agree with you. Leaning is a form of affection and my puppies lean a lot on me once I am back home, what a lovely gesture to show affection. I just love it

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    • Me too, Scott

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  19. This is very good post. I never realized about leaning though my pug does it all the times and touches my feet all the time. Thanks for sharing

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    • Absolute pleasure.

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  20. Both of my boys lean, and I see it as a sign of affection, as well. Bruce leans, and lifts his outside front leg up and out, so we can scratch his chest.

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  21. Thanks for linking to my post! I like when my dog leans on me, too. He’s usually doing it for attention (I assume), but sometimes it seems to be to seek my approval, like you suggested. When I call him, he likes to lean into me, and I think it’s his way of saying, “I’m a good dog, right?”

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    • Yep, I get that from Rodrigo too.

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  22. Both my dogs are leaners, but Pierson moreso than Maya. Perhaps part of the reason is also a trust factor. You know the relationship building exercise with people where one person falls backwards trusting the person behind them to catch them? Perhaps it is a little like that. My dogs lean on me knowing I am not going to walk away and let them fall.

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    • That’s a really sweet thought and I never thought of it that way before.

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  23. Funny you should have written this…I was just asking this question the other day. Hannah, our golden retriever, loves to lean on our legs. In fact, she leans on strangers’ legs at the park too and I’ve seen many goldies do this. I find it very endearing and I think, as you say, it’s their way of showing affection. It makes me sad when people put these things down to ‘dominance’. Great post.

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  24. Good insight on the subject. The only time my dog will lean on my shoulder is when I carry him, it’s possible because he’s a small breed :)

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    • Thanks, Mike!

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  25. I have a great dane mix and he is a little over a year old now… a lot of times he walks with me and leans on my leg as we walk… down the hall, out the door, through the house. If I stop he stops, and recently he wants my hand touching his back when he does this. I think he could be a seeing eye dog with a little work. I see fine and he sees fine, he just loves to help guide me along.

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    • That’s so sweet, Chrystal

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  26. I have read a lot of the posts since I found this site a couple days ago. I have to say this line of postings are my favorite. We lost our Collie Dec. 12,2014 and after reading these, my heart is hurting so much. I miss my Bladie Boy’s leaning hugs. We got them all the time, when we woke, after feelings, walking, before going to bed. Give all your fur babies extra hugs, one day they won’t be able too. Thanks again for posting ladies, your awesome fur mommies

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    • Dar, thank you for the reminder. I read your comment the other day and since then, I’ve relished every lean. Sometimes I’m rushing around and distracted, but your comment reminded me to slow down and cherish our dogs, because they won’t always be here. Thank you so much; I’m so thankful.

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