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Labrador retriever lying on a man‘s legs

The essentials

  • Dogs lie on you out of love — These routine snuggle sessions are generally normal and considered a sign of affection.​​
  • It benefits humans and dogs alike — Mutual benefits include a strengthened bond, synched heartbeats, and reduced blood pressure.
  • Be careful not to exacerbate separation anxiety — While cuddling on its own is not a cause of separation anxiety, allowing your dog to lay on you may make it worse if they already have it.

Having a dog sprawled out on top of you like a blanket (or in the case of large breeds, a weighted blanket) is an annoyance for some. For others, it’s the whole reason they wanted a dog in the first place. As you lay under your favorite furball questioning their sense of spatial awareness, you may be wondering why they’ve designated your body as a resting place, especially if they have a perfectly good dog bed nearby.

Simply put, it’s very comforting for dogs to cuddle up with, or rather, on their owners. But if you really want to get technical, there are biological factors that play a role in why your pup likes to camp out on you.

Reasons your dog likes laying on you

8 reasons your dog likes lying on you

1. Snuggling is in their DNA

If your dog enjoys lying on you, consider yourself an official member of their pack! Dogs descend from wolves, who lay with their pack animals to give and receive companionship and warmth. This pack mentality is inherent in all dogs today, who lay with their owners to provide a similar sense of comfort.

It starts when they’re newborns. Puppies in a litter commonly burrow into their mother’s side and sleep huddled up together in a pile. They continue to seek out this closeness in adulthood, whether it be with their human or other pets in the home. Next time your canine companion is all up in your personal space, know it’s because they look to you as a source of coziness.

2. They want to show (and receive) affection

Dogs also lay on their humans as a method of communicating their affection (aww). Whether sleeping or awake, dogs want to connect with you, and doing so can strengthen your bond with your furry friend, as it signifies to them that their affection is reciprocated (double aww).

It’s worth noting that though every dog is unique, some breeds are generally considered more affectionate than others. Great Danes, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, golden retrievers, and dachshunds are among the most gentle and cuddly dogs (see more below). While friendly, other breeds like Afghan hounds, Irish wolfhounds, and chow chows are typically more independent and crave less attention.

3. They’re looking for protection

Though domestic dogs don’t face the same dangers as their wild wolf ancestors, they retain their survival instincts. The same way wolves like to huddle up for warmth, they also do it for protection. Dogs have the same self-preservation in mind when they sprawl out on their humans. Being physically close to their owners can provide a sense of calm and security to them, especially during stressful events like thunderstorms or fireworks.

4. They’re asserting dominance

Going back to pack mentality, some alpha dogs may choose to lay on their humans as a way of showing dominance and asserting themselves as the leader of the pack. In other words, they want to be the top dog, and this behavior is how they demonstrate this desire. Likewise, beta dogs may do the same thing as a way of expressing their loyalty to you. To tell the difference, keep an eye on their body language and if they show signs of aggression like growling and baring teeth, they’re likely trying to establish dominance.

Though “Dominance Theory” was once a staple of dog training, behaviorists now believe strong leadership and positive reinforcement is the best way to curb dog aggression, as opposed to using punishment and fear-based tactics. Dogs are no longer wolves, and a strong human-canine bond is what ultimately benefits them.

5. They’re spreading their scent

We all know dogs like to “mark their territory” through peeing. Once they’re house trained to not pass bodily fluids in the house, they may resort to other methods of marking, like laying on top of their owners to spread their body’s scent. You may notice your dog lies on you more after you’ve had visitors, especially of the furry variety. Dogs are territorial by nature, and do this as a way of establishing that you “belong” to them.

This is also why they may claim your preferred spot on the bed or couch as soon as you get up. They associate your scent with comfort and security. If they can’t lay on you, they’ll seek out areas that smell the most like you instead.

6. They’re experiencing separation anxiety

Perhaps one of the more concerning reasons a dog may be laying on their owner is that they’re suffering from separation anxiety. While any dog can develop this, German shepherds, Catahoulas, and Belgian Malinois are some of the breeds said to be the most prone to it, and it’s more common in dogs who were adopted from shelters. Other signs include urinating and defecating indoors, barking, and destructive behaviors like chewing when left alone.

Dog parents who suspect their pup may have separation anxiety should consider counterconditioning them to have a more positive association with being left alone, like leaving them with treats and chew toys. For more severe cases, vets may prescribe an anxiety medication or supplement.

7. You’re sick…and they know it

Dogs are extremely intuitive and can sense when their owners aren’t feeling well. The same way you tend to them when they’re sick, they’ll lay on top of you or against you to let you know they’re there for you.

Humans who are under the weather may also find their dogs being less demanding during this time, such as not begging or insisting on as much exercise and playtime. They are aware you are tired and will alter their behavior accordingly so you don’t overexert yourself. In other words, your dog deserves a medical degree.

8. They are trying to annoy you

Not all snuggling is innocent. Dogs sometimes lay atop their owners to pester them when they want something from them. This could mean they have to go to the bathroom, are hungry, or simply want to play. Alternative ways they may communicate their needs are through whining, pawing, or scratching at the door.

Determining why your dog is lying on you

Showing affection Seeking protection Spreading scent Separation anxiety Sensing you’re sick Annoying you
If you just got home. ✅ They want you to know they’re happy to see you. ✅ They can sense you were with another animal. ✅ They missed you and don’t want you to leave. ✅ They need to go out after being cooped up.
If you’re sick. ✅ They want you to know they’re there for you. ✅ They believe lying on you will make you feel better.
If it’s around dinner time. ✅ They’re trying to remind you to feed them.
If it’s thundering. ✅ They want you to protect them from the scary noise (and want to protect you, too). ✅ They want you to comfort them while they’re anxious.
If you get up. ✅ They sit in the spot you just got up from. ✅ They get anxious and follow you.

Setting boundaries with your dog

Whether you think your dog’s habit of lying on you is pleasant or a nuisance, you may be looking to set some boundaries. Perhaps you only want your dog to lie or sit on you when called, or you want to ensure your dog doesn’t jump on visitors. Boundary training can be used to dictate when and where your dog can lie. As with any training, this requires patience and consistency.

Managing separation anxiety

Although letting your dog lay on you won’t cause separation anxiety in and of itself, it can make it worse. Here are a few ways that owners can spend quality time snuggling with their best friend without intensifying their separation anxiety:

Set a timer — Try setting a timer for 20 minutes and then gently move your dog off your lap. See how they react and if you can reassure them with your voice and petting.

Understand the underlying issues — A change in household routine or family members can cause separation anxiety. Abrupt transitions to their schedule like new feeding or walk times can also trigger it. Observing these changes can help you determine the root cause of your dog’s anxiousness.

Try counter-conditioning — This treatment process shifts an animal’s fearful, anxious or aggressive reaction to a pleasant, relaxed one instead. This can include offering your dog a puzzle toy stuffed with food when you leave the house and creating a cozy environment for them to be alone.

Getting your dog to stop laying on you

Let’s say you don’t want your dog lying on you at all. Perhaps it’s because they’re snoring too loud, or it’s too hot for the extra body heat, or you simply don’t want an animal using you as a human lounge chair. Regardless of the reason, here are a few tips to get some space without hurting your relationship with your pup:

Gently slide them off your lap — Don’t move them too abruptly or your dog may get scared or view it as a sign of rejection.

Scoot them to the side — Make it clear your dog is allowed to sleep next to you, just not right on top.

Invest in a high-quality dog bed — A comfortable dog bed provides a more natural sleeping position. And it’s especially beneficial if your dog snores.

Bribe them with a toy or treat — If you want some space, offering your clingy dog a toy or a yummy treat can make for a good trade off.

Using dog language to curb their behavior

If you don’t want your dog to lay on you, tell them in dog! Canines communicate their discomfort with one another through body language. Rapid blinking, licking your lips, or turning away from them are all ways you can indicate to your dog that you are uncomfortable with the position you’re in.

Common sleeping positions for dogs and owners

When it’s time to go night-night, your dog may jump into bed the second you pull back the sheets. If you’re cool sharing the covers with your four-legged friend, know you’re not an outlier. Research from the Sleep Foundation shows that 56% of people sleep with their dogs in the bedroom.

Contrary to what some may say, letting your dog sleep with you is not a problem. Stephanie Borns-Weil, a veterinary behaviorist who teaches at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, argues there is no reason why dogs shouldn’t sleep in their owner’s bed if that’s their preferred arrangement.

If you are in this camp, you may find that your dog snuggles up in some unusual sleep positions. Here’s what they mean:

  • In between your legs. This position provides warmth and comfort for your dog and a buffer against loud noises.
  • Under the blanket. In general, dogs like to burrow under the covers for a sense of security. However, some breeds with a hunting heritage, like dachshunds, border collies, and Airedale terriers, are more likely to burrow under blankets. This comes from their ancestors digging tunnels and searching for rodents underground.
  • Curled in a ball. Some dogs start the night in a ball with their front and back legs tucked in and their head bent forward. It helps them warm up before drifting off into a deep slumber. Occasionally, however, this position can signal anxiety.
  • On your neck or face. Some dogs, especially puppies, choose to use your neck or face as a resting spot to find both body heat and comfort.
  • Next to your head. Your dog may use your pillow the same way you do. Consider this an act of love. Pillows carry your scent and dogs love the familiarity.

Reasons why you should let your dog lie on you

Letting your dog lie on you can be beneficial to not only your dog, but yourself! Here are some ways snuggling with your best friend is good for your health:

  • It lowers blood pressure. In what they dub the “pet effect,” a Harvard study found that your blood pressure can go down while petting a dog and that overall pet ownership lowers the risk for heart disease.
  • It eases depression. Cuddling with your dog allows both of you to release oxytocin , a “feel-good” hormone linked to positive emotional states that scientists believe combats depression.
  • It helps you sleep better. If you suffer from anxiety-induced insomnia, having a dog in bed with you can help. Dogs mitigate anxiety and hyperarousal, thus creating a better sleeping environment. This is why emotional support dogs are often used for sleep disorder therapy.
  • It makes you feel safer. A 2018 study on the role pet ownership plays in sleep quality for adult women found that they feel more comfortable and protected when there is a dog in bed with them at night.
  • It makes dogs easier to train. Snuggling your furbaby strengthens your bond with them, thus making it easier to train them as they have an increased desire to please you.

Reasons why you may not want your dog laying on you

While letting your dog lay on top of you has its benefits, there are instances when you shouldn’t allow it. Here are some examples of times in which you should discourage the behavior:

  • They’re exhibiting aggression. Dog owners will want to look out for signs of aggression when cuddling their dog, like raised hackles, growling, or whale eyes. Consult a trainer immediately to curb this behavior, as it could be an indication that they are resource guarding.
  • They’re dirty. It may seem like a no-brainer that you won’t want your dog on you while they’re dirty. Stay up-to-date on their grooming needs, either at home or through a licensed groomer.
  • They have medical issues. If your dog is experiencing physical health conditions like hip dysplasia or mental health conditions like separation anxiety, consult your vet before allowing them to lay on or against you.

Top affectionate dog breeds

If you’re looking for a pooch that loves to cuddle, look no further than these dog breeds known for their affectionate natures:

  • Great Danes. Known as a “gentle giant,” the 100-200 pound Great Dane is a baby at heart. These dogs don’t care how big they are, they love to cuddle .
  • Retrievers. Both English cream golden retrievers and Labradors are known as family-friendly dogs. This is because they are playful, patient with children, and extremely affectionate.
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniels. This popular small dog was bred to please. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are good sporting dogs, but they’re also incredibly sweet and love to curl up in their human’s lap.
  • Brussels griffon. Made famous from the popular Squid the Griff account on Instagram, this tiny breed brims with tenderness. Rambunctious and sensitive in nature, the Brussels Griffon tends to stick close to their pet parents.
  • American bulldog. A short dog with a perpetually worried expression, American bulldogs are big cuddlers and love nothing more than napping with their two-legged guardians. They are gentle, docile, and become more relaxed with age.
  • Newfoundland. This massive breed is known for its gentleness above all else. While they require plenty of exercise and training, Newfoundlands are excellent family dogs.
  • Dachshund. These tiny dogs are extremely playful and affectionate. Dachshunds make excellent house dogs as they are very loyal and like to be near their humans, children, as well as other pets.
  • Pugs. Although pugs have a reputation for being stubborn, they are also sweet companions. They typically want to be with their owners and will frequently climb into your lap to settle down for a nap.
  • Boxers. Popular for their notorious “kidney bean dance,” boxers love their owners more than anything and can’t contain their excitement for them. But once they’ve spent all their energy, they’ll cozy up on your lap for a long snuggle sesh.
  • Bichon frisé. At just 12-18 pounds, the bichon frisé is the ideal lap dog, and they’re more than willing to take on the role. With an even temper and eagerness to please, these little ones are as adoring as they come.
  • Alaskan klee kai. If you love dogs who are as playful as they are cuddly, then you’ll love the highly-intelligent Alaskan klee kai. Though they resemble a husky, they are actually closer to a spitz type of dog, and value snuggle time with their humans.

Frequently asked questions

Why does my dog lie on top of me?

Dogs lie on you for a number of reasons, primarily as a source of affection. They may also lie on you for warmth, protection, to assert dominance, and/or to spread their scent as a way to claim their territory.

Why does my dog lie between my legs?

When dogs lie between your legs, they’re looking to block out distracting or scary noises.

How do dogs know when you are sick?

Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell that can detect chemical changes that take place in human bodies when we are sick. Most dogs will even alter their behavior to benefit their sick owners, such as snuggling with them more and misbehaving less.

Do dogs think of their owners as dogs?

While dogs do not look at their owners as dogs, they do look at them as a member of their pack and will cozy up against them for warmth and security the same way wild dogs do with their mother and littermates.

How does cuddling with dogs benefit humans?

When dogs and humans cuddle, they release a hormone called oxytocin that lowers blood pressure and generates a positive mental state. If sleeping with a dog, owners can possibly ease anxiety-induced insomnia. As for the canine-human relationship, snuggling can actually create a strong bond between owners and their pups that makes training easier.