Why Do Dogs Lean?

Written by melinda weaver
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Why Do Dogs Lean?
Leaning means different things. (german shepherd dog image by Lisa Batty from Fotolia.com)

Because dogs don't have a verbal language, they communicate with body language. However, this language can vary among breeds and even individual dogs. The meaning of certain behaviours, such as leaning, can also change with context. For example, a dog leaning on you in the house might mean something completely different than your dog leaning on you with a stranger present.


Understanding dog body language can help you properly communicate with your dog. If you misread this language, you could be allowing your dog to take control of a situation of which you need to be in control or, conversely, you could be punishing a behaviour that was meant to be sweet. Leaning is one such behaviour since it can have so many different meanings.


Many breeds of dogs, such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and rottweilers, are prone to leaning. Often, this is simply a sign of affection. Dogs often use leaning as a means of telling you "it's been awhile since you've given me attention, and I would like some." Dogs are pack animals, many of whom love physical contact. This form of leaning is likely to be seen in the home when you aren't paying attention to your dog or are petting it or already showing it some form of affection.


Guarding breeds are likely to use leaning as a way to show you that they are willing to protect you in certain situations. You are likely to see this behaviour on a walk or in a strange setting where you or your dog feel uncomfortable. In this situation, your dog will usually lean on your side with his front feet in front of yours. If you are uncomfortable, allow this to continue. If you are not, or if your dog is reactive and is likely to misread friendly signals, step in front of your dog to take the leadership position.


Insecurity may appear in the same form as protection or your dog may also sit on the front of your feet to check in with you while surveying the rest of the room. If your dog is insecure but harmless, allow this behaviour, or move it to the side where it feels protected. If your dog is reactive and may bite when frightened, move it to your side or behind you for comfort.


Your dog may also lean if it is guarding you from other people or dogs or trying to crowd your space. If your dog is guarding, stand up and move in front of him to remove him from his guarding position or send him away to a crate or quiet room to demonstrate that this behaviour won't be tolerated. If your dog is simply trying to take up your space, don't move away from your dog but instead move into it, crowding space and pushing it back. However, don't confuse this with insecure crowding, which requires that you provide protection rather than pushing your dog away.

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