The Leaning Dog. What Does It Mean?
You may have experienced this, especially if you have a larger dog: your dog greets you and then leans, sometimes seemingly with all their weight, up against your legs. Sometimes they lean so hard you’re afraid they’ll just fall right over if you move! Why does your pup do this? Are they scared? Are they trying to push you around?
Actually, the majority of times that your dog leans on you is an expression of affection. Your dog is trying to get as close to you as possible, and may be asking for affection from you in return. Sometimes if you pet a dog who is leaning against you, they will lean harder. Think of it as a dog-hug. Just remember that most dogs don’t like being hugged, human-style, since the gesture of wrapping your arms around your dog’s shoulders can feel intimidating, like you’re trying to assert dominance over them. So before you “hug” back, consider dog-approved displays of affection.
There is a by-now largely debunked theory that says if a dog is leaning against you they are trying to be manipulative or trying to assert dominance over you. Both these Vetstreet and Dogs.About.Com articles refute this idea, claiming that the majority of the time dogs lean as a way to express affection. Registered Veterinary Technician Jenna Stregowski, writing for Dogs.About.Com, points out that dogs do not lean on people in order to be dominant or manipulative, but rather because they have learned that we react to their behavior in certain ways. She states, “and while dogs can figure out how to elicit a certain response in us, it’s not because they are manipulative. It’s because we have shown them (perhaps inadvertently) that specific behaviors result in certain responses from us.”
Occasionally, a dog may lean against their owner’s legs if they are feeling insecure or frightened, often while in the presence of unfamiliar people, as this article from The Nest brings up. In this case, the leaning is more for comfort-seeking than a display of affection. This article also says that if a dog is leaning for comfort because they are insecure or frightened that the dog may exhibit other behaviors that indicate stress such as lip-licking, stress yawning, and other behaviors that are termed “displacement signals.” That article advises dog owners to consider the situational context of their dog’s behavior. A shy dog may lean at times for affection, and at other times for comfort—it all depends on what’s going on around him.
In general, if your dog is leaning against you with all their doggy might, they’re probably just trying to tell you how very much they care about you! They’re likely not trying to push your buttons or push you around. If you have a dog who is a leaner, you can probably take that as a sign of their affection for you.