Why Do Dogs Lean on Humans?

bernese mountain dog puppy leaning on owner's legs

Dogs do a lot of things we find weird and a lot of things we find adorable. Whether we think it’s gross, weird, or cute, it makes sense to them. One of the more adorable behaviors is when a dog leans into you. Why do dogs lean on humans? Here are a few reasons:

1. They Feel Safe and Secure With You

Dogs will often sit or lie by your legs or lean into them. It’s common when they are getting pets or cuddles, but can also happen when they’re just hanging out with you. Being near you and leaning in makes them feel safe and secure and is also a sign that they feel safe, comfortable, and protected when they are around you.

2. Your Dog Could Be Scared or Nervous

The other side of this is that your dog could be feeling scared or nervous. If they are uncomfortable, they may seek you out and lean in so they feel safer and more protected. They may be seeking comfort from you in an uncomfortable situation.

Pay attention to their dog body language. If they are exhibiting happy and relaxed body language, they’re just hanging out. But, if they are exhibiting nervous, anxious, or fearful body language before leaning into you or while they do it, there is something going on and they’re trying to get close to you to feel better.

3. They are Showing They Love You

Leaning in, especially when receiving pets, attention, or cuddles from you, is one of the ways dogs show love. Not only do they feel safe, but they are also being affectionate, showing you they love you, and reassuring you that they want to be around you. They may also sleep or sit on your feet or lie down near you with their paws on your feet or legs.

When they are greeting you when you come home, if you have trained your dog not to jump up, they may plop on your feet and lean their full body weight into you for pets. Or, they might flop over on your feet for belly rubs. It all depends on the dog, but a dog that does stuff like this is showing you how happy they are to have you home again.

4. You May Have Trained Them to do it

Although leaning into humans they like is a natural behavior for dogs, it’s also possible that you have trained them to do it. This could be particularly true if your dog tends to lean in when they are begging or want something you have.

Dogs repeat behaviors that get them rewards. So, if you immediately reward your dog with attention when they lean in, they are more likely to do it. If you have given them some of your food or a treat or their favorite toy when they lean into you, that also reinforces the behavior.

Leaning in doesn’t usually become an undesirable nuisance behavior. But, begging can become an issue. So, depending on how and when you’ve trained your dog to lean in to beg, when they do it, and what else they do while begging, you may need to train your dog not to beg.

These are just a few reasons why dogs lean on humans. You may not ever need to answer the question, but if “why do dogs lean on humans?” ever comes up in conversation or in trivia, you’ll be able to provide some answers. At the very least, you have a better understanding of one of your dog’s behaviors.