We’re all guilty of treating our pets like children sometimes. Whether you have lengthy conversations with your dog, call him silly nicknames or cuddle up together while watching movies, the truth is he’s your best friend. It’s only natural to want to give him the best of everything in life.
Yet, unconditional love is not without its challenges. Like children, our pet pooches know just how to appeal to our emotions. They can get away with murder because they usually understand who’s the disciplinarian and who’s the soft touch in their house. If everybody at home is a squishy softie, well, it’s a chance to run wild and create mayhem.
In this article, we’re going to discuss a relatively common canine behavior – lying on an owner’s chest – and consider whether to enjoy or avoid it. So why does my dog lay on my chest?
A dog will lay on your chest because he simply wants to show how much he loves you. He absolutely enjoys your unique smell as it makes him feel safe. Other reasons include your dog is conditioned to do so or he just wants some attention from you.
When Canines Clamour For Cuddles
Some people love getting close and personal with their pets. They think nothing of giving their dogs a kiss or nuzzling in their neck fur. Other pet owners are more reserved. They may love their dog to the moon and back, but they’d rather not get close enough to smell what he had for lunch. We’re all different, so what flies in one pack might be forbidden in another.
When we talk about canine behaviors, it’s important to remember this. There’s nothing inappropriate or unsafe about letting your dog lay on your chest. If you don’t like it, however, it’s useful to know how to discourage the behavior. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind if your pet was a chihuahua, but what if your dog is a thirty-pound Labrador who doesn’t know his strength?
Context is important.
It’s also worth mentioning this type of habit can be destructive in dogs with persistent behavioral problems. In rare cases, some dogs lay on their owners as a demonstration of dominance. For an animal with established authority issues, encouraging the behavior may send mixed signals. We’ll discuss this in more detail later.
Why Does My Dog Lay On My Chest?
6. They Love You And Your Smell
The most obvious reason your dog might like to lay on your chest is to demonstrate love. You’re his protector, feeder, exercise buddy, playmate and teacher. It makes perfect sense that he would want to drink in your smell, lay closer than close and snuggle on the bed or couch. It’s a lovely sentiment, so don’t punish him for it. At the same time, it’s not unfair to shoo him away or push him off, particularly if he’s a hefty boy.
5. They Want More Attention
Lots of dogs take to clambering and climbing all over their owners when they want to be noticed. Again, it’s not malicious behavior so we wouldn’t advise punishing your pet for it. Regardless, it’s the type of behavior we’d usually discourage in toddlers as it shows a lack of respect for personal boundaries. Discourage the dog from laying on your chest particularly if he does so to get attention. Take it as a sign he wants to be played with more regularly.
4. They Are Trying To Safeguard You
If you often doze off and wake up to find your dog atop your chest, you might be dealing with a very hairy security guard. Some dogs see their owners sleeping and know that this is a vulnerable state. To protect the human they adore, they hop up onto their chest and start a watch. After all, they can’t be sure a huge, scary dog with dripping fangs isn’t going to burst into the house and eat you. And if it does happen, they’ll be ready.
In many ways, this is a lovely habit. It shows your dog really does think of you as a member of its family pack. The time to discourage it is if your canine gets overly clingy and feels panicky, anxious or angry when people approach you. He shouldn’t treat everybody but himself as a potential foe.
3. They Have Separation Anxiety
Just like cats, some dogs are more prone to separation anxiety than others. Particularly sensitive canines sometimes struggle to spend time alone. For lots of pet owners, it’s a genuine problem. We can’t be with our dogs twenty-four hours a day, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy to leave them in a state of anxiety.
If your dog has separation anxiety, you may notice he becomes very clingy as soon as you return. He might be laying on your chest to quite literally stop you from leaving again (yes, really). We suggest you give him lots of attention when you get back home but, conversely, treat departures from home with no fanfare. If you don’t make leaving a big deal, he’ll eventually realize it’s not. And that you will come back.
2. They Think You’re Outranked
The habit starts to become less cute and more of a problem when it’s clear a dog has behavioral issues. They might run off at the park, ignore your commands, jump up at countertops or bark incessantly. To put it simply, they don’t listen to you. When this occurs, it’s often because the chain of command has broken down.
Dogs are pack animals who thrive in a hierarchy. They want to be led not because they necessarily like doing as they’re told, but because having a leader provides security and consistency. When a dog ignores its owner and repeatedly jumps onto their chest, it demonstrates disrespect. He thinks he outranks you. We suggest you change that.
1. They Get Treats When They Do
Sometimes, we barely even notice we’re creating bad habits and unhealthy routines for our pets. For instance, most dogs will jump onto their owner’s chest if they’ve recently been rewarded for it. Maybe you were absentmindedly watching television, the dog jumped up and you fed him some treats. It was a cozy scenario, why wouldn’t you enjoy it?
Once again, if you don’t mind the behavior and it isn’t associated with other bad habits (such as ignoring your commands), there’s nothing wrong with letting a dog lay atop your chest. If your dog is too large, too wriggly or too badly behaved, however, do not feed him when he does this. It will only send mixed messages.
How To Prevent Unwanted Behaviors
This is a tricky scenario for several reasons. Previously, we’ve considered whether dogs sleeping on laundry is acceptable or should be discouraged. Like the chest laying habit, it’s normally harmless but it can cause problems. Unlike laying on laundry, a bad result might mean more than a ripped blouse.
We’ll say it again. Context is important here. There’s a difference between a dog who loves an evening snooze on his owner and one who clambers on their chest and wriggles around. The latter is displaying excess energy, a need for attention or a lack of discipline. It’s more than comfort. He wants something from you.
We suggest discouraging your dog from laying on your chest if he’s doing anything but snuggling or snoozing. If he wants to play, gently push him off and go find some stimulation for him. The same applies if you personally don’t like having him lay there. Owning a dog doesn’t mean you have to do things you don’t like.
There are plenty of other ways to show your love for him. Push him off and, if he persists, ignore him until he changes his behavior. When he calms down and listens to your commands, you can stroke him but not until he has responded with appropriate behavior. Shouting is largely ineffective – it won’t teach him much beyond the fact his owner can be scary – but withdrawing attention can be a very effective tactic.
You might find your pooch laying on your chest annoying, especially when he’s a bigger breed. It is done most likely as a show of appreciation and love. Just remember, if you are not having it, make sure you show your doggo love and not fear. After all, every human-dog relationship is a learning process and to best correct the behavior is to know your dog.