Dogs, like people, have a variety of ways of expressing their feelings and emotions. When your dog exhibits an unusual behavior, like burying their head in you, it can be endearing but also puzzling. What emotions are they trying to express? Is it affection, fear, or something else? What does it mean when your dog buries their head in you, and should you be concerned?
A dog may bury their head in you to provide comfort, sensing that you may seem sad or anxious. Dogs will also bury their heads in you as a way of seeking protection and security if they are scared or worried. Both are bonding opportunities for you and your dog.
Let’s look closer at this behavior, and the emotions that a dog is trying to express by exhibiting them. We’ll also look at whether the behavior is something to be concerned about, and what, if anything, you should do when your dog exhibits this behavior.
Why Does Your Dog Bury Their Head In You?
Dogs have a range of emotions, and sometimes they express them in unusual ways. While we expect dogs to jump, bark, roll on the floor, etc., you may notice behaviors with which you are not familiar, especially if you have recently adopted your dog and/or it is your first dog.
Burying the head in their owner is actually a fairly common behavior, although it might not occur with every dog. Each dog has their own personality, temperament, and nature. It can take a while to get to know your dog well enough to recognize what behaviors are normal for them, and which ones are abnormal and unexpected for them.
So there’s a difference between a dog that has always tried to bury their head in you and one that has suddenly adopted this behavior. Take that into consideration when looking at the following reasons why a dog may be burying its head in you.
Expression Of Love
While many dogs tend to express their love by jumping around their owner and wagging their tail in circles, some dogs bury their heads in their owners so they can show love and affection towards them. Dog’s sense of smell is their most powerful tool, and smelling their owner’s scent means bonding with them at a higher level.
Just as people nuzzle each other and express their love through intimate touch, so do dogs. We show our love through petting them, why wouldn’t they reciprocate through physical affection of their own?
Dogs often feel the most comfortable when they are near their owners. Therefore, burying their head in you might mean that they are just seeking a comfortable position. This way, they feel safer and know that someone is near them.
However, this also might mean that they feel that you are protected when they are next to you. When you adopt a dog into your home, they often take on the role of a protector. Therefore, while they might feel comfortable next to you, or in your lap, they also feel that you are fully protected.
Dogs are remarkably sensitive to the emotions of humans around them. Whether it is a function of some innate ability to sense emotions or the product of hours of daily observation of their owners, dogs definitely know when someone is feeling anxious or upset.
Many dogs will respond to this awareness of a new mood in their owner by trying to comfort them, and burying their heads can be an attempt at providing comfort and offering support.
They likely know that snuggling is an enjoyable act for you and it may help eliminate the mood that has disturbed their status quo. It’s essentially the same as a human providing you with a hug during difficult times.
You can’t be certain whether the dog is doing this for you or for themselves because your mood is making them uncomfortable, but people generally like to believe that pets show “unconditional love” and must be acting empathetically. Just like humans, dogs have their own motivations, agendas, and reasons for expressing their emotions to their companions, both human and animal.
Burying their head in you can sometimes mean that your dog is afraid of something, and they are seeking a safe place. This fearfulness might be recently developed, or it may only happen on particular occasions, for instance when there is a storm outside. A lot of dogs are afraid of the sound of thunder, so they are trying to find a safe and comfortable place in their owner.
The fear can be also caused by other noises or animals that are near your pet. In addition, your dog might have developed certain fears due to unpleasant experiences in which they were hurt or were in danger. So, anything that might remind them of that can lead your dog to seek a safe place.
Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety may start burying their head in you when you are about to leave them. Some dogs have the tendency to develop anxiety when they are alone and they start feeling scared when they sense you are going to depart soon.
If you are not the first owner of the dog in question, this situation may have been developed earlier, so your dog is relating it to past experiences. Separation anxiety can be a very troubling issue for both the dog and their owner. If your dog is exhibiting extreme symptoms of nervousness, fear, and anxiety when you leave the house, you may want to seek out a professional trainer who specializes in this condition.
If it is just a case of you not being home a lot of the time, your dog might feel neglected and wants to show you that they need more attention from you. Burying their head in you is one way of communicating this.
Alerting The Owner
Some dogs choose this way of behavior to alert their owner of possible danger. Even if a dog hasn’t been trained as a guard dog, many naturally want to alert their owner when something seems out of the ordinary.
Some dogs may bark, some may whine, some might nudge you incessantly or pace nervously, and some dogs will bury their heads in you to try to get your attention.
When a dog is trying to communicate something to their owner and feels unsuccessful in doing so, the dog will often try other ways to get the message across. So a dog that starts by barking may end up burying their head in you if you don’t respond to the barking.
There is also a theory that because dogs have scent glands in their faces, they may be marking your body with their scent. While this certainly may be happening, it is unknown whether this action is intentional by the dog or inadvertent. This “marking” could occur anytime your dog’s face touches your body or clothes, so it’s difficult to know if a dog is doing it purposefully.
Dog “Head Pressing” vs. Burying Their Head in You
It is important that the distinction is made between a behavior called “head pressing” and what we commonly call “burying” their head.
Head pressing is when a dog presses the top of their head against a flat surface like a wall or piece of furniture and holds it for a period of time. It is a rare but unmistakable behavior. This is almost certainly a sign of a serious medical issue and you should take your dog to the vet.
The most common diseases indicated by this neurologic behavior is hepatic encephalopathy, a condition associated with liver disease. Other possible diseases include brain tumors, strokes, head trauma, meningitis, and water on the brain (hydrocephalus).
Head burying is when your dog forces his head into you, under your arm, into your lap, etc. This is a completely different behavior from the aforementioned “head pressing.”
What Can You Do About Head Burying?
Firstly, it is important to try to understand why your dog is exhibiting this behavior. If your dog is under duress, in pain, or trying to alert you of something they feel is dangerous, you should address the issue. Even if it turns out to be something meaningless to you (a neighbor making a new sound, for instance), it’s important to let your dog know that you are listening to them.
Of course, if the dog is just being exceptionally affectionate and you enjoy the nuzzling yourself, don’t do anything and continue to enjoy the attention!
If the behavior isn’t a result of something that needs to be addressed but becomes a habit that bothers you, there are several things you can do to try to modify this behavior.
Do Not Encourage It
If you pet your dog, praise them, or give treats to them when they bury their head in you, you will positively reinforce the behavior and encourage it. Try to reward your dog when they choose not to exhibit the undesired behavior, or when they stop performing the behavior by their own choice.
Redirect Their Focus
When your dog starts burying their head in you, try to focus their attention on something else. The same way you do with a crying child. Try to divert their attention to their favorite toy or a bone so they replace this behavior with the new desired one (playing or chewing).
Find The Reasons For Anxiety
When you find out why your dog is anxious, you can try to limit the conditions that make them anxious. For example, you can spend more time with them, or keep them in the room with you. That way they will feel secure and will not have a reason to bury their head in you.
Final Thoughts on “Why Does My Dog Bury His Head in Me?”
There are many reasons why your dog can develop a habit of burying their head in you, so you need to figure out why they are doing it and how to eliminate it, if that is your goal. You may enjoy the nuzzling if simply sharing affection is the dog’s intent. However, you should never just assume that affection is the only motivation for this behavior, because your dog may be trying to communicate something more serious to you.