Just like people, every dog has their own individual personality and preferences. Some prefer their own space, and like to stretch out and rest on their own, whereas others prefer to get up close and personal with their owners. But why does your dog sit on you?
Dogs will sit on people for many reasons, including to receive more attention, show affection, gain a sense of security, and to spread their scent as a natural form of marking. A very common reason for a dog sitting on you is that the same behavior in the past has led to positive reinforcement — petting, cuddling, treats, etc.
We’re going to look at the reasons dogs like to sit on you, when it should be a cause for concern, and what you can do about it if you don’t desire that behavior.
Is Physical Contact Between Dogs and People Normal?
A lot of smaller breeds of dogs, such as Bichon Frises and Shih Tzus, are known for being “lap dogs” who love to snuggle up close to their owners. However, there are also a lot of larger dogs who are determined to squeeze themselves onto your lap for some extra snuggling time.
Before we get into the different reasons as to why dogs may sit on their owners, it’s important to remember that dogs are generally social animals who have evolved to form close and affectionate bonds with their owners and family members.
Alongside sitting on or cuddling up to you, dogs exhibit behaviors such as licking, wagging their tails, and nudging you to encourage you to pet them. For a dog, sharing physical contact with you is a way in which they can express affection and establish a social relationship.
Reasons Why Dogs Like to Sit on their Owners
If your dog is after some attention, or they want you to start playing with them, they may decide to sit on you, bring you a toy, or show you their belly. They’re just using this as a means to communicate their wants to you.
As mentioned previously, dogs are very sociable animals, and they often need displays of love and affection from their owners. Of course, dogs can’t verbally ask for affection, so trying to get your attention is their own way of requesting it.
This is generally considered normal behavior, unless your dog is being aggressive, barking at you loudly or snapping at you. However, if your dog is frequently doing this, or they’re whining at you, you may need to spend more time with them. Some belly rubs and play time will make them happy, and you’ll probably enjoy it too.
It’s perfectly okay and healthy to initiate contact and physical affection with your dog. An owner/dog relationship should be balanced in this respect. When a dog knows that affection comes their way regularly, they will likely be less needy for it and should not initiate it themselves as often.
It’s not uncommon for smaller dogs to try and sit on you. Breeds such as Chihuahuas and Shih Tzus are called “lap dogs” for a reason – they fit perfectly on your lap. For small breed dogs, this is a warm spot which they can snuggle into to make them feel warm and safe.
In addition, sitting on your lap gives these tiny canines some height, which can also make them feel more secure – especially if they feel threatened or insecure in the presence of other dogs and small children.
What’s interesting, however, is that it’s not just the smaller breeds who are prone to this behavior. Much larger dogs, such as Great Danes, have been known to invade their owner’s personal space. Great Danes, in particular, are often referred to as “gentle giants” who feel the need to always be in their owner’s personal space.
These dogs also tend to favor children, so it’s typically normal behavior for large dogs to try and sit on tiny laps as a way of bonding with and protecting their playmate.
Most dog owners aren’t too bothered with their dog sitting on their laps, however, if your dog is too big, or you just don’t want them to sit on you, you can train them to sit near you instead. Just remember that every time you respond to their sitting on you by petting them, you are reinforcing that behavior and making it even more difficult to train out of them.
Spreading their Scent
Dogs can be very loyal animals. Because of this, they like to sit on you to spread their scent as a way of marking their territory and showing ownership of you. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re trying to dominate you; rather, they’re usually trying to warn others that you’re “taken.”
Dogs may even sit in “your spot” on the couch, and even roll around as a way of spreading their scent around. Dogs will often increase this behavior if there are other pets or children in your home, or you’ve just returned from somewhere where there may have been other animals.
Although this behavior is usually nothing to worry about, if your dog is doing this excessively, then they may need some extra attention. This will help them feel confident, and reassure them that they are all yours.
Most of the time, a dog will sit on you because they just enjoy your company. Most dogs enjoy physical contact, and it can be a way that you can keep them emotionally satisfied. If you feel like your dog needs an emotional boost, try and snuggle up together as this can be a great way to spend some quality bonding time together.
Both wild and domesticated dogs often sleep with other dogs, with lots of physical contact between them. From the time they are puppies, dogs will sleep piled together to share warmth. So it should come as no surprise when they try to do the same with you.
The great thing about cuddling with your dog is that it can be a mutually comforting activity. We can get just as much of an emotional boost whilst cuddling our dog, as they do with us.
They’re Giving You Affection
Although most dogs crave attention and affection, they also want to return the favor to you. For a dog, sitting on your chest can be a very intimate behavior, and they like feeling your breath as it brings them closer to you.
If your dog jumps on your lap or chest for snuggles when you come home for the day, they’re often just trying to show you that they missed you.
This will often happen when you’re having an off day too, as dogs are often intuitive and can tell when you’re down. When this happens, they’re usually trying to comfort you and make you feel better.
Dogs like to know where you are most of the time, which is why they often follow their owners around too. This can give your dog a sense of security, as you are their main source of love, comfort and food.
Dogs will often like to sit on you so they know exactly when you’re making a move. This is usually for their own benefit so they know when you’re leaving the house, when they’re coming with you, when you’re preparing food, and when it’s for them.
With that being said, some dogs like to know your movements for your own sake. They can feel like it’s their job to protect you, so they like to think you’re both safer when together.
Most people mistakenly believe that dogs sit on their owners as a way of exerting dominance. In most cases, this isn’t true, as most dogs have no interest in trying to be an “alpha” over their humans. However, it’s not an impossible reason as to why they may be sitting on you.
If your dog starts to show some aggression by growling at you or other animals and people that try to approach you, then this is generally considered dominant or resource guarding behavior. This isn’t cute and will need to be addressed if it’s a frequent experience.
It’s always best to speak to your vet or a professional dog trainer first about how to deal with it, but it’s important that you don’t reward or encourage aggressive behavior in any way. Any time your dog starts growling while on you, you should remove the dog from your body and stop providing any kind of positive feedback, whether it’s physical petting or verbal praise.
The Root of the Behavior
When dogs do something we don’t quite understand, it’s usually something to do with pack behavior. When in packs, ranking is important to each canine as it helps them make sense of the world around them. It’s also how they help satisfy their needs.
If your dog makes any sort of demand of you, they may be trying to figure out if they can manipulate you to achieve their needs. This is basic canine (and human!) behavior. Like people, dogs will keep asking until they’re told no (and even then, they often keep trying).
Demands to be picked up may be a form of casual testing, as well as sitting on your chest. However, as we mentioned earlier, this is also a way for dogs to “mark you”, which warns other canines that you have already been claimed.
This isn’t so much a form of control, but a way of protecting you whilst you’re out in the world. However, the most likely reason is that your dog is just after some attention.
Encouraging the Behavior
If you are a fan of your dog sitting on you, canine behavioral experts recommend that you teach your dog that this will happen on your terms.
An effective way to do this is to stand up whenever your dog tries to sit on you, or whenever you feel like you don’t want them to. They may make a few more attempts, until they learn that sitting on you is a sort of “privilege.”
Once your dog has stopped attempting to jump on you without your permission, you can sit back down, and pat on your body, signalling to them that they can come up.
Your dog will most likely take the offer. After a few moments, signal to the floor and tell them “off.” Again, it may take some time to teach your dog these commands. However, because the behavior is desirable for both of you, it’s usually quite easy to teach.
Using a behavior that a dog enjoys to teach them when it is and isn’t desirable is a great skill that can then be translated to many other aspects of their life. Learning “off” can then be taught when they jump on you, for instance.
Believe it or not, dogs want to learn what you’re teaching them and to please you so they can be rewarded with praise (and treats). So take advantage of situations like them wanting to sit on you to help build their training foundation.
There are several different reasons as to why dogs like to sit on their owners, and most of these reasons are pretty common and shouldn’t give you any reason to worry. Most dogs use this behavior as a way of getting attention and showing affection for their owner.
If you’re not a fan of having your dog sit on you, you can train your dog to sit near you instead. Just remember, however, that physical contact of some nature is important for most dogs and they need it regularly for their own mental well-being, even if it doesn’t involve actually sitting on you.