Ask A Vet: Why Are Some Dogs “Lap Dogs”?

Does your dog like to cuddle or be very close to you? Does she seem to always want to climb in your lap? It seems like a part of who your dog is, but have you ever thought about why?

Walk on the Wild Side

Dogs know that they are a part of the animal world. Because they are descended from wild dogs, they are geared for survival. Their survival can depend on the other members of their pack or family.  For your dog, that pack is you! When your dog is choosing a resting spot, he has to consider a spot that is safe and defensible. When your dog is on your lap, he is protected from all sides and need only to watch what is approaching from the front. You “have his back”.  Being safe on your lap frees his mind (which is not so far from his wild ancestors) from its constant wariness of something sneaking up and allows him to feel happy, secure in the fact that nothing can surprise

The Power of Love

Some dogs are more insecure. In fact, certain dogs (and certain people too) seem to be genetically more prone to feel anxious. Dogs can also become more “wired” for insecurity by their early experiences as puppies, often before they are placed into their permanent home.1 There is evidence to suggest that touching and closeness helps to balance out the brain chemistry for dogs.The effect has even been looked at for humans too and many people swear by the healing power of touch. Everyone knows that a hug can put your troubles into perspective. We all need each other and your dog is no different. Being on your lap is like a hug, safe and warm.

Good Vibrations

Dogs have also been proven to experience a release of positive brain chemicals in the presence of valued humans. The effect is even more intense when there is touch.3 Perhaps our dogs seek to further the bond through touch. Many dogs have probably learned to associate emotional security with our presence and our touch. We all love to feel love, and to feel that we are loved. Oxytocin (the hormone of bonding) serves to solidify the bond that a parent feels for their offspring and also plays a role in the bond with our companion pets. Cuddling and touch while on your lap may serve as a wave of good feelings down to the chemical level.

Dogs love to be on their owner’s lap for comfort and security, both physical and emotional. Being cuddled makes dogs feel safe and probably also causes a release of the hormones associated with a sense of well-being. Being on your lap makes your dog feel safe, secure and happy. Even if your dog is not a “lap dog” he probably still seeks these feelings through other interactions with you.

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  1. Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties.PLoS One.2015 Nov 3;10(11):e0141907. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141907. eCollection 2015.Tiira K, Lohi H.
  1. The effect of a pressure wrap (ThunderShirt®) on heart rate and behavior in canines diagnosed with anxiety disorder, King, Camille et al. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research , Volume 9 , Issue 5 , 215 – 221
  1. Social evolution. Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds.Science. 2015 Apr 17;348(6232):333-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1261022. Epub 2015 Apr 16. Nagasawa M, Mitsui S, En S, Ohtani N, Ohta M, Sakuma Y, Onaka T, Mogi K, Kikusui T.



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