Many dogs, including one of my own, spend a fair amount of time leaning against their human’s leg. There have been articles that unequivocally state that I should not allow my dog to lean on me and if she is invading my space, she is disrespecting me. Perhaps they are right in a few cases, but there has never been a kinder and less dominant dog than mine. I think that there are other reasons that she, and probably many other dogs, lean.
I believe that some dogs lean and touch for security reasons, both physical and emotional. My dog is elderly and came from the rescue with some neurologic abnormalities and sometimes she falls. When she leans on me, I know it is because she knows that I will physically support her and she will not fall. She has come to associate my physical presence with safety from falling. Maybe your dog feels physically safer when she is leaning on you.
It is important to remember that as pack animals, dogs prefer to be in groups. They feel safety and security in the established assembly. They are wired to co-exist and now they have expanded their family group idea to include humans. They can certainly survive alone, but feel very natural in the company of others. Being together is your dog’s “happy place”.
Dogs have also been proven to experience a release of positive brain chemicals in the presence of valued humans.1 Perhaps our dogs seek to further that bond through touch. Many dogs have probably learned to associate emotional security with our presence and our touch.
Opinions vary about why dogs do the things they do and dramatically opposing views will always exist. Often the answer is not absolute.
You know your dog the best. If you feel that your dog is challenging you when he is leaning on you, try to discourage the leaning gently. But if you know that your dog just wants to close to you (and I think that your heart will tell you), it is absolutely alright for your dog to lean on you. Just make sure that if your dog is a Great Dane, like mine, you are able to prevent you both from falling!
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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.