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Why Does My Dog Sit On Me? 8 Reasons Dogs Like To Sit On Your Lap - PawSafe

Why Does My Dog Sit On Me? 8 Reasons Dogs Like To Sit On Your Lap

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

If you’re a pet parent for a large dog like a Great Dane, no doubt you’ve wondered, “Why does my dog sit on me?” Dogs are social animals that communicate needs and feelings nonverbally through their quirky behaviors. Of course, we encourage small dogs to sit on us. That’s what the term “lap dog” is for. But why would a big dog want to sit you too?

Some claim that dogs sit on us to show dominance. And climbing on our laps can indeed be a problem. This is one reason it’s best to use a dog car seat belt to restrain a dog in the car. Having our best friend trying to wriggle onto a lap while driving has caused many accidents.

To answer this question thoroughly, we’ve consulted Dog Behavior Specialist Brenda Aloff’s book, Canine Body Language. This article will cover precisely why dogs sit on you and when to discourage the behavior.

Reasons Why Dogs Like To Sit On You

To Show Affection

Dogs are programmed to live in packs, and since domestication, they view their parent as a pack member. Being physically close to a pack member is primarily a way to bond. Research suggests that our brains produce a feel-good hormone called oxytocin when we gaze at our dogs.

Similar to your dog sleeping between your legs, sitting on you, is their version of “I love you, Hooman, let me come and sit on you.” Sharing your space and being as close as possible, such as by being on your lap, is one way they deepen and reaffirm their bond with their favorite people. Putting their bodies on us is also a way for dogs to spread their scent and make sure other dogs know they were near us.

In the video below, you can see an example of many dogs sitting or laying on their owners simply as a show of deep love and affection.

To Be Protective And To Feel Protected

Some dogs can be fearful and anxious and look to you to protect them or soothe their insecurity. Dogs sitting on you from fear may become aggressive and require proper training and careful behaviour modification.

Sitting on you can be a sign of hyper attachment or a dog that only feels safe when they are physically close to you. This can lead to separation anxiety if you are not close by.

They Want Your Attention

Most of us will naturally pet a smaller dog that sits on our lap without thinking. In the case of bigger dogs, sitting on you makes them impossible to ignore and can be a way to ensure you put your phone down and give them your undivided attention. To dogs, undivided attention is bliss.

They Are Jealous

Many dogs are jealous and prone to resource guarding. This is a bit like how you might feel when your best friend calls somebody else their bestie. Don’t you just want to nip this new “best friend”? Dogs who resource guard you see your attention (and you) as a limited resource and are anxious that you may give it to another person or dog.

A resource-guarding dog usually has a stiff, tense body rather than a floppy, relaxed one. Their gaze will be fixated outward in a “hard stare” at another dog or person they see as their rival. Sitting on you is one way to claim you as “theirs.” This is a problem behavior that can escalate into aggression.

Because We Encourage It

We often encourage dogs to sit on us by giving them a butt scratch or laughing. This keeps them repeating the action to get our praise and attention. When a Great Dane lands their giant butt on our lap, and we laugh and squeal, we signal that we find this adorable.

Because they sat on you as puppies

Another primary reason dogs sit on their owners is that this behavior was shaped when they were puppies. If a Labrador sat on your lap when they were little, most see no reason to stop doing it when they are big. 

While most owners don’t mind if their dog sits on them, it’s best to be mindful of this when a dog is young if it will be a problem later on. 

Suppose you got a large dog breed as a puppy and have a frail person in your home. In this case, it’s best to discourage the puppy from sitting on people in general, as you don’t want to tempt accidental injury by having them sit on somebody when they weigh 150 lbs.

Separation Anxiety and General Anxiety 

Other than to show affection and to be as close as they can be to their parents, dogs also sit on you when scared. Encouraging the behavior when fear-driven can lead to worse cases, such as separation anxiety.

This happens when a clingy dog is left alone for too long by the people they are attached to.

Dogs suffering from this may sit on you as though trying to stop you from leaving. Research shows that 4 out of 6 dogs don’t cope well when left alone.

Genetics

A lot of dog behavior comes down to genetics, bloodline, and breed. Some breeds, regardless of size, are simply more affectionate than others and will spend more time trying to get close to you, including sitting on you.

In the case of small dogs bred to be companions, such as the Bichon Frise, Chihuahua, or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, being a “lap dog” is what they were bred to do. So it’s natural behavior meant to provide their owners with love, affection, and companionship.

But not all large breeds got the memo that they are not lap dogs. Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Newfoundlands, Great Danes, and Mastiffs are big snuggle buddies that may find it harder to sit on your lap, but their size won’t deter them. Great Danes are notorious for seeing themselves as lap dogs.

More independent breeds, like the Chow Chow, are less inclined to do this, but naturally, this will differ from dog to dog.

Should I Let My Dog Sit On Me?

If your dog sits on you purely out of affection, and there is no danger of anybody getting injured, there is no reason not to let them. It’s a great way to cement your bond. However, if your dog is sitting on you because they are possessive or anxious, you must deal with the underlying behavioral issue before letting them onto your lap.

How To Stop My Dog From Sitting On Me?

Dogs and humans love cuddles and enjoy spending time together. However, you can take the following simple measures to curb the behavior if you need to.

Curbing unwanted behavior in dogs is all about being patient and consistent. Do not revert to punishing your dog, as this will lead to other problems, such as damaging their trust in you. It’s always advisable to first understand the roots of the behavior to help you take the proper steps to control it successfully. That said, these tips will help reduce your dog sitting on you:

  • Ignore Them By Standing Up And Turning Away (Consistently)

    Be careful not to shower your dog with affection when they sit on you when it suits you, but become annoyed at the behavior at other times. If you don’t want your dog to sit on you, stand up and turn away whenever they try. Do not give them any attention until they show more appropriate behavior, such as sitting at your side.

  • Divert Them To The Behavior You Want

    Invest in positive reinforcement training to teach your pup to sleep in their “place” or to go to their crate rather than sit on you when it’s time to rest. This also teaches anxious dogs that it’s okay not to be physically attached to you at all times and helps with separation anxiety.

    You can also teach your dog better behavior by praising them for sitting at your feet or beside you rather than on top of you. This positive reinforcement can shape behaviors you want and give your dog an alternativ-e-archive, rather than just shouting at them for something they may not understand is wrong.

  • Invest In Other Ways To Bond 

    Exercise is always a great way to reduce any unwanted behaviors in your dog. Adding more one-on-one playtime and using grooming or massage give you that bonding time your dog craves. This way, you can still ensure the dog gets daily quality time with you, and they don’t need to sit on you to get your attention.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can my dog’s sitting on me be a sign of anxiety or insecurity?

While it is more common for dogs to sit on their owners as a sign of affection or dominance, it is possible that excessive or persistent sitting could be a sign of anxiety or insecurity. If you are concerned about your dog’s behavior, it is best to consult with a veterinarian or professional behaviorist.

Does my dog sitting on me mean they love me more than other family members?

Not necessarily. Dogs may show affection and seek attention from multiple members of the household, but they may also exhibit this behavior more frequently with the person who gives them the most attention or physical contact.

Why does my dog only sit on me when I’m wearing certain clothes?

Dogs have a keen sense of smell and may be attracted to particular scents on your clothing, such as those from other animals or food. They may also associate certain clothes with certain activities or behaviors, such as going for a walk or playing fetch.

Can my dog’s sitting on me be a sign of illness or pain?

While it is more common for dogs to sit on their owners for social or emotional reasons, it is possible that excessive or persistent sitting could be a sign of illness or pain. If you are concerned about your dog’s behavior, it is best to consult with a veterinarian.

Final Thoughts

Dogs will sit on us to show affection, protect us even when there’s no harm, and feel the protection reciprocated. They will also sit on us to come between someone or an object they consider a competition. However, humans and dogs appreciate each other’s comfort, and it shouldn’t be a problem unless it’s uncomfortable or they do it for the wrong reasons.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.