Our canine friends often have various strange habits that win our hearts no matter how inconvenient they may be. One of these adorable but possibly difficult habits is sleeping on top of us.
Dogs are often not aware of their size and weight and an empty lap might feel like an invitation to lie on top of us. Let’s see why they behave like this and what you can do about it.
Why Dogs Sleep on Us
There can be many reasons why your dog might like sleeping on top of you. This depends on whether your dog always had this habit since it was a puppy or if it is a behavior that has started recently in response to something.
One of the most common reasons why pet dogs love laying on top of their owners is to show affection. Staying so close in contact with the human makes the dog feel happy, comfortable and content.
It is their own way of showing that they want to stay close to us and enjoy our company.
Almost all pet dogs tend to show affection to their owners in some way or the other but some dog breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Labradors are especially affectionate.
Usually, when our dog does this, we might also react with enhanced affection towards it and pet it or rub its belly, making it even more likely to do this again.
Dogs are pack animals who retain many of their behaviors from that life even though they might be completely domesticated now.
Growing up, puppies are part of litters of at least six to eight siblings where they sleep by huddling up close to one another.
Huddling up with family and other dogs they are close to helps them stay warm, safe and comfortable. Huddling up with other dogs is a natural instinct that dogs have to preserve their own health and safety.
Even though your dog might not be with a litter and might never have lived with a pack of dogs, it will feel safer and warmer by huddling up with you because, in the absence of other dogs, it probably considers you its family and pack.
In their natural habitat, dogs compete with other dogs to assert their dominance over a territory.
Your dog might be sleeping on you to assert its dominance especially if you have many dogs and pets in the house or it might even be trying to assert its dominance over you.
Dogs are pack animals where one of the members of the pack is seen as the alpha male. Other dogs submit to the authority of the alpha of the pack.
Your dog might be considering you the other member of its pack and trying to assert the fact that it is the alpha in control and not you.
If there are many other dogs in the house or in the vicinity or if this behavior has cropped up due to an increase in family members in the house, your dog could be trying to mark you as its territory.
This also shows your dog’s affection and possessiveness towards you as it might be trying to signal to the other dogs and family members that it has the most right over you.
If your dog has started laying or sleeping on top of you recently and if this change has coincided with the arrival of new pets or family members, then your dog might be feeling protective of you.
Your dog might be seeing you as being vulnerable in front of all the new animals in the house and might be lying so close to you out of protectiveness. You can especially tell that your dog is being protective if it is alert or looking out of the door while lying on top of you.
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It is possible that one day your dog lay on top of you for no particular reason and realized that when it does this, you shower it with affection and attention.
You could have rubbed its belly or in general suddenly given it a lot of attention.
If your dog is laying or sleeping on top of you in the middle of the day or when you haven’t paid attention to it in a while, it could be a sign that your dog is lying on top of you to get more attention from you.
Previous Reinforcement for This Behaviour
Dogs pick up on positive reinforcement very quickly and it is one of the easiest ways to bring changes to their behavior.
It is possible that your dog has found that if it lays or sleeps on you then it gets rewarded in some way, be it extra pets or rubs or scratches.
As a result, your dog might be repeating this behavior to get that reward again and again even if the first time you did it was completely unintentional.
Seeing your dog’s behavior might even be pushing you to subconsciously reward your dog without paying attention.
If your dog tends to act out when left alone or if you can notice some recent changes in its behavior it might be that your dog has developed some separation anxiety.
If your dog tends to lie on top of you around the time when you are scheduled to leave for work in the mornings and seems to have negative feelings about you leaving then this might be the case.
Your dog could be lying on top of you to prevent you from leaving or to delay your going.
Trying to Communicate Problems
Your dog might be facing some mental or physical health problems and by huddling up close to you it might be trying to communicate its problems to you.
Your dog might be sad, scared, depressed or bored and lying close to you could be an attempt to tell you to pay attention to its problems.
Your dog might also be trying to tell you about some health problems that it is facing or simply trying to feel better from whatever is ailing it.
If sleeping on top of you is a recent habit that has accompanied changes in your dog’s behavior then this might be the case.
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What to Do About It
You might be someone who doesn’t mind your dog sleeping on top of you and it might even be something that you find adorable.
In that case, there is no reason why you should discourage your dog’s behavior.
In case you have a large dog it might feel too heavy and uncomfortable to have it lie on top of you. In that case, slide your dog off of you gently without discouraging it too much.
If you enjoy your dog sleeping or laying on top of you, keep in mind that sometimes your dog might not do so because of harmless reasons such as feeling too warm or simply needing some space.
There is no reason for you to be alarmed in that case and it is important to be gentle and affectionate towards your dog and allowing it to sleep wherever it feels comfortable.
However, if sleeping on top of you is a behavior you are not okay with, there is no need to worry because you can easily train your dog to change this habit.
Dogs are very easily trained by positive reinforcement. In other words, dogs tend to take on a new habit on being rewarded more easily than they give up an old habit on being punished for it.
Hence, if you want your dog to let go of this habit, it is important to not reward your dog even unintentionally when it sleeps on top of you.
Avoid absent-mindedly rubbing your dog’s belly or being very affectionate with it when it sleeps on top of you as that can make it feel confused and think that this behavior is what you want from it.
At the same time, create a rewarding system for your dog to sleep in other spots around the house. Create a comfortable space where your dog would be likely to go and sleep.
Gradually try and train your dog to go to that spot and start sleeping there. For instance, simply call your dog to stand in that spot and give it a treat for doing so.
Slowly start encouraging your dog to sit or lie down on the spot and start rewarding your dog in various ways, with treats or affection when it sleeps in the spot meant for it.
Soon, your dog will have built a habit to sleep on the spot and will not sleep on top of you again.
In case your dog has developed a new habit of sleeping on top of you and you think there could be an underlying cause for this behavior you could try dealing with the underlying cause directly.
For instance, if your dog has separation anxiety then sleeping on top of you is not the only issue you will face. It is important for you to slowly help your dog overcome its separation anxiety.
Ensure that you are leaving your dog alone at home only after catering to all its needs such as making sure it has eaten, peed and exercised before it is left alone for the day. This will help make your dog feel more comfortable when you are gone.
If your dog is exhibiting problematic behaviors such as lying on top of you to assert its dominance over you or other pets in the house, you need to train it to ensure that it doesn’t consider you to be an inferior animal of the pack.
If your dog sees itself as being the alpha of the pack over you then it will act out in various other ways and refuse to listen to you in all spheres of life.
If you are noticing your dog’s undesirable behavior at other times as well, then you need to be stern with your dog and establish yourself as being the person in control.
If your dog is not listening to you, you might need to take the help of a professional who can train your dog appropriately to avoid any issues with your dog’s behavior.
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Dogs tend to like sleeping on top of their owners for a number of reasons. These reasons can be harmless such as looking for affection.
If this is something that you are comfortable with then there is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy your dog’s affection.
If you don’t like your dog sleeping on top of you then you can easily train it to change its behavior through positive reinforcement as well.