Deciphering the mysterious language of dogs
One of the things that all dog owners are guilty of is attributing human traits or characteristics to our pets. This phenomenon (known as anthropomorphism) is a result of human brains being wired to perceive animals with human behaviors.
It’s one of the reasons why we naturally want to care for animals. We assume, for example, that cats are grumpy, cynical and unfriendly, but actually research shows that cats form bonds with their human owners just as much as dogs.
We’ve all had situations where we assume our dog is displaying more complex thought than is actually the case. But with any doggy behavior that seems very human-like, we want to get to the bottom of it by finding out what causes it, what mood the dog is in and (if it’s a positive behavior) how to encourage it.
The reasons why a dog lies on your chest may surprise you! As always, if you ever notice any sudden or unusual differences in your pet’s behavior, make sure to consult with a qualified veterinary professional.
The simplest reason: they want to be close to you
Dogs are really very simple creatures and once their primary needs are met, then you’re doing your job as a pet owner. One of the most important needs of a dog is closeness, love and affection from their owner. You can make sure that your dog is happy and content in multiple ways on a daily basis. You show your affection through words, your body language and physical touch.
However, your dog doesn’t have a multitude of ways to show reciprocal love, so one simple expression of this is lying as close to you as possible, which is quite often right on or beside your chest. They can get share their warmth with you, hear your heartbeat and you are perfectly positioned to give them lots of cuddles and belly rubs!
It’s a privilege if your dog feels so safe and secure that their chosen spot is as close as possible to you. Think about a litter of puppies when they haven’t yet opened their eyes and all they do is sleep and eat for days. They will huddle close together with their siblings and their parents when possible to give themselves the best chance of staying warm and to feel protected.
When laying on your chest, your pet is exhibiting the exact same feelings of security and pack loyalty when they climb on top of you as you’re trying to watch Netflix.
It can sometimes be tempting to overanalyze and overcomplicate our furry friends’ intentions. But often the real cause is one of their primary motivators in life: to seek affection from their beloved owner.
Lying on your chest can be a display of dominance
You know your pet best. They may have more submissive or dominant traits in them depending on their breed, upbringing and training. Some pet owners have found that when their dog lies on their chest, they are doing so because they want to show you that they are the boss of you or to test you.
Dominance in a dog is not a desirable trait and should be discouraged so that the pet recognizes you as the owner and leader of its pack.
To a dog, moving to a higher position can be a display of dominance. In the wild, they would make themselves bigger by jumping up and moving to a position where they are recognized as the alpha.
It’s worth noting that this is the less likely reason, and it’s far more likely that your dog just wants to show and receive affection.
The only time that you should feel worried about this is if your dog displays other unwanted behaviors such as snapping, growling or barking while being physically close to you.
Training your dog to encourage positive behaviors
Your dog is not capable of extensive complex thought and can’t learn by weighing up the pros and cons of a decision and thinking about consequences of an actions. Therefore, it’s really important that you as the pet owner are consistent in your training.
If you are happy with your dog lying on your chest, just make sure that it happens on your terms. You can invite them to sit on/ next to you when it’s convenient, and you can clearly signal when you want them to get off.
You will have to repeat this multiple times for the message to be imprinted on your dog’s mind, but in the end, it will work out better for both of you.
Always think about the message you send to your dog when you’re trying to teach them. If you shout at them or push them away, they may become even more attached and less securely attached to you. Remaining calm is the best way to encourage this in your pet.
Your dog may be anxious and wants to be comforted
Do you recognize the signs when your dog experiences fear? Some key things to look out for are signs of stress such as their tail dropping down, their ears back and their head close to the ground. They might be panting excessively or whining.
Common causes are loud or triggering noises, a perceived threat or an unpleasant sensation. Your dog associate’s safety and security with you – their human protector. It’s natural for them to come closer to you as a way of asking for you to remove the reason for their anxiety.
It might be the case that your dog has separation anxiety, which is a separate topic and one that is very treatable when it’s addressed.
For further guidance on how to calm a stressed dog, read our helpful tips here.
Your dog lying on you is nothing to worry about
One of the most frequently searched questions is ‘how to train my dog’ and if you are a dog-owner you’ll know that it’s a daily and never-ending task.
Research shows that the best approach to teaching your dog to repeat certain desirable behaviors is through positive reinforcement. This means getting your pet to complete a task with the overt promise of a reward when completed.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be food or a treat, either. It could be as simple as a gently congratulations, speaking to them in a positive tone or playing a game with them.
If you want to encourage your dog to keep lying on you when it’s convenient for you, we recommend creating a simple and easy-to-follow command like ‘chest!’ and tapping your chest.
When you’re ready for them to jump off, you can say ‘down’ or ‘off’ and gesture at the floor. If this doesn’t work, you may need to stand up or gently move them off you.
What to do if you’re finding the training difficult
If you’re finding yourself getting more and more frustrated with your dog’s unruly behavior, just remember that you’re not alone! Every dog owner has thought “have I made a mistake?” at a certain point. You have a small creature who is excitable and capricious and doesn’t have the ability to think as logically as you do.
Never forget that when you were a small child, your grown-ups were endlessly patient and loving with you. Next time you’re watching your favorite show and your dog bounds in with wet paws and dives on to your chest, don’t get annoyed: just give them the affection the crave.