You are settling to enjoy a nice afternoon nap, and your dog plops on top. You wake up at night to see your dog sleeping on top of you. Or if the dog sees you after a long time, it may lie on you and halt you from moving.
As a dog owner, you may have come across such scenarios once in a while. Of course, dogs cannot verbally convey their feelings and wants. Still, they sure have a range of non-verbal communication modes at their disposal.
One of the communication modes we will be exploring today is your dog sleeping on you. Different emotions could trigger this behavior.
For example, it could be the dog’s way of showing love and affection, or the dog could be scared and trying to seek comfort from you. It could be an act of bonding or protection rooted in the canine’s instincts.
If you are wondering why does my dog sleep on me, let us go through possible reasons and techniques that can help stop the behavior.
Why Does My Dog Sleep or Lay on Top of Me?
Some harmless reasons for your dog to lay on you can be affection, care, and protection. Other reasons, like stress or anxiety, may require training and vet care.
Let us look at the nine possible answers to the question – why does my dog sleep on me?
1. It is Instinctual Behavior
Your beloved fur ball, the one trying to steal cuddles from you, has wolves and wild dogs as its ancestors. These ancestors lived and survived with the help of their pack members.
Sleeping on one another became a self-preservation trait for these animals. For example, they would sleep next to one another or pile up to keep warm on those cold winter nights. There would be some pack members keeping watch while the members rested.
You will see puppies cuddling and sleeping in a pile even when they are born. This trait has survived through years of evolution. It helps them bond and also offers them a sense of comfort and security.
As a domesticated dog, it may have a cozy bed and blanket to keep it warm. But as it may consider you part of the pack, the dog will occasionally lay or sleep on you. Such behaviors are ingrained in their psyche.
Also Read:- Why Does My Dog Cry in His Sleep? (10 Reasons)
2. Your Dog Loves You
As pet owners, you may readily accept and convey feelings of love toward your pet. One may show their love by pampering, giving treats, playing, and cuddling with the pet.
But is your dog capable of feeling the emotion of love? Well, science says yes. A team of scientists from Emory University in Atlanta conducted a test on dogs using MRI technology.
The animals were exposed to different smells, and researchers scanned their brains to gather data on their emotional states.
The test found that when the dogs were exposed to their owner’s smell, their brain’s caudate nucleus, the brain’s reward center, was activated. Humans respond similarly when they see pictures of the people they love.
So, your dog might be showing its love by sleeping on you. The practice can help strengthen the bond you two share.
Other ways your dog might express its love is by following you around, gazing into your eyes, and jumping with joy at the sight of you after a long day of staying away.
3. Your Dog is Scared or Anxious
When you are scared or anxious, you naturally seek the company of people you love and trust. The same goes for your canine friend.
For example, your dog may be engaged, playing with its toys. Suddenly it hears loud thundering. The next thing it does is run and jump on top of you. This is a natural response from the pet. When it is scared, it may seek you out as you may the pet’s safe space.
Thundering is one example; there could be other triggers that can lead the dog to run and lay on you suddenly. For example, it could be seeing different animals, strangers, car honks, or doorbells.
Separation anxiety could be another reason your dog sleeps on you. When such dogs are away from their owners for a long time, they can get anxious. And once they are with their owners, they will use every chance to stay close to them.
You can train the dog not to react to triggers. If that does not help, you can consult with a behaviorist. Talking to the vet about anxiety and stress issues would be best, as the treatment plan may involve medication and therapies.
4. You are Scared or Anxious
Studies have shown that dogs have affective empathy. This means they have the ability to understand the feelings of people who are important to them.
Some studies show that dogs could take on the current affective state of their owners. For example, if the owner was anxious, the emotion was also contagious to the dog.
Another study by Yong and Ruffman found that dogs showed a combination of behavior, including submissiveness and alertness, when exposed to the sound of crying.
The findings suggest that the animals can recognize and react to their emotional state.
So, if you are troubled, scared, anxious, or crying, dogs are capable of tapping into your current emotional state. And when they sense something is wrong, they may show submissive behaviors. These could be gently nudging, licking, or laying on top of you.
It is the dog’s way of comforting and helping you calm down. This is undoubtedly one of the adorable answers to why my dog sleeps on me?
5. Your Dog Wants Attention
It is no secret that dogs want attention. However, some breeds may want it more than others. For example, Siberian Huskies, Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies, and Cocker Spaniels are breeds that like to be their owner’s center of attention.
Such active breeds like to be in the company of humans. It is not a good idea to leave them alone. Suppose their physical and mental needs are not taken care of. In that case, they can develop destructive behaviors like excessive licking, chewing, or pacing.
So, when you do come home, they may cling to you, wanting all your attention.
There can also be cases of dogs seeking attention after you have taken them for walks, played, and spent time with them. Such behavior can get annoying. You will have to set boundaries and train the dog to respect them.
Explore activities and toys that can keep the pet engaged for longer. If you stay away from work, consider hiring a dog walker or enrolling the pet in a doggy daycare.
6. You are a Source of Warmth and Comfort
Don’t you like staying close or cuddling with your favorite person?
The simple act can help calm your nerves and fill you with a sense of comfort and security. For your pet, you are its favorite person. Sleeping on you is the dog’s way of seeking warmth and comfort.
Studies have shown that when you spend time gazing, petting, or cuddling with your dog, it stimulates the release of oxytocin. And the hormone is associated with positive emotions.
According to Larry Young at Emory University, oxytocin release works both ways. From the dog to the human and vice versa. It is like a feedback loop that keeps ongoing.
Sleeping with your dog can have a range of benefits. For example, it may ease your stress or anxiety; you may feel comfortable and improve your sleep quality. Similarly, your dog may feel secure and comfortable by having you next to it.
7. Your Dog is Protecting You
Protectiveness is another trait that dogs owe to their wild wolf ancestors. As these ancestors lived in packs, it was the responsibility of the members to take care of one another.
As we have seen above, dogs love their owners and can catch on to their emotions. They may also consider owners as a part of their pack. In such cases, the need to protect can become inherent.
So, if you are scared, the dog may sense your emotion and go into alert mode, trying to protect what it loves the most. The dog may get on top of you, as the position offers a good vantage point. It can keep you safe while assessing the surroundings for any danger.
The protectiveness trait may be common among dogs, but some breeds are more protective than others. For example, breeds like German Shepherds, Dobermanns, Cane Corsos, and Bullmastiffs make excellent watchdogs because of their loyal and protective nature.
8. Your Dog is Initiating Play Time
Dogs have varying physical and mental stimulation needs. For example, small dogs like Chihuahuas need 30 minutes of exercise a day. A walk at a moderate pace should suffice.
According to AKC, the breed’s mental stimulation needs are also moderate. You can give it toys to play with and spend some time with the pet, but it will be happy to lounge around at other times.
On the other hand, high-energy breeds like Labrador Retrievers need lots of exercise. You will have to switch up routines with activities like swimming or hiking to keep the pet interested. They also have high mental stimulation needs, so you have to keep them engaged in activities.
Regardless of the breed, dogs can develop destructive behaviors if they do not have an appropriate outlet for their energy. So, when you are around, the dog may get on top of you and try to initiate playtime. The dog may also get its toys or leash so you can take it out.
Initiating playtime may not necessarily be bad behavior. It may also mean that the dog misses you and wants to spend quality time with you.
9. It is an Encouraged Behavior
What did you do when the dog slept on top of you the first few times? Did you pet, cuddle, or kiss the dog? If yes, you may be equally responsible for your dog’s behavior.
Your canine friend does not have a sense of right or wrong. Its behavior depends more on the result and the reaction it gets. This is because the dog displayed a new behavior, and you rewarded it with hugs and kisses.
So, if you ask the dog to stop or get up from the bed, it would be an undesirable reaction for the dog. It will learn that you do not appreciate the behavior and will stop.
You can still train dogs to overcome their habits, but the process can get challenging. But if you keep giving positive reactions to the dog sleeping on you, it learns you appreciate the behavior. And then, the behavior becomes a habit.
If you are ok with the dog lying or sleeping on you, there is no need to disregard the dog. But, if you do mind, you must stop the behavior when it begins.
How Do I Determine the Reason Behind the Dog’s Behavior?
You need to consider the immediate circumstances to understand the reason behind your dog sleeping on you.
For example, imagine you have been away the whole day; you come back home, freshen up, and relax on the sofa. And that is, when the dog lies on you, it could mean that the dog missed you and is happy to have you around.
It is scary if the dog is happily lounging or playing and suddenly runs to find you and gets on your lap or top of you. Look for triggers like thunderstorms, fireworks, or strangers entering the house that may have caused such a reaction.
If you have ignored your dog’s needs, it will do its best to remind you. For example, if you are sleeping in and have forgotten to feed the dog, it may lie on top of you to wake and remind you to feed it. Or if it is well past its usual walk time, the dog may get its leash and plop itself on top of you.
To understand the reason, look into factors like the time of the day, your mood, and what you and the dog were doing before. Once you identify the reason, you can react accordingly with love and care or calm your pet down.
How Can I Stop the Dog From Sleeping or Laying on Top of Me?
If you do not like the dog sleeping on you, here are some techniques that can help stop the behavior.
1. Encourage Sleeping in a Crate or its Own Bed
Sleeping with your dog can have many benefits, but if you are a light sleeper, these benefits may not apply to you. Any movement from the dog can wake and disturb your sleep cycle.
So, it is important to encourage the dog to sleep in a crate or in its bed. For example, you can use commands like ‘go,’ ‘stay,‘ or ‘settle down to train the dog. Then, when the dog listens to you, reward the behavior with a treat.
You may have to continue this training for a few weeks for the routine to stick.
2. Stop Encouraging the Behavior
If you do not want the dog to sleep on you, you must stop encouraging the behavior immediately. Ignore the dog when it comes to lying on top of you. Do not pet or cuddle it. If the dog tries to lick your face, lean away from the dog.
If possible, slowly get up, and place the dog down. If it still tries to sit on your lap, stand up and walk into a different room.
Be careful not to push the dog, or it will interpret the push action as play.
3. Seek Help from the Vet or Behaviorist
You should first ensure the dog is well looked after, has nutritious food to eat, and gets enough exercise. Once these needs are met, the dog may not get on top of you for reasons like food or walks. Also, try to spend quality time with the dog.
Try setting boundaries and training the dog to sleep in its spot. If the dog refuses to listen to you, seek help from a vet or a behaviorist.
If the cause is stress or anxiety, then the vet may prescribe medications to manage the situation. In addition, a behaviorist can help overcome destructive behaviors through one-on-one training sessions.
Why does my dog sleep on me? It could be because the dog loves you and is a form of affection or seeking warmth and comfort from you.
Other reasons could be trying to protect you, get your attention, initiate playtime, or help you calm down or relax. It could also be because the dog is scared or anxious and seeking help.
Whether you let your dog sleep on you or not is a personal choice. If you do not want the dog sleeping on you, then stop encouraging the behavior, and train it to sleep in its bed. And if nothing helps, consult a vet or behaviorist.
Elena Gherman is a highly skilled and knowledgeable animal care expert. At the start of her career, she gained practical expertise with multiple animals. In addition to that, she works as a DVM veterinary editor for Joy Pet Products, which focuses on offering reliable information on pet health and wellbeing. She meticulously reviews each piece of writing before it is published to make sure pet owners get the most precise and updated information possible.