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Why does my dog lay on top of me? How to get your space back

French Bulldog lying on man's legs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whether you can’t get enough of it or you feel squashed by your furry friend's weight, ‘why does my dog lay on top of me?’ is a question that pet parents have pondered for years. 

Even if you’ve invested in the best dog bed that money can buy, it’s likely your canine companion will often still prefer the comfort of your lap to sleeping alone. 

While the most affectionate dog breeds are well known for their desire to snuggle at every opportunity, even pups that have a tendency to be more independent will still sprawl across their owners chest or seek out the warmth of their lap from time to time. 

If your pup is persistent in their attempts to lay on top of you, it’s worth understanding some of the root causes that may be driving their behavior. While the evolutionary self-preservation trait of huddling together with their pack for safety and security still exists within dogs today, there are other factors that may cause your pup to want to lay on you. 

Below, we take a look at seven of the most common reasons why your dog is wanting to get up close and personal and how you can put a stop to it without offending your fur friend if it’s all getting a bit too much. 

1. They want to protect you

Dogs are very protective of those that they consider to be part of their pack, and while you may not have fur like some of their other friends do, they absolutely view you as being one of them.

Descending from wolves who lie together in the wild for security and warmth, dogs are born into litters and will adopt that same behavior as puppies, sleeping on top of each other as a way of providing a sense of comfort.

While dogs will leave their litter at around eight weeks of age and go to live with their new human families, this behavior remains deeply ingrained in them and will quickly be transferred onto you. 

Because they almost immediately see you as a member of their pack, your pup will lay on you even when there is no threat to your safety or wellbeing because they’re driven to protect those they love.

2. You’re warm and comfortable

Why would you choose to climb into a cold dog bed all alone when you can clamber on top of your very warm human and feel instantly comfortable? That’s often what’s going on in your dog’s mind when they seek to be close to you. 

While you might not feel quite as soft as the pillow in their bed, you’re a lot more comforting and your natural body heat acts like a hot water bottle, instantly warming your fur friend from the inside out. 

The desire to lay on top of you can be especially strong for small dog breeds, older dogs, and those with less hair, all of whom find it harder to regulate their body temperature and stay warm. 

3. They have separation anxiety

Separation anxiety in dogs is fairly common, although some breeds are more likely to experience distress when away from their owners than others. Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety may engage in destructive behaviors or excessive vocalization (such as barking, yelping or whining) when their owners are not around.

The symptoms of separation anxiety tend to begin the moment a pup is forced to be without their human and while they may subside as the minutes and hours go by, some dogs will remain in an intensified state of anxiety until their owner returns. Once reunited, they may show excessive excitement and seek to lay on you as a way to reestablish a feeling of closeness and connection. 

Dog laying on woman's lap

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Your dog wants attention

If your dog laying on top of you seems to be less about sleep and is accompanied by nudging, pawing, licking or nipping, it’s likely they’re trying to get your attention. While this behavior can be incredibly annoying, attention seeking is often the result of:

  • Not getting enough exercise
  • A lack of mental stimulation
  • Feeling fearful or unconfident

We recommend increasing your dog’s daily activity levels and seeing if this makes a difference. If you don’t have the time to take them on an extra walk, why not try some indoor games for dogs?

Or for those times when you’re too busy to engage with your canine companion, the best dog puzzle toys can be a real lifesaver when it comes to giving their brain a good workout. 

5. They’re showing you affection

As well as lying on top of each other for warmth and security, wolves also engage in this behavior as a sign of affection, and the same is true for dogs. One of the main reasons your pup wants to be so close to you is because they love you and lying on you is a way of strengthening your bond. 

Being beside or on top of you not only makes your canine companion feel safe and happy, but the close contact can also help to calm them down if they’re feeling stressed or anxious. 

6. You’ve allowed it

Unfortunately, sometimes we as pet parents encourage certain behaviors in our dogs without even realizing it. If you let your dog lie on you once in the past, they’ll take this as a signal that it’s okay to repeat the behavior. 

Other positive reinforcement includes petting them while they’re lying on you, kissing their head or cuddling them - all of which send the dog the message that lying on you is acceptable.

7. They’re trying to tell you something

Unlike humans, dogs can’t verbally express how they’re feeling or what they’re wanting, so lying on top of you may be their way of indicating that something’s going on that they’re wanting you to be aware of.

Common things they’re trying to communicate to you include wanting to be let outside or taken for a walk, wanting their food or water bowl refilled, or wanting you to play with them. Your dog may also lay on top of you when they’re feeling unwell and are in need of comfort. 

How to stop your dog from laying on top of you

Great Dane trying to lay across woman's lap

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you enjoy a good snuggle session with your dog and don’t mind them laying on top of you, then feel free to carry on as usual if both of you are happy with the current arrangement.

If, on the other hand, you’d like your pup to sleep somewhere other than your chest or lap, here are a few ways you can make the switch without upsetting your fur friend:

1. Move your dog slowly

If you don’t enjoy having your pup laying on you, moving him off slowly and gently is perfectly acceptable. We recommend you let him lay on you for a few minutes so that he doesn’t view the shift as you rejecting him as a member of your pack. 

When you do slide your canine companion off, place him beside you so that he views the action merely as you shifting position, as opposed to not wanting to be close to him. 

It may take several attempts to get him to stay put in his new spot, so you may want to use a few of the best dog treats to positively reward him when he eventually settles.

2. Crate train your pup

One of the best ways to stop your pup from sleeping on you is to train them to sleep in their crate instead. Creating a safe, secure and comfortable sleep spot for your canine companion will help them make the transition from laying on you to sleeping alone. You can check out our article on how to crate train a dog for step-by-step instructions.

3. Avoid encouraging the behavior

As we mentioned earlier, any kind of attention from you when your dog lays on top of you acts as positive reinforcement which signals to your fur friend that this behavior is acceptable. If you stroke, kiss or cuddle your pup when he climbs on you, you’re rewarding the behavior and will likely encourage more of it.

When deterring your dog, it’s important to do so gently. Don’t push him or shout at him as he will likely interpret this as you rejecting him. Instead, allow him to remain close to you but place him where you’re comfortable, whether that’s beside you or by your feet. 

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.