Why does my dog lay on top of me? A vet has the answer

Dog lying on top of owner on the sofa
(Image credit: Getty Images/juanma hache)

You're not alone if you’re wondering, ‘Why does my dog lay on top of me?’ It’s a common question that many pup parents are curious about.

It’s always flattering when your dog would rather snuggle up on your chest than lie on the best dog bed. But what does this really mean? There are various reasons why your pooch might choose to nap here (which we’ll be getting into later), but this might be a sign of their affection or protection. It’s actually one of the signs your dog loves you.

If your pup is one of the most affectionate dog breeds and loves to cuddle up, then you probably enjoy this extra bonding time with them. However, everyone needs their space from time to time and you might feel a little guilty moving them.

That’s why we asked vet Dr. Lily Richards for her expert advice on how to move them off of you (without upsetting them). We’ve also explored all of the reasons behind this behavior - let’s dive in:

Lily Richards
Dr. Lily Richards

Dr. Lily Richards is a vet with 11 years of experience in farm, equine, small animal and exotic patient care. After running a busy clinic she took a step into client education focusing on getting the right information to those that need it and are searching for help and advice from professionals online.

Why does my dog lay on top of me?

There are lots of reasons why your dog might lay on top of you. 

Vet Dr. Lily Richards says: “Dogs have a lot of quirks and this is one of them. Being pack animals and therefore highly sociable, it is perhaps natural for your dog to seek security, warmth, and protection with the closeness of lying on top of you. Packs of dogs are often seen to sleep in a ‘bundle’ for this reason. So perhaps your dog is considering you part of their pack.

“It could also be seen as a sign of affection, with your dog just wanting to be close to you. Some dogs use their scent to mark territory so lying on top of you could be a way to claim you as theirs or to be protective towards you.”

Here's a list of all of the reasons why your dog likes to snuggle up with you:

Dog lying on owner's chest

(Image credit: Getty Images/Ton Photograph)

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 lying on owner's lap

(Image credit: Getty Images/Solidcolours)

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

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.

Vet Dr. Lily Richards says: It is very possible to move your dog off you without upsetting them, you just have to be tactful. Luring your pup off with a treat or a toy is a great way to create a positive interaction leaving you both with what you need, you with space and them with the owner/ pet interaction they desire. 

“Teaching an ‘off’ cue can be useful also, as without physically pushing your pet off, they feel they made a choice and can be praised leaving a positive interaction rather than a feeling of rejection. If they are sleeping, it might be possible to gently move your pup to their bed without waking them, perhaps leaving something of yours will help them feel comforted by your scent.”

Here are some other ways to go about it:

Dog lying with owner on the sofa

(Image credit: Getty Images/Winnie Au)

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. 

You might also be wondering how to get a dog to sleep in a different room or should your dog sleep in your bed. 

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Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.

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