The Root of the Behavior
There are some more dominant breeds that according to various trainers and behavioral therapists will lean on you to show their dominance. By leaning on you, the dog is invading your space as well as claiming you as his territory. Breeds such as the Perro de Presa Canario, Boerboel, American Bulldog, Husky, Bull Mastiff, Alano Espanol, Groenendael, Schanuzer, Koolie, Griffin, Irish Terrier, and Chesapeake Bay Retriever are all known to have a slightly dominating alpha personality. A dog that is more of an alpha breed, or just tends to run more alpha than most, may be leaning on you to remind you who is boss. However, it is more often believed that a dog leans on you to make a connection or for actual physical support. While the Berner can fall into the guard dog grouping, he is rarely an alpha. As a pack animal, he simply likes to be with his pack and you are his home and happy place. There is a greater chance he is leaning into you for security purposes, to remind himself that you are with him. It is also proven that a dog releases ‘feel good’ brain chemicals when he is in the presence of his beloved owner. Many believe that dogs have learned that physical contact feels good, and that in leaning into you he is strengthening his bond.
Encouraging the Behavior
Berners are sensitive and cannot handle a harsh word or reprimand. Admonishing him will not only hurt his feelings but will also reinforce the lean in behavior. By ignoring the behavior and then praising him for a different and more desirable behavior, you are teaching him that you are the boss. But again, as he is not an ‘alpha type breed,’ if you sense he is leaning in to bond and be close you can take different measures if you wish to have the behavior removed or changed. Similar to if he is trying to dominate, as he approaches stop him but turn towards him and command him to sit and stay. Then reward and praise him for obeying and lavish your love and affection. You are teaching him to come to you for affection, but to respect your boundaries. This is especially important if he is leaning on children or elderly and is causing them to fall over. All of your commands need to be gentle and loving, and you must remain consistent, as the one time you let him lean will be all it takes to re-establish the unwanted behavior.