If you have a Boxer, you probably know what it feels like to play lamppost for 70 pounds of devoted canine. Boxers love to lean, and as charming as it may be, you may wonder why your dog does it. After all, Boxers are big dogs, and there are probably plenty of door frames or pieces of furniture in your home that would better support the weight of a weary pooch. The truth is, your dog isn't just trying to hold himself or herself upright when he or she leans. It's not the leaning that matters at all, actually, but rather your dog's feeling of your presence and support.
The Root of the Behavior
More often than not, Boxers lean to communicate that they love you and want to be close to you. Boxers are known for their affectionate natures and their tendency to bond firmly with their human families. Because they feel this connection so deeply, they tend to need your attention more intensely than some other breeds. Sometimes they literally choose to sit in your lap, but they also like to sit right next to you and give you their weight. According to psychological studies, this may actually make you and your dog closer. In 2015, the journal Science released the results of a study that examined human and dog bonding behavior. They found that when dogs made eye contact with their human family members, concentrations of the “bonding hormone” oxytocin increased in both parties. The study also noted that the longer an owner and his or her dog were in physical contact, the more oxytocin was present in the owner. This suggests that a dog's closeness to his or her owner can actively strengthen the bond between them.
Your dog's leaning behavior may also be a way of getting as physically close to you as possible. Boxers are enthusiastic cuddlers. In some cases, there may be an element of dependency in the behavior, since leaning requires your dog to feel that you are not going to step away and let him or her fall to the ground. Dogs also get an emotional and psychological sense of safety from leaning on you. From an evolutionary standpoint, dogs have always been and still are pack animals. They feel safe in groups and most secure when they are close to their pack mates. If a dog is feeling particularly anxious or fearful, he or she may lean on an owner to relieve that anxiety. If you think your dog may be leaning on you because of an anxiety issue, check his or her body language. Be particularly mindful of whether this and other nervous behaviors increase when you are about to leave the house, as some dogs do struggle with separation anxiety.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, should your Boxer's leaning behavior be a cause for concern? In general, veterinarians say no. Sociability and affection are natural qualities in most Boxers, and let's face it, the tendency is pretty cute. After all, what Boxer owner doesn't like to feel needed by his or her soupy-eyed friend? So unless something seems to be wrong with your dog, feel free to encourage his or her leaning. Fortunately, you can fairly easily encourage this natural behavior. Simply give your dog extra attention and affection when he or she starts to lean against you. You can also discourage the leaning if you find it uncomfortable or if you simply would prefer that your dog not show attention in that way.
For most dogs, you can walk away every time that the leaning starts and withhold affection until your dog is supporting his or her own weight fully. Of course, it is always possible that your dog might not get the hint and stop leaning. If not, and especially if your dog is struggling with other problem behaviors, you may want to engage the help of a professional dog trainer. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend someone and may also be able to offer some suggestions as to why the leaning is difficult to stop. In some cases, your dog may actually be having problems standing or sitting due to an orthopaedic or neurological issue. Many of these are treatable, which could make your dog feel more secure.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your Boxer's leaning seems consistently associated with your absence, he or she may be dealing with separation anxiety. This is more likely if your dog is responding to your absence with destructive behaviors, such as scratching at doors or urinating indoors despite being otherwise house trained. Many owners find that they can ease their dogs' mild separation anxiety by leaving them with an item of clothing that bears the owners' scent. Other dogs do better with an engaging toy, such as a treat-filled Kong. If your dog has more sever anxiety, however, you may need to guide him or her through densensitization and counterconditioning training. A professional animal behaviorist can show you how.
Dogs can't say “I love you,” so they show you how they feel by getting close to you and sharing your space. Leaning against you is probably only one of the love messages that your Boxer has in his repertoire, but it is also probably one of the cutest. If your dog doesn't seem to be leaning on you because of any feelings of distress, feel free to just enjoy the affection of man's (or woman's or kid's) best friend!