You come home after a long day at work and decide to take a rest before diving into supper prep. To your delight, your beautiful little puppy Fido toddles over to join you. He climbs up into your lap, paws at your face, and gives you gentle kisses. It's an idyllic scene. Then Fido does something strange. First, he climbs onto your shoulder then around to the back of your neck, forcing you to move forward to avoid squishing him to death. Not the most comfortable position in the world, but you can live with it. After all, Fido is pretty darned cute, and you enjoy spending time with him. But your neck must not have been comfortable enough for Fido because all of a sudden, he decides he'd rather perch on your head! You've been there before; you know the scene! Why in the world does your beloved dog like to climb on your head? You've been told it's a pretty hard surface, and with your hair getting even thinner these days, you're pretty sure it can't be comfortable! While using your head as a couch might seem an odd behavior to you, Fido seems to think it's a great idea.
The Root of the Behavior
What is the appeal of sitting on your head? It's a behavior that seems to make little sense, yet you know if Fido loves it so much, there has to be some solid reasoning behind it. By studying canine behavior and the history of the wild dog, we can learn a great deal about what makes our canine companions "tick." What we know for certain is that our dogs like to have a connection to us and that connection often includes touching. For most of us, our dogs are not content just to be nearby, they prefer to be right on top of us in some way. Why is this? There are several reasons that could explain this strange yet interesting canine practice. Since we are at the center of our beloved dog's world, it is possible that being as near to us as possible is a means of displaying their affection for us. While this is a common occurrence in many homes, it becomes even more intensified after an absence. If you have been away on a work trip or even a Fido-less vacation, you will find your dog is drawn to you like a magnet, and the closer they can get, the better!
Dogs are also territorial animals. Many of them will stake out their property by "marking" their home base with urine to inform other animals that your house belongs to them. Other dogs bark in a seemingly aggressive manner to warn off people and other animals that, to him, are encroaching on what is his. But our dogs don't just want to mark the place they live as theirs, they also want to leave a lasting impression that we belong to them as well. The most effective way that our dogs can accomplish this is by leaving their scent on us through the glands in their feet or by rubbing their faces against us. You are the most important part of your dog's world, and he doesn't want some random dog down the street thinking that he's going to come in your home and stake a claim with his person. Your dog wants to leave no doubt in any other dog's mind; you are his and his alone, and the best way he can get his message across is by ensuring that you smell just like him!
Another plausible theory is that your dog is simply finding a way to get warm, and this is very consistent with his choice of your head as the ideal landing spot. Your head is the area of the body that releases the most warmth. While over time this makes you cold, Fido is the happy recipient of the blast of warm air being released from your skull. Dogs intuitively know that to conserve body heat, it is best to cuddle up with other warm bodies. You see this in puppies from the time they are born. They cannot see, they cannot hear, and they really have no means to communicate whatsoever, but they are born with the instinct to gravitate towards a heat source. Their ideal heat source is their littermates and their mother, and without access to this, they will die. Since dogs are equipped with powerful survival instincts, the drive to secure warmth is incredibly strong. Your little canine opportunist loves you, but he is also smart enough to know that huddling up next to you is the best way to stay toasty warm. A win-win for Fido!
Encouraging the Behavior
Though canine dominance theory is controversial today, some canine experts have asserted that climbing on your head could possibly be an attempt to overthrow your leadership to establish Fido as the "alpha" of your home. Cesar Millan has suggested that dogs like to place themselves at physical peaks because in their minds, the higher up they are, the more authority they have. While this could explain why Fido likes to turn your head into a chair, it's unlikely to be true. While there certainly can be a hierarchy in a multi-dog home, dogs generally understand that the one who holds the resources controls the game. You are in charge of everything good in your dog's life. He knows it, and he chooses to be submissive to you because of it, but also because he loves you and values your relationship.
Still another consideration is that this could just be attention-seeking behavior. After all, Fido hasn't seen you all day, and he missed you! You can easily ignore a dog pawing at your leg or your arm. You can complacently pat a dog that is resting in your lap. But you cannot ignore a dog that is on your head! If active attention is what Fido is hoping for, there is no better way to obtain it than by making your head his perch.
Dogs generally respond to whatever we reinforce. If you don't like your dog laying on your head, you can correct this problem simply by removing him and praising him for assuming a different position. If your dog's whole intent is to get you engaged with him, he will have achieved his objective for climbing on your head in the first place, and this, in itself, is very satisfying for your dog.
Other Solutions and Considerations
You cannot ignore a dog that is resting on your head, so you must remove the dog. But you can reward the behavior you want to see. Choose an alternate location that you prefer for Fido to rest in. For many owners, this is their lap. When Fido opts to cuddle up in the preferred spot, praise him lavishly and reward him with his favorite treat or some additional play time. Alternatively, you could engage with Fido in a different manner to fulfill his need for extra time with you. Take him for a quick stroll around the neighborhood or a spirited game of ball in your yard. As long as Fido is with you, he will be happy. Above all else, never reward a behavior you are trying to eradicate. No matter how tired you may be, you do not want to allow a behavior to continue even once if you are trying to change it. By being inconsistent in your training, you will confuse Fido and set him up to fail as he will not understand what you want from him. Stay consistent! No matter how cute the behavior may be in the moment, giving in even once will set your dog up for repeat behavior and cause your training efforts to stall at the gate.
Do you love snuggling with Fido but you are not so in love with him perching on your head? If so, you are not alone. Many pet owners struggle with this same challenge. By taking the time to understand the reasons behind this odd behavior, you can help meet Fido's needs and redirect him to a sleeping position that is more comfortable for both of you.
Written by a Parson Russel Terrier lover Jason Homan
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 03/14/2018, edited: 01/30/2020