As a dog owner, you have many roles. You are a loving parent, a chauffeur, a nutritionist, a first aid responder, and sometimes even a piece of furniture. If your dog is like many others, he or she likes to sit on you from time to time. Your feet, your lap, and even your chest become even more appealing than the softest sofa cushion when it comes to where your dog wants to park his or her rear end. Sitting at your feet or on your lap probably seem normal, but what about your chest? Often, your dog chooses that spot for the same reasons that the or she favors other parts of your body as a favorite seat. In other cases, though, sitting on your chest sends a specific message.
The Root of the Behavior
When dogs do something that we don't understand, it often has something to do with pack behavior. The ranking of members within a dog's pack is not only very important to each individual canine's ability to make sense of the world but also a changeable thing that he or she feels the need to evaluate from time to time. If your dog makes demands of you, he or she may be trying to figure out if it is possible to take over the position of pack leader. Normally, your ability to do things like open doors and pour food means that you are unquestionably in charge of the pack. But your dog's instincts mean that he or she has to make sure. Demanding to be picked up may be an example of such casual testing, but so can sitting on your chest. When your dog does this, he or she feels like the one in charge. Your dog's sitting on you is also a way of marking you as his own. Whenever a dog puts his tail end on your body, he is rubbing some of his scent onto you. That way, any other dogs you encounter will know that you are claimed. To your dog,his is not only a means of establishing control, but also a way of protecting you while you are out in the world.
Your dog may also simply be trying to show you that he or she loves you. Being on your chest is an intimate behavior for your dog, since the feeling of your breath makes him or her feel very close to you. A desire for closeness is especially likely if your dog jumps up on your chest as soon as you lie down after being out all day. Your dog missed you! And if it happens more when you had a bad day, you can be pretty sure that your dog wants to use his love to make you feel better. There is also the possibility that your dog's chest-sitting behavior is a way of making himself feel comfortable. You are warm and soft to sit on, and your dog wants that spot for himself. It makes him or her feel like he or she is sleeping curled up with the pack, as your dog would do if you were another dog.
Encouraging the Behavior
If you like your dog sitting on your chest and want him or her to do it more often, you can train the behavior, but experts recommend that you first teach your dog that it must happen on your terms. One effective way to do this is to stand up if your dog tries to sit on your chest when you'd rather he or she wouldn't. He or she might try a few more times, but the process of doing so helps with the internalization of the message that your chest is a place of privilege.
Once your dog has stopped trying to jump on you without your permission, you can lie back down, pat your chest, and say “chest.” Your dog will probably take you up on your offer. After a few moments, you can gesture toward the floor and say “off.” Assuming he or she obeys, give him or her a pat and say “off” again. You may have to spend some time training your dog to sit on your chest only when you give the command. However, the end result may be that whenever you pat your chest and say the cue word, your dog will happily sit there. And, perhaps more importantly, he or she will be ready to get off when you need that to happen.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog seems to be sitting on your chest to establish dominance, but it is the only way that he or she seems to do so, you have nothing to worry about at the moment. That said, it is important for you as a responsible pet owner to make sure that your dog's challenges to your pack leadership do not progress to a growl, snapping at you, or trying to get away when the two of you are out walking. If you do notice your dog getting too demanding, remind him or her that you are in charge. Wait to give your dog his or her food until it's time, even if he or she begs, and only allow him or her to sit on your chest when it is comfortable for you. If you want your dog to get off, he or she needs to know that your chest will no longer be available to a dog who denies your request.
The truth is, all relationships are complicated, even the one you have with your dog. Some days you may love having your furry friend parked on your chest, while on other days, you may need your space. As long as your dog knows that you love him or her on both kinds of days, you are doing doggone great!