Maybe you were watching TV with your dogs and left the room for a moment. As you walk back in, you see a peculiar picture. The dogs haven’t taken your spot on the couch, rather your one dog is sitting on top of the other. The dog on top looks perfectly happy where he is and has no concern that he is on top of another animal. The dog on the bottom has a slight look of discontent, but mostly indifference. As you approach your spot on the couch, both dogs remain in their positions, unaffected and perfectly content. Why do your dogs sit on top of each other and why doesn’t this bother them?
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs plop themselves on top of each other for a few reasons. Dogs learned to pile as puppies, they demonstrate dominance, or they’re having a grand ole time playing.
A dog starts learning survival skills when he is born and in a litter. His littermates are a puppy’s first pack and that’s when the life skills begin. You may have seen adorable piles of puppies all snuggled together and on top of each other. This is how they sleep. They gain warmth, companionship, security, and comfort when they’re huddled together. This behavior is important if a dog is to survive outdoor conditions that include cold weather and predators. Learning pack behavior is necessary for survival. If your dogs sit on each other when sleeping or resting, chances are they’re huddled with the wants of warmth and companionship in mind.
As dogs leave their litter and join other packs, there is an Alpha dog in every pack. The Alpha dog is in charge and gets the best of everything, from grub to resting spots. The Alpha dog gets the best sleeping spot in a pack and is in control of where everyone else sleeps. That dominance is important in any relationship and dogs will respond to the Alpha. An Alpha dog demonstrates dominance in a variety of behaviors. If he tends to lead walks, is protective of his toys or food, or stands over the other dog in addition to sitting on him, it’s a dominance situation.
And sometimes, dogs just like to play. There’s a good chance you’ve had friends who have jokingly threatened to sit on each other while arguing. It’s kind of the same with dogs, although for them, it’s a little more acceptable to sit atop another dog. And in the end, they’re just playing around.
Some dog breeds are more playful than others and some are more dominant, but all dogs can show this behavior.
Encouraging the Behavior
If your dogs are sitting on each other for play or comfort, you can let this behavior continue and it shouldn’t create any problems. Why deny them some fun or companionship that comforted them as puppies? If you’ve had your dogs for a while, chances are you know their signs of excitement and play versus aggression.
If you notice your dog is not thrilled to be sat on and becomes aggressive, you might have a power struggle on your hands. If your dogs are demonstrating dominance, you need to nip this in the bud right away. In a wild pack, there is the Alpha dog and that’s okay. Street rules apply. However, in your house, you’re the Alpha. Your dogs don’t need to bow to each other, rather to you. If you let one of your dogs assert dominance over the others, you’re setting up a serious power struggle that will become problematic.
A dominant dog will most likely demonstrate other dominant behaviors in addition to sitting on top another dog. Talk to a trainer about what you could see. A dog who pushes other dogs away, guards objects, or behaves like he is in charge is a dog who is trying to assert dominance.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you’ve introduced a new dog into a household, keep a close eye on your dogs if they start sitting on each other. A puppy might try to assert dominance over the older dog by sitting on him or he could just be playing. Make sure you monitor them together in the case that either becomes aggressive.
One other concern is if you have dogs of different sizes. It’s a great photo opportunity to see a small dog on top of another and you and your pets will become so popular on social media. But if one dog is significantly larger than another, you want to discourage the sitting on each other, even if it’s playful. A 50-pound dog can harm a 10 pound dog. You’ll want to discourage this behavior; just imagine how it feels to be sat on by someone five times your size. Ouch.
Visit a trainer to get tips on how to discourage this behavior, especially if it’s dominance motivated. The trainer can teach you and your dogs commands to eliminate the dominance and establish you as king of the castle once again.
Your dogs sitting on top of each other will give you a great photo opportunity and possibly a shot at internet fame with just the right caption. Snap a quick photo, make sure the behavior is playful and welcome, and post away! If you think it’s aggressive, wait for another time to take a pic and discourage the behavior. Your dogs will do something silly soon enough.
Written by a Miniature Yorkie lover Stephanie Molkentin
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/15/2018, edited: 01/30/2020