Golden Retrievers are known for their charming personalities. If you are the lucky owner of a Golden, you probably have already learned this lesson thanks to all of the passers-by that have stopped to adore your precious pooch. One of the ways that Golden Retrievers win your heart is by leaning on you. It's nice to be needed, and when your Golden leans against your leg, you definitely know that you are a support beam. But what does your dog actually need from you at that moment, if anything? And should you be worried about your Golden's musculoskeletal or neurological health? There are a number of theories out there, one of which might apply to your Leaning Tower of Fur.
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The Root of the Behavior
Literally or figuratively, when you lean on someone, you are asking for their presence and support. The same is often true for dogs. Canines of all sorts are pack animals, and they feel safest when they have their family members around them. In a study published in 2015 in the journal Science, Dr. Miho Nagasawa and her colleagues found that eye contact with owners causes dogs' brains to boost the release of oxytocin, a brain chemical associated with emotional bonding. While the researchers did not directly investigate whether this effect extended to leaning, their work did reveal that the bond between the human and dog was important to the chemical process. When your Golden Retriever leans on you, he or she may just be trying to feel and deepen that bond. Some dogs may lean when they are feeling insecure or fearful. In these situations, your support is both emotional and physical.
A larger dog like a Golden Retriever may be less likely to jump into your lap than a smaller breed, but that doesn't mean that he or she doesn't need to feel like you are holding him or her. Leaning can be a way of feeling that same kind of encompassing support. There are some people who claim that leaning has the opposite effect, and that it is a dog's attempt to assert dominance or manipulate their owners into paying attention to them. While it may be true that your Golden has learned to lean or you because it leads to him or her getting pats, the motivation is almost certainly more straightforward than manipulation. Like a child who needs a hug, your Golden needs to know that you are there for him or her. Your dog also just needs and wants affection. Leaning on you can be his or her way of offering that affection and getting it in return, whether or not there are any underlying feelings of insecurity.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, now that you know that your dog is probably not trying to put one over on you, is there anything else that might be wrong with letting him or her lean? After all, it's pretty cute. The good news, if you are a pro-leaning dog owner, is that most animal behaviorists don't consider it to be a problem. So, if you like your dog leaning on you, go ahead and let him or her lean. You can even encourage it by giving the dog some extra affection when you feel his or her weight on your thigh.
If you find it a little bit annoying, you can discourage the behavior by walking away and withholding attention when your dog starts to lean. Once your dog realizes that leaning is not going to result in extra affection, he or she will probably opt for another technique. It is possible, of course, that your dog will be a little bit slow on the uptake. Some dogs just are. Should you find that you have tried and failed to ignore your dog's leaning behavior but it still persists, you may need to look into some behavioral training. Your veterinarian will probably be able to offer a recommendation.
Other Solutions and Considerations
In some cases, leaning behavior is a sign of separation anxiety, which is a deeper problem than a simple desire for affection. A dog with separation anxiety will go beyond leaning on you and will try to be with you at all times. Dogs who have separation anxiety usually show high levels of distress when left alone and will demonstrate destructive behaviors, such as urinating in the house or trying to claw through the door. Often, signs of anxiety begin as soon as the dog sees his or her owner getting ready to leave. If you think your Golden might fit into this category, talk to your veterinarian. Behavioral training often works in these situations, but some dogs experience too much anxiety and need to be put on medication.
In most cases, your Golden Retriever is leaning on you because he or she loves you, plain and simple. Maybe it simply means that yours is the affection and security that your pup most wants, or maybe he or she just wants to be close to you. Either way, as long as your dog seems happy and secure, enjoy the ego boost that comes with owning man's (or woman's) best friend!