The Great Pyrenees is not a small dog. Close to 30 inches tall and weighing in at 85 pounds or more, they are not the breed that you might initially classify as a “lap dog.” But those who love the Great Pyrenees know better. Great Pyrenees dogs are loving additions to a family. They are affectionate and gentle, especially with children, and are particularly attached to those with whom they have forged a bond. Also, like many large and giant breed dogs, they tend to lean on people to whom they feel connected. There are a number of reasons why Great Pyrenees dogs lean on people. Unsurprisingly, most of them connect in some way back to love.
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The Root of the Behavior
By their nature, all dogs are pack animals. They feel safest when they are in the company of their pack, and to the domestic dog, the human family fits unequivocally into that group. When your Great Pyrenees leans on you, he or she is getting as close to you as possible. A smaller breed dog can achieve this closeness by sitting in your lap, but the Great Pyrenees can't quite fit all of himself or herself up there. Instead, the dog gives you his or her weight by leaning it against your leg or side. Being next to you may also just make your dog feel good. Research shows that when dogs gaze at their owners, the human experiences an increase in the bonding hormone oxytocin. This makes the owner feel more affectionate toward the dog, which causes the dog's brain to release more oxytocin. The resultant increase prompts the dog to seek closeness and eye contact with the owner, and the loop continues. The same loop may be in place when your dog leans on you, particularly if it makes you feel a stronger bond with your four-legged friend.
For some dogs, however, the need to lean stems from either physical or emotional insecurity. Shyer dogs tend to lean on their owners as a way of seeking out a little bit of extra security. This may be the case if your dog leans on you more often or more intensely in certain situations, particularly if the dog is showing other signs of anxiety in those moments. Similarly, there are some dogs who lean on people because they are feeling physically unstable. If your dog is prone to falling, whether leaning on you or not, you may want to have a conversation with your veterinarian to find out what might be going on. There are some people who will say that the opposite is true, that your dog is leaning on you to establish dominance. Dog behaviorists have largely debunked this theory, however, and assert that unless your dog is trying to dominate you in other ways, the leaning behavior is more likely stemming from affection or a need for support.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, is it okay to let your dog lean on you? For the most part, veterinarians believe that there is nothing inherently harmful about the behavior. As long as you are physically able to hold up close to 100 pounds of dog, or even more, you can feel free to let your Great Pyrenees show his or her love by giving you weight. Should you want your Great Pyrenees to lean on you even more often, you can most likely accomplish this by giving him or her extra pats when he or she chooses to lean. As soon as your dog associates the behavior with your affection, he or she will probably start seeking it out.
Conversely, if you prefer that your large dog not share his or her weight with you quite so much, you can discourage the behavior by walking away when it happens. This will give your dog the message that leaning is not the way to get more love. If your dog keeps pursuing you, however, it might be a sign that he or she is lacking in attention. Spend some more time with your Great Pyrenees and give him or her plenty of playtime, head rubs, and any other forms of affection that you both enjoy. In time, he or she will probably not need to lean as much.
Other Solutions and Considerations
In certain cases, a Great Pyrenees's leaning behavior may be indicative of a more serious anxiety issue. If your dog not only leans on you whenever you are around but also appears extremely upset when you leave, he or she may be struggling with separation anxiety. You may be able to help your dog cope with this anxiety by rewarding his or her independence. Instead of giving attention when the dog wants it, wait until he or she has spent a bit of time alone and then offer some affection. In time, the dog will likely come to understand that bieng self-sufficient is a desirable behavior. One way to support this is to teach your dog a “settle” command. This teaches your dog to lie calmly on a bed or mat on request, a behavior that should be associated with a desired reward.
For most dogs, leaning is like a hug between friends – a casual and comforting way to show affection. If your Great Pyrenees likes leaning on you but seems emotionally secure otherwise, you can feel free to enjoy the warm weight. After all, there is nothing quite like the love of a 100-pound lap dog!