When you ask the average person on the street to describe a Greyhound, you are likely to hear of their athleticism and racing prowess. If you ask a Greyhound owner the same question, however, you might be more likely to learn about a sweet and loyal goofball who loves to be close to people. As part of his predisposition toward closeness, the Greyhound often loves to lean on his owners. If you are a Greyhound owner, you are probably well aware of this tendency, as you have had 50 to 85 pounds of dog sharing his or her weight with you on more than one occasion. Whether you can easily support your large furry friend or have to lean on a wall yourself to keep the dog from falling down, you may have wondered why your Greyhound needs to give you his or her weight. The answer, ultimately, is love.
The Root of the Behavior
All dogs are pack animals. They draw strength and comfort from their human family members, and being near their owners makes them feel good. According to a research team led by Dr. Miho Nagasawa, eye contact between a dog and a human can increase the concentration of oxytocin in the brains of both parties. The researchers referred to this as a facilitated positive feedback loop, in which reinforced proximity strengthens the pair's bond and increases the positive feelings that they get from one another's company. The more dog and owner gaze at one another, the closer they feel, and the more they want to be together. Often, however, proximity is not enough to meet a dog's needs. All dogs have an innate need to be physically close to their human family members, and Greyhounds tend to feel this need particularly strongly.
A Greyhound likes to show affection with his or her entire body, whether that means curling up against you on the couch or leaning his or her weight against your side. Physical contact is such a strong need in the Greyhound, in fact, that they have earned the nickname “Velcro dogs.” Leaning also allows your Greyhound to feel physically supported... If your dog tends to feel anxious in certain situations, you may find that he or she tends to lean on you in those moments. Doing so may help your Greyhound to experience a release of feel-good hormones in the brain, which make him or her feel safer and more secure thanks to your presence. Of course, your dog may just be leaning on you to give you some love. While smaller dogs might sit in your lap, your Greyhound may give you his weight to show that he or she feels bonded to you. It's not really that strange that bigger dogs are more enthusiastic leaners; it is an expression of emotional closeness born out of practicality.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, is it okay that your Greyhound likes to lean on you? According to veterinarians, as long as your dog isn't showing any signs of anxiety, there is no harm in a bit of leaning. If you enjoy the behavior and the connection that it gives the two of you, feel free to encourage it. All you need to do in that case is give your dog some extra affection when he or she starts to lean. He or she will take this as encouragement and most likely come to you for a lean more often. Likewise, if you'd rather your dog not lean so often, you can ignore or discourage the behavior.
Your dog may stop leaning if you don't respond positively, although in some cases you may need to actively step away to get the message across. You may need to discourage the leaning behavior if your dog is using it as a substitution for confidence. In this case, you need not push the dog away or walk away from him or her. Simply ignore the behavior and implement a training program that will encourage the confident behavior that you want to see. If you need some help developing training exercises, a professional dog trainer can be of assistance.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog is leaning on you more often than you think is healthy, you may need to watch him or her for signs of separation anxiety. Some dogs have an extremely hard time separating from their owners, and they tend to show this distress with excess clinginess and destructive behaviors during separation. This may be the case for your dog if he or she is not only leaning on you and following you around, but also crying and scratching at doors, windows, or floors whenever you leave the house. Separation anxiety is truly distressing for dogs. If your dog is showing these signs in combination, start a conversation with your veterinarian about how you can help. Your vet may send you to an animal behaviorist for training or, if all else has failed, prescribe calming medication.
For the most part, a Greyhound who leans is simply a Greyhound who loves. Think of it as your dog's way of giving you a hug. As long as your dog seems happy and healthy, you can feel free to enjoy it or try to find another outlet for his or her affection, if you prefer. Either way, enjoy your love bug, because he or she certainly enjoys you!