4 min read


Why Dogs Like Laps



4 min read


Why Dogs Like Laps




Consider the term “lap dog.” It’s a rather negative metaphor for someone who is unquestioningly loyal to another person, usually a boss or other higher up. A human lap dog can be counted on to defend the owner of the lap she sits on. A lap dog expresses admiration and even affection for the master. It’s often used in a political context. Writer Mike Barnicle once described college professors who accept political appointments as “a bunch of intellectual lap dogs for anyone who holds a big job in government.” And yet, when we think of loyalty, dependability, and unquestioning, affection, those are positive attributes. Isn’t it ironic that the negatives we use for people are exactly the kind of virtues we look for in dogs? Real lap dogs, the four-footed kind, are loyal, affectionate, and can be counted on to be our most energetic defenders whether we need them to be or not. After all, a barking Pomeranian is not very intimidating, but we love them just the same.

The Root of the Behavior

Domestic dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s the smaller ones that we like to have perched on our laps. Of course, we bred them to be that way; we bred them for size and for looks. Wild canines aren’t nearly so different-looking or so specialized as domestic dogs. But the question remains: how did we end up with dogs on our laps? There’s a lot of stories about why small dogs became lap dogs. The stories are sometimes charming. For example, it is said that toy dogs were bred in order to be carried in the sleeves of Chinese aristocrats. This story is often used to explain the appearance of Pekingese, and the smallest of this breed are still referred to as Sleeve Pekingese. 

Other stories are rather horrifying. According to legend, King Boleslaus II of Poland created the tradition of lap dogs as a punishment. During the 11th century, while at war with Russia, the King was distressed after hearing reports of wives cheating on their soldier husbands. This was, of course, bad for morale, so the king reportedly ordered that the illegitimate babies born to the wives of soldiers would be left in the woods, and the wives would be forced to breastfeed toy dogs and carry them everywhere, like a baby. The dogs caught on and, according to the story, it soon became fashionable to look like a cheating wife. In the wild, canines live in packs. The alpha gets the best choice of sleeping positions and the other members of the pack arrange themselves accordingly, with the best positions being as close to the alpha as possible.mIn our homes, the human is the alpha, but our dogs, even the tiny ones, are still canines; still wolves in their cute little hearts. 

Need advice about your pet's health?

Get answers fast from a veterinary professional 24/7 in the Wag! App.

Get Vet Chat

Encouraging the Behavior

To most toy dogs and many larger dogs, your lap is the most comfortable place in the world. You really don’t need much to encourage your little puppy to sit in your lap. You just need to be quiet and wait. Soon, your dog will probably notice that you are a comfortable place to sit! Of course, not all dogs see things the same way. Sometimes, you need to coax your little doggy into your lap. A good way to do this is to meet your dog part way. Sit on the floor with your little dog and pet and cuddle her when she comes over. If she doesn’t come over right away, place a treat on your leg and gently call to her. Place her on your lap, so she can get used to sitting on your legs. Reward your dog when she sits in your lap, then place her back on the floor, and repeat. You will want your dog to associate your lap with treats and cuddles, everything good. Once your dog is comfortable, cuddle her, speak softly to her, and give her treats. If you raise your dog from puppyhood, you should begin lap training early. If you adopt a second-hand dog, you may have to spend some time showing her that she is safe and welcome.

Other Solutions and Considerations

When your doggy is on your lap, it is important that she feels safe and comfortable. Make sure that you yourself are calm. Try to speak to your dog in a calm, sweet voice. Remember to not raise your voice to your dog. No matter how frustrated you are, yelling at your dog won’t help anything and will just damage your relationship. Likewise, make sure your gestures are slow and calm. And never, ever physically discipline your toy dog. They are very delicate! While dogs love to be near their humans, please keep in mind that some dogs will just not enjoy cuddling as much as other dogs. They may choose to not spend too much time on your lap. Dogs have their own personalities and their own preferences.


Little dogs are amazing companions. So much spirit and love in such little bodies! Having a little dog on your lap is a great way to bond. Some people make fun of little dogs. Just let them. Your dog may be the size of a toy, but her heart is as big as a lion.

By a Shiba Inu lover Patty Oelze

Published: 02/09/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

What do you think?

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.