Most dog owners enjoy it when their furry friends want to be with them. Cuddling up on the couch after a long day with your dog is a great way to relax and unwind. Sometimes, your dog has other ideas and thinks you’ll make a great pillow. It’d rather lay by your head than on the dog bed. While it can be adorable, sometimes this behavior can indicate anxieties or underlying problems that need to be resolved.
This article will give eight possible reasons why a dog wants to sleep by its owner’s head. We’ll also provide some ideas for how you can train your dog to stop this behavior.
The Reasons Your Dog Sleeps By Your Head
Improving Social Status
Wild dogs live in packs with clear hierarchy levels, and every pack has one alpha dog in charge. Many complicated factors determine social status in a pack, but the result of this hierarchy is that dogs are constantly trying to move up the ladder. Being nearer to the top gives a dog better feeding and mating opportunities, increasing their chance to pass on their genes successfully.
You may be wondering: what does this have to do with sleeping by your head? From a dog’s perspective, sleeping near the pack leader —most likely owners—will raise their rank in the eyes of other pack members. Sleeping on your head can signal other dogs to back off since your dog is clearly near the top.
If your dog sleeps by your head, it may be feeling cold. Your dog mostly wants to sleep by your head during winter. Unlike hands and feet, the head doesn’t get easily cold. It’s one of the warmest parts of the human body, making it the perfect spot for your dog.
Besides the head, your dog can also sleep near your chest or armpit when it feels cold.
If your dog continuously feels cold, you may want to check for the signs of hypothermia. These signs include:
- Stiff muscles
- Pale or gray gums
- Lack of coordination
Dogs can have hypothermia if they get cold due to the environment. It can also happen because of illness, injury, or medications.
When you bring new puppies into your home, the first few weeks can be lonely for them. Adjusting to a new family can be taxing for puppies.
If your newly-adopted puppy enjoys napping by your head, it might just want to be as close to you as possible. A new puppy may also be comforted by your breathing and want to get near your face.
Letting a new puppy in your bed overnight isn’t a smart idea, mainly because it can’t hold its bladder overnight.
A puppy could pee in your bed without waking you up at all. Crate training provides a better routine for you and the puppy. However, napping with your puppy is a great way to strengthen the new bond you share.
If the puppy likes to nap on the pillow by your head, it’s a judgment call on your part. As long as you’re happy and comfortable, there’s no harm in it.
Some adult dogs will do the same thing, but puppies under a year old are likely to display this behavior.
Some dogs can be clingy during bedtime. One of the ways dogs display their clinginess is by lying by your head. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as your dog isn’t disrupting your sleep. Bear in mind that occasional clinginess is different from separation anxiety.
Anxiety can develop from bad experiences such as losing a dog parent or trauma. Clinginess can also develop from praising your dog if they follow you.
A clingy dog will follow you everywhere. Meanwhile, an anxious dog won’t stand a minute or two without you by its side, chewing on everything once you leave.
Below are some of the clingiest dog breeds:
- Golden Retriever
- Border Collie
- Labrador Retriever
A common cause of sleeping by your head is separation anxiety. If your dog is attached to you, it might get nervous when you’re away.
In some cases, dogs with separation anxiety will follow owners around the house and bark if they’re left in a room by themselves.
If you think your dog has separation anxiety, you need to take some steps to help them overcome it. Treating separation anxiety will help your dog live a normal, happy life. The general plan is to spend more quality time and reward your dog when they stay in their bed.
Sometimes dogs sleep by your head because they’re trying to protect you. One sign is if the behavior happens more often when other people are around. Overprotective dogs perceive other people as potential threats and guard their owners.
Sometimes owners can unknowingly reinforce the behavior. If you reward your dog for sleeping by your head, it’ll want to do so every night.
Most dogs are quick learners and can pick up on your habits quickly. Reinforcement training uses treats, but attention and toys are also valuable rewards for your dog.
Consider the following scenario:
Your dog jumps up on the bed and sleeps by your head. If you respond by scratching your dog’s head and giving it a pet, it will learn to associate the behavior of sleeping by your head with a positive experience of getting pets.
Giving your dog treats whenever it sleeps by your head isn’t a good idea. Like humans, dogs love to repeat behaviors that bring reward. And that’s why your dog won’t stop sleeping by your head.
Your Dog Misses its Pack
If you currently have a puppy, it might be lying by your head due to loneliness. Before reaching your house, your puppy belonged to a litter with many siblings. Getting away from them is a negative experience.
A study suggests that puppies can remember their siblings from 4 to 5 weeks of age. Researchers have also discovered that puppies remember their mother’s scent.
Sleeping alone is strange for new puppies because they’re used to sleeping with their littermates. And because your presence gives them comfort, they sleep by your head.
Some large dogs think of themselves as lap dogs. But sometimes, this can also be an issue of personal space. It’s instilled in them that sleeping by their owner’s head is a great experience.
Your dog may think that the best place to sleep is near your head because your dog has no boundaries, and it hasn’t been told “no.”
If your dog doesn’t have behavioral problems, the only reason it sleeps by your head is affection. Your dog is showing its love for you.
Dogs often show affection towards the people that feed, play, and walk with them.
You should watch your dog’s body language to see if it’s showing other signs of affection like gentle touching and cuddling.
Breaking the Habit of Dogs Sleeping by Your Head
Establish Your Dog’s Sleeping Area
First, watch your dog as it sleeps. Observing your dog’s sleeping habits will help you find a bed that will be comfortable for your dog.
Pay close attention to the dog’s body language. If your dog likes to stretch out by your head, go for a comfortable rectangular mattress. If your dog likes to curl up in a tight ball, an oval bed will be the better fit.
You can buy a dog bed at a pet store. When buying dog beds, you often get what you pay for. Flimsy and cheap dog beds will fall apart easily, discouraging your dog from sleeping in its bed. There are many types of pet beds available, including:
Orthopedic dog beds: Orthopedic beds are long mattresses that provide orthopedic support. They are suitable for older dogs and provide extra cushioning. They are also spacious, so this could be a good option if your dog likes to stretch out when it sleeps.
Donut dog beds: This bed is a cushion with a raised side, making it look like a donut. These are perfect for dogs who like to curl up near you.
Pillow or cushion dog beds: These simple dog beds made of a large pillow are good for dogs who stretch out when they sleep.
Heated dog beds: Some dogs enjoy the warm and cozy sensation of sleeping near their owners. So if you live in a colder climate, a heated dog bed is a good option to keep your dog warm.
Place the Dog’s Bed in a Comfortable Spot
If you want to encourage your dog to stay out of your bed and away from your head, you should make sure its sleeping area is in a comfortable and familiar spot.
The dog bed shouldn’t be in an area near a draft or an open door. Look for a sleeping spot in a dark area of the room.
Put Your Dog’s Favorite Toys Near the Bed
Make the bed more appealing to your dog by placing its favorite toy on the bed. You can also place a scarf or shirt that smells like you on its bed, encouraging it to stay away from your bed.
Set up a Sleeping Spot for Your Dog in a Kennel or Crate if It’s a New Puppy
It is important to establish your new puppy’s sleeping area quickly, so it’s not tempted to try to sleep by your head. Line the kennel with a newspaper in case of any nighttime accidents. Create an elevated dog bed inside the kennel so your puppy is sleeping in a clean spot.
Use Positive Reinforcement to Train Your Dog
You can use positive reinforcement to stop your dog from sleeping by your head. When your dog lies down in a more suitable place, reward it with treats and toys. You can artificially create this s by leading your dog to the desired sleeping spot, or you can wait and react when your dog goes there by chance.
Avoid Negative Reinforcement.
It’s important to avoid negative reinforcement and recognize that sleeping on your head is often nothing more than normal dog behavior. Using negative reinforcement like yelling or forcibly removing your dog could create other behavioral and trust issues.
Fix Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
If you think that separation anxiety is the cause, you’ll need to address it directly. Treating this underlying problem will slowly help the anxious dog associate being left alone with positive experiences. Reward your dog with treats and praise when it doesn’t react to your leaving routine. Eventually, your dog will realize that your leaving is a positive experience and get more comfortable being separated from you.