My family has a German shepherd that we adopted last year.  She is very well behaved and loves nothing more than to hang out with us and protect our home. 

She is a big dog that sits beside us on most nights and loves to lean into us.  I am curious why she does this, and should it be encouraged because she is such a big dog?

Why does my German Shepherd lean on me?

Why does my German shepherd lean on me?  German shepherds are very protective of their home, family, and owner.  Despite being large, they are very gentle and loving of those closest to them.  Leaning into their owner and other family members shows affection but also protection. 

Their breed background is that of a working dog used to herd and protect their flock of sheep.  Today they are working dogs that assist in the military and police.  They also make great therapy and assistance dogs. 

Owners may find that this breed leans into them more when they are outside, in public, or places other than the home territory.  This protective leaning can also follow through into following their loved ones around and staying close beside them. 

For potential dog owners looking for a dog breed that forms a strong bond with them while being loyal and affectionate, the German shepherd is their dog!

Other potential reasons for a German shepherd to lean on those they love include feelings of fear, comfort, and attention.  In certain other instances, they will do this to show dominance.

One might find it hard to believe that such a large dog needs comfort or fears, but they do just like other dogs.  Regardless of size, the German shepherd, like other dogs, needs security.  Historically, their background had them spending a great deal of time around their owners or families as they went about their work.

This constant connection gave them comfort and security during moments of stress and fear.  When the German Shepherd leans into their owner or family member, they may seek the same comfort and safety of just knowing that they are there.

Separation anxiety is also another reason that a German shepherd might lean in their family or owner.  Separation anxiety is a condition that affects dogs where they have difficulty being away from their owner of family. 

If the German shepherd leans in can be a sign of this condition.  Other symptoms of this problem include pacing, peeing, defecating in the house, excessive barking, crying, and yelping.

If this condition is suspected, various remedies can help make the German shepherd more comfortable with their loved one’s departure.

Another reason a German shepherd might lean in is that they want attention.  Sometimes we humans get caught up in the business of life, and our pet’s needs and wants are overlooked.

Why does my German shepherd lean on me?

The German Shepherd might lean in at certain times to get their owner’s attention, such as when they are on the computer, using the telephone, or having friends and guests over. 

They don’t want to be forgotten, and if life is busy around them, they will silently show their owner their need for attention.

Another reason for leaning that German shepherds do is to leave their scent behind for other dogs to notice. 

By leaning into their owner or family members, it is a clear indication to other dogs and animals; this person is mine.  This scent isn’t something we humans detect, but other animals will notice the smell the owner wears.

Lastly, a final reason why a German shepherd might lean into their owner or family member is to show dominance.  Like what they would do in a pack of dogs, they establish who is the dominant one or leader.  If they lean in, it could be to assert dominance over the owner or family member.

This dominant behavior doesn’t usually happen all on its own. There are generally other types of body language the owner might notice, like putting themselves in a higher position than the owner.

Paying attention to other behaviors they display can help an owner or family member uncover what is happening.  This attention to detail can help them decide if the response is acceptable or not.

Is it okay if my German Shepherd leans into me?

Yes and no.  A German shepherd leaning into their owner or family member is okay, sometimes depending on the situation.  Certain behaviors are acceptable and others are not when it comes to leaning on or into a German shepherds owner or family member.

If they are leaning in for affection or protection, these behaviors are perfectly healthy and acceptable.  If the German shepherd is leaning in to dominate, then that is never okay.  A dog must always know its place regardless of breed.

This hierarchy helps the German shepherd understand who is in charge at all times and what is acceptable behavior always. 

Dominate behavior may serve its purpose in the animal kingdom to establish who is the pack leader and who are the ones to follow, but that isn’t the case with human and dog relationships.

If a dog, regardless of their breed, can show dominant tendencies without the owner lovingly but firmly reminding them who is in charge, it can happen repeatedly.

If the German Shepherds leaning in seem natural and non-dominant, some techniques can help teach them to limit this behavior.

Ignoring the behavior with time will train the German Shepherd that nothing will come of this behavior.  This training is done by the owner or family member removing themselves from the dog or helping the dog off them.  The action shouldn’t be rewarded with treats or praise.

Instead, when they are off or away and behaving, they can receive praise and a treat.  With time the correct behavior will become a habit, and the old leaning in response will go away.

If the owner believes this behavior is because the German shepherd wants attention, then ensuring that they receive a lot of attention throughout the day can be a passive remedy.  The idea is to fuel their need for attention, so they are never feeling deprived.

When might a German Shepherd lean into me, and how do I know what they want?

A German shepherd might lean into their owner when they are sick, tired, lonely, scared, happy, protective, and bored.  Dog behaviors, including leaning, are intricately linked to their emotions and physical feelings.

Their inability to express their thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants requires that they use their body language.  This body language can include barking, licking, rolling over for a belly rub, leaning in, and so on. 

Another affectionate body language technique that a German shepherd display is nudging their owner or family member with their nose.

Whether it’s nudging the back, the side, the face, the leg, they love to touch.  The German shepherd loves touching, so they enjoy leaning on their owner for affection.

This body language is what helps us understand them.

A German shepherd might lean into their owner or family due to environmental changes.  These can include but are not limited to:

  • When schedules change
  • When someone moves or leaves the house
  • If someone is sick in the home
  • If a stranger is visiting the home
  • The family or owner and dog have recently moved
  • There has been an argument
  • During loud music, bright lights and other stressors from parties and events
  • When another animal enters the house
  • If they have been sick or had a surgery
  • During uncontrollable weather patterns

At these times, the German shepherd might lean in bodily to those they love for comfort and comfort their loved ones.

If this behavior suddenly starts in a German shepherd that never expressed themselves this way, look at what is going on.  When are they doing it?  Is it only when they want to go outside?  Does it only happen at night?

Why does my German shepherd lean on me?

Discovering the environmental issues surrounding this new body language can help the owner address it as quickly as possible.  It could be something as simple as they want more attention when the owner’s days are extra busy.  This behavior has an easy fix for everyone.

In Conclusion

German shepherds are a very loving breed of dog.  Their loyalty, devotion, and protective nature are just some of the reasons they are such great dogs.

With a dog this size, it can seem strange that they would want to lean into their owner of a family member.  Despite this size, they do the leaning in for various reasons that vary from one do to the next.

For owners that find it troublesome, it will help to know that this highly intelligent working dog breed will learn quickly what is acceptable and what is not.

When all else fails, and they end up on your lap like a tiny dog breed, give them an affectionate pat on the head and remember how devoted and caring they are!

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