Who does not enjoy their dog snuggling up for some love and cuddles? Yet, sometimes, your dog will burrow into you, which you may or may not find to be a pleasant experience. You might wonder, “Why does my dog bury his head in me?”
In most cases, your dog is trying to tell you something when they bury their heads into you. They may be using referential signaling, alerting you to danger, showing their affection or loyalty, marking you as theirs, showing dominance, or they may be anxious and afraid.
Read on to learn what your dog may be telling you through if they bury their head into you.
What Your Dog May Be Trying to Tell You
Dogs love attention, and in most cases, where your dog is burying his head into you, they may be showing you love, asking to be let out, or alerting you to danger, among other things.
Showing or Seeking Affection or Attention
Your dog may be burying its head for nothing more than a cuddling or nuzzling session. They may lean against you as well. Leaning into you is a clear sign of affection. Your dog is also showing trust, especially if your dog leans its hindquarters against you whilst burying its head into you.
It may be a referential gesture, a method of non-verbal communication across species. For example, your dog may be asking you to open the door. Studies have shown that dogs use as many as 19 different referential gestures to communicate with their owners (source).
Another instance of a referential gesture is when your dog gives you their paw. Make sure you read our article on this topic if you’re wondering what they’re trying to tell you with this gesture.
They Are Seeking of Giving Comfort
Your dog may be seeking comfort from you by burying his head into you, wanting you to show love and affection by scratching his head or whispering some soothing words.
He may bury his head as pacifying behavior. When they were a little puppy, your dog would have burrowed into his mom’s body to get nourishment and support. It is reasonable to assume this may be a carryover from that time.
On the other hand, he may be trying to offer you some comfort much in the same way their mother comforted them as puppies.
Dogs tune into human emotions and can sense that you or another human are upset or sad about something. You may be irritable because you had a hard day, and your dog is coming in to empathize and show its support.
Studies have shown dogs to be capable of emotional regulation and expressions of empathy by including physiological measurements of arousal and distress, such as variable heartbeat, in addition to behavioral observations (source).
In some cases, dogs will behave as if they are humans when giving support under difficult circumstances. Consider our article, “Why Does My Dog Lick My Tears When I Cry?”
They Are Asking for Food
Your dog may simply be asking for food, as he would have done as a puppy. When they bury into the mom’s body, they are looking for nourishment.
Your Dog May Be Cold
Your dog may bury into your body to seek the warmth your body gives off. Depending on your dog’s breed, your dog may get and feel particularly cold. It could be colder than what your dog is used to, especially if they don’t have a thick undercoat.
They May Be Trying to Alert You
Your dog may want to get your attention, so they may investigate noise or a smell they detect as a threat. As your dog buries their head in you, they may turn around and look toward the door, letting you know they need the door opened.
If you do not respond as expected, they may return and bury their head in you again until you pay attention and comply with their request.
They May Be Anxious, Afraid, or Fearful
Your dog may be very anxious. For example, if you have a new puppy in the house and your dog is unsure what to make of the intruder, aka the puppy.
Your dog may be scared of thunderstorms or fireworks. Dogs don’t do well with very loud noises. They can feel a storm is coming and may begin nuzzling you before the storm even hits (source).
A three-part study found that nearly half of those dog households surveyed had thunder-phobic dogs, and for the most part, the dogs affected preferred to remain inside and as close to their owners as possible. Some had to be treated by vets, and others were relinquished to shelters due to the severity of the phobia.
They May Have an Illness
Your dog may have a headache or feel sick if it is pushing his head hard into you. However, this shouldn’t be confused with your dog uncontrollably pushing his head against random objects such as a wall and keeping it there.
This may indicate a serious illness, such as nervous system damage, due to poisoning, prosencephalon disease, or other causes. It is imperative to consult your vet if this happens (source).
Should You Allow Your Dog to Bury His Head into You?
Many people enjoy this form of affectionate communication. If you are going to allow the behavior, you need to set clear boundaries. You must teach your dog how, when, and where this behavior is acceptable.
If you don’t set boundaries, the behavior may become overwhelming or uncomfortable. The following sections cover instances where this may happen.
They Are Marking Their Territory
Your dog could be nuzzling into your body to spread his scent. Dogs have glands on their faces that release their scent. Rubbing on your legs or nuzzling into your body could be his way of marking his territory and telling other dogs, “This is my human — back off.”
Some dogs use the behavior to show they are dominant or alpha. If your dog is pushing its head into your body to show dominance, it is not done in a comforting, nuzzling way. It is more deliberate and aggressive.
They may be challenging your authority or that of other dogs in the household. It is important to nip this in the bud and reestablish yourself as the alpha.
Burying into you could also be rewarded behavior. A rewarded behavior is when you have been unintentionally conditioning your dog that burying its head leads to a reward. You are rewarding and encouraging the behavior through stroking his head or nuzzling your face into his.
Keep in mind that habits are hard to break.
What Should You Watch Out For?
Dog’s communicate with us through body language, such as nuzzling and burying their head into you. Learning to read your dog’s body language will enable you to understand what they are trying to communicate.
Make a note of when the behavior started. For example, was it as a puppy or at a later stage? It could be due to another dog in the household or a human companion dying. Perhaps you were home and had to return to work.
The circumstances surrounding the behavior is important. Watch for subtle clues as to which of the above reasons apply. For instance, if it is always in the midst of a thunderstorm or other severe weather, it may be related to anxiety.
Observe your dog’s other body language when he is burying his head into you. If his tail is wagging, it may be because he is happy to see you, and it’s nothing more than an affectionate gesture. On the other hand, if his tail is drooping, he may be sad and in need of comfort. If his body is shaking, he may be cold or anxious.
However, if the behavior is linked to negative reasons, do not reward the nuzzling. It is, perhaps, better to take the dog to a safe place, such as its crate or bed, to refocus your dog’s attention.
If possible, remove the cause of his anxiety. For example, closing windows helps to block out the noise of thunder. Also, try turning on music. There are radio stations devoted to music for dogs.
Dogs also respond well to something that snuggles them, such as being wrapped in a blanket. You can purchase a Thundershirt, which may be easier to use than a blanket. It fits around their body and puts just a bit of pressure, providing a feeling of security.
Remember not to nuzzle back or to provide treats as that may reinforce negative behavior.
It is important to learn to read your dog’s body language early on in their socialization to your home and family so that you can reward appropriate behavior and discourage any inappropriate or unwanted behaviors.
Observing their body language will make it easier to determine if his nuzzling is a sign of affection, empathy, anxiety, fear, dominance, or if you need to take your dog to a vet for a checkup. It may help avoid developing it as rewarded behavior.