Skip to Content

9 Reasons Why Your Dog Climbs On Your Shoulders + 3 Tips

Why Does My Dog Climb On My Shoulders

You can’t explain to yourself why your dog climbs on your shoulders…

This article is here to reveal the mystery behind your dog’s behavior.

Keep reading to find out:

  • An unusual reason why your dog does this (#5 is the one).
  • How to find out whether it’s separation anxiety that’s causing your dog to act this way.
  • A simple tip you can use daily to unteach your dog from climbing on your shoulders (it’s #2).
  • And a lot more…

Why does my dog climb on my shoulders?

Your dog climbs on your shoulders because it’s a comfortable spot and they want to show affection. Your head is one of the warmest body parts, and this spot is just perfect for chilling out. Plus, they have access to your ears and face. Your dog can give you licks.

9 reasons why your dog climbs on your shoulders

#1: Your shoulders are a safe and comfortable spot

Have you experienced flopping on the couch to chill or relax? Then here comes Cooper jumping on the couch next to you.

You think he’s going to sit on your lap or lie down beside you. But then he climbs on your shoulders to chill there.

Weird, huh?

Does your dog do this all the time? You must be wondering why.

Your dog climbs on your shoulders to feel comfortable. 

When they’re curled over your shoulders, they have access to your warm neck and head. Thus, they are at a very comfortable spot.

If you’re not aware yet, your dog finds you a space heater. It could be a little chilly in their crate, or the weather is cold.

Whatever it is, the space over your shoulders is just perfect for your dog. That’s because your head is one of the warmest body parts.

#2: Your dog has anxiety

Separation Anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety won’t leave you alone.

At home, they follow you from room to room. They are your constant shadow.

Even when you go into the bathroom, they’ll demand to be with you.

And when you’re resting, they’ll attempt to climb your shoulders. Talk about being close to you.

It’s easy to distinguish between dogs with separation anxiety and dogs that just want to follow you.

Dogs that follow you everywhere are sometimes called ‘velcro dogs.’ They want to keep an eye on you all the time.

But they wouldn’t mind being left alone at home.

Dogs with separation anxiety, on the other hand, are stressed out when you leave them. The symptoms are already there even while you’re preparing to leave.

That’s because they know when you’re about to leave. Some cues tell them so. Such as when you put on your shoes or get your keys.

They show distress by whining, pacing, or barking.

And when you’re gone, it’s when they let out their frustrations.

If they’re inside the crate, they become escape artists. They destroy the crate to get out.

Further, they engage in other destructive behaviors. They chew furniture or destroy shoes.

Sometimes, they urinate or defecate in the house.

Interestingly, these dogs do not exhibit these behaviors when their owner is around. But they still show signs of hyper attachment. 

Hyper attachment is similar to what velcro dogs do. Only a bit worse. For example, being distressed when the dog is locked out of the bathroom or bedroom.

#3: Your dog wants to show affection

If your dog loves you, they’ll show it even in simple, weird ways.

Such as climbing on your shoulders!

They couldn’t get any closer than being right in your face.

Did you know that physical touch not only benefits you but your dog as well? This research examined past studies on social interaction between humans and their dogs. 

The studies suggest that interaction can lead to an increase in oxytocin levels in humans and dogs.

Oxytocin is a hormone that the pituitary gland releases. It creates feelings of love and satisfaction.

Apparently, oxytocin is applicable not only to social bonds between parents and children. It’s also applicable to bonds between pet owners and dogs.

And physical touch has a special role in this.

So it’s not just you who feels the effect of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin. Your dog, as well. They enjoy being close to you and touching you.

And this could explain why they love climbing on your shoulders.

Besides, being around your shoulders gives your dog access to your face and ears. They can give you more kisses!

#4: Your dog doesn’t know what personal space is

Some dogs are space invaders.

This giant pooch is what I’m talking about:

Unfortunately, you’re just another comfy chair for your pooch.

They won’t care if it’s your face they’ve plonked on. Or if you’re squished with them crammed around your shoulders.

Just as long as they’re comfortable there. 

Sometimes it’s okay to let them climb on your shoulders if they’re still puppies.

But it’s a different story if it’s a 65-pound (29-kilogram) dog squashing your shoulders.

#5: Your dog likes the couch where you’re sitting

It’s not you. It’s the couch.

If you have a favorite chair in the house, your dog might have, too. They might have staked their claim on the couch. The back of the couch, to be exact.

Especially if that couch is next to a window. It is your dog’s favorite perch because they can easily look out of the window.

The same happened to me and Lissa while we were on holiday… She’d jump up in my lap while I was sitting on a chair. Then, she’d put her front paws on my shoulders and look out of the window.

She also did this while I and my boyfriend were chilling on the couch. Why? To get a better view of the street and to feel close to us again. 

So, look at it this way – you just happen to sit right where your dog lounges. So it looks like you’ve got yourself a canine scarf.

#6: Your dog wants to get your attention quickly

Dogs love attention.

They would get your attention to get a piece of what you’re eating. Or to be petted.

But how do they catch your attention? 

Since they can’t talk, they use their face, voice, and body to communicate with you.

According to this study, dogs are aware when their human is paying attention to them. 

They produced more facial movements when the human was more attentive compared to when the human ignored them.

Specifically, the dogs in the study showed more facial movements when the human faced them. It didn’t matter whether the human was holding food or not. 

This means that the dog responded to the attention.

So if your dog climbs on your shoulders, it’s to get your attention quickly. Particularly after you have ignored their other ways of communication.

For instance, my friend’s dog, Oreo, would bark to get her owner’s attention. If her owner did not respond, she would use other tactics. 

She would either scoot right next to her owner, rub her head against the leg, or jump to her owner’s lap.

#7: Your dog wants to play with you

Dogs climb on your shoulders to invite you to play with them.

Whether with humans or other pets, play is one of the things that dogs love to do. 

In addition, play has many important benefits for your pooch. 

First, it keeps their body strong. Being active does good things for their heart, joints, and overall health. It also improves their balance and coordination.

Play that provides mental stimulation keeps your dog’s brain sharp. It helps them focus and keeps boredom away.

When dogs play with humans and pets, it improves their social skills. They learn how to follow rules. It also improves their manners around others.

And when they play with you, it strengthens your bond. It makes you and your dog feel good. 

No wonder they would get any chance to play. Even if it means climbing on your shoulders to let you know that intent.

Did you know that play can reinforce a behavior? Especially if play is what motivates your dog.

You can use play to reinforce a behavior. Just like what John Pilley did when training his famous dog, Chase.

Chase was a Border Collie that could recognize more than 1000 words.

Another reason why your dog climbs on your shoulders is because you’ve taught them back stall. 

This game involves the dog standing on your back and stalling. Then you throw a ball or a frisbee for them to catch.

You can take a look at how it’s done here: 

They might climb on your shoulders if they want to play this game.

#8: Your dog got used to climbing on your shoulders

Your dog’s climbing on your shoulder has a history. And it had been reinforced.

When your dog was born, they couldn’t see and hear. They had no way of communicating.

However, they knew how to gravitate to a heat source. Which, in this case, was their mother and littermates.

You have probably seen when puppies are small. When they sleep, they are either beside, under, or on top of their littermates. This is primarily to keep warm. 

But this behavior is ingrained. They would sleep on top of something warm if given a chance.

Another reason why they climb on your shoulders is you have reinforced it. Being curled over your warm shoulders, neck, and head is already a reward.

And when you let your dog do this all the time, it keeps reinforcing the behavior.

#9: Your dog is scared

Dog Climbing On Shoulders Scared

There might be a time when your dog suddenly climbed on your shoulders. They looked agitated or scared.

They ran to you because you are their safe place.

To determine if your dog is really scared, look at how they behave. These signs could be seen in a scared dog:

  • Hiding.
  • Pacing.
  • Panting.
  • Shaking.
  • Whining.
  • Growling.
  • Salivating.
  • Licking lips.

A lot of things could scare your dog. Fireworks, thunder, other loud sounds. These could send them running under the table to hide.

They could also be scared of other animals.

3 tips to prevent your dog from climbing on your shoulders

#1: Avoid reinforcing the behavior

Your dog is not the last dog to treat you like furniture they can sit on.

Some dogs still think they’re lap dogs even though they’re giants. Others would even sit on their owner’s face just to get comfortable.

This is what I’m talking about:

Whatever the reason why your dog climbs on your shoulder, one thing is clear:

The behavior had been reinforced. You reinforce a behavior by rewarding your dog. 

The reward could be you petting them. Or patting their head when they’re on your shoulders.

Thankfully, it’s not too late to teach your dog to stop climbing on your shoulders. When your dog is a big one, it won’t be fun having them on your shoulders. 

It could also be dangerous when kids are squished by the dog.

To mitigate the problem, reward your dog when they’re behaving in ways you want. 

For example, your dog decided to lie beside you. Then by all means you can reward them by giving them your attention.

Another way is redirecting your dog’s focus when they’re about to climb on your shoulders.


Give them a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ command. Or give them a toy to keep them busy.

Note: Redirection is more effective when you do it right before the dog commits the act. Not after. Also, avoid misusing redirection. For instance, you use it when your dog is about to engage in a desirable behavior. It will only confuse your dog.

#2: Give them attention throughout the day

Don’t wait for your dog to ask for your attention.

Rather, give them attention throughout the day. This way, they won’t have to beg for attention in undesirable ways. 

You’ll notice that many dogs demand attention by engaging in annoying behaviors. They bark in your face and won’t let up even after asking them to stop. 

Or they jump all over you. Someone could get hurt if this keeps up.

Before it gets to this point, make it a habit to pet and praise your dog when they’re behaving. 

#3: Teach them other more desirable behaviors

Your dog has to know that climbing on shoulders is a no-no.

To keep them from engaging in this behavior, teach them other desirable behaviors.

For one, teach them to love staying in their crate. This will benefit dogs with separation anxiety. 

It can be very challenging to deal with a dog with separation anxiety. Particularly if this had been going on for a long time.

If you think you can’t do it alone, seek the help of a professional behaviorist. The process may take time but the benefits are far more rewarding in the long run. 

You can also teach your dog that they’re not allowed on the couch. This prevents chances of them climbing on your shoulders. 

But when you do this, practice consistency. If your dog is not allowed on the couch today, then the same goes for tomorrow. Or the days after that.