Ever been headbutted by your dog? If so, you’re not alone! Many dog owners have experienced this odd behavior from their pets and end up asking, “why is my dog head-butting me?” What is my dog trying to tell me?
There is no definitive answer, but rather a range of possible answers that may apply to your specific pooch and, most likely, differently to each of your dogs if you have more than one.
We’re going to take a look at some of the possible reasons for the headbutts you’ve been receiving from your dog, but it’ll be up to you to determine the actual underlying reasons.
Headbutting is a harmless act where your dog pushes its head lightly against you. It can mean a lot of things, but the main idea is that your dog wants something and is trying to communicate with you through the headbutts. That is why you should know the possible reasons behind it.
If you’ve been reading here for awhile, you know we have a lot of dogs, so we get the chance to see many dogs’ variations of the head butt and their reasons behind it. Below are our thoughts, with some backed by study and research.
Dog headbutts for love
One of the most probable reasons why your dog keeps on headbutting you is that it’s their way of showing their love to you. This can, of course, be accompanied by other love gestures. If your dog usually headbutts you once you’ve got home, it means it’s happy to see you. If you’re casually playing or petting your dog, then it suddenly headbutts you, it just means that it loves you back. Your dog might also throw in some cuddles, licks, and soft bites just to show you how much it loves you. I tend to think it’s cute.
Does a headbutting dog indicate aggression or dominance?
This is definitely a consideration. An alpha-type dog that continually headbutts you could be, as we refer to it, “trying to alpha dog you.”
There are a number of different ways that dogs can express aggression, and headbutting is one of them. If your dog suddenly starts headbutting you, it’s important to pay attention to the other signs of aggression that they might be displaying. For example, they may also start growling, baring their teeth, or lunging at you. If your dog is showing any of these signs of aggression, it’s important to seek professional help so that it can learn how to socialize and interact with people properly.
Given the number of different ways dogs can be aggressive, head butting is probably one of the more serious as the dog’s head and all those teeth are so close to your own head. I’m not one to believe dogs are inherently mean or aggressive but if you have one that is, or perhaps one that you’re not too familiar with yet (such as a rescue), be very careful here.
Maybe your dog is telling you it’s time to eat.
Dogs have routines and habits, and it’s our job to recognize them. If Fido is headbutting you around feeding time each day, or if it’s an hour or two past feeding time and you are still knee-deep in Grey’s Anatomy, and Fido starts in with the headbutts, it may be Fido’s way of telling you he’s hungry.
Dog headbutts may mean it’s time to play.
Headbutts can also mean that your dog needs attention. If you’re simply chilling around and your dog suddenly headbutts you and acts playful, then it means that your dog wants to play with you! We love them because they’re social animals that love to play, and this is their way of asking you to join in on the fun. If you don’t have time to play with your pup at that moment, try redirecting their attention with a toy or a chew bone.
When your dog headbutts you and seems to be looking for attention, it may just be trying to get some love from you. This is especially true if you’ve been ignoring them or if they feel like they haven’t been getting enough attention from you.
Maybe your dog is just lonely and wants some attention.
Another possible reason why your dog keeps on headbutting you is that it wants or needs attention. It’s one of those random acts where your dog may be trying to say that it wants to feel your touch. Whether it’s a simple rub behind the ears, on the stomach, or a lovely cuddle would do! Sometimes, a dog’s headbutt could also mean that they need you to do something for them. It could be a signal that it needs to pee or poop outside the house, go for a walk, or remind you about the treat you weren’t able to give.
Dogs are social creatures that crave interaction, so if they’re not getting enough from you, they may try to seek it out in other ways. If your dog is constantly headbutting you for attention, make sure to set aside some quality time each day to show them some love. A good game of fetch or a long walk together can help satisfy their needs and strengthen your bond.
Maybe your dog is scared or nervous?
Finally, and definitely, the most critical possible reason is that your dog may be feeling scared. I personally experience my dog headbutting me when scared of the huge flashes and loud explosions of firecrackers on New Year’s Eve. Rusty, our alpha dog Pitbull, trembles in fear and gets in our laps to headbutt and cuddle. This is obviously fear-based behavior, and we tend to coddle him at these times, even with the understanding that coddling him is only reinforcing the behavior. But, I mean, a scared Pitbull is just so pitiful!
Remember, you are the only person whom your dog completely trusts. We are their safe haven, and they will always be our babies, no matter how big they get. So in situations like these, you have to show them that you will always be there for them whatever happens, alright?
Dog headbutts may be due to illness
Is a headbutt the same as a head-press?
Alright. Before we discuss further, it’s important that we clearly specify the difference between a dog’s headbutting and head-pressing habits. These are two very similar actions having totally different meanings, so making sure that you understand these concepts really is a must.
According to PetMD, Head-Pressing is a condition or an act of a dog or a cat characterized by pressing its head against a surface such as a wall or other objects for no apparent reason.
This does not indicate any one problem specifically but rather a broad range of potential problems that must be diagnosed and identified by your veterinarian.
Head pressing is not something you want to try to resolve or guess at the underlying problem yourself.
This is one to leave to the professionals.
Pet owners are often surprised and alarmed by this condition because their pets suddenly do this out of nowhere. Head-pressing is indeed a very alarming condition because it can usually be a sign of damage to the nervous system. It can be caused by lots of things as well, like head traumas, metabolic disorders, toxic poisoning, or even tumors. Therefore, head-pressing isn’t something to be taken lightly or ignored. So once this condition happens, please take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
We’ve had two dogs in the past that showed this behavior, and it was a terrible sign for both of them.
Coco was probably 10 or 11 years old when he started head pressing into corners of the room, or when outside, he would head press against the fence. Just standing there, pushing his head into the fence. This was years ago and was our first experience with it. A trip to the vet confirmed the bad news. Coco had problems with his kidneys, and they weren’t filtering his blood like they were supposed to. He died shortly thereafter, and the head pressing was the very first symptom we saw.
The second time we saw it was years later with our Boxer named Bruno. Wonderful dog, super healthy his whole life. At around age 11 or 12, I think it was, he started walking in circles and head pressing. A very bad combination. The vet confirmed he had some kind of brain cancer or something, and, as with Coco, Bruno didn’t last very long after the first symptom.
So a word of warning here. Be sure you can distinguish between head butting and head pressing. If your dog is pressing its head into a corner or against a wall, sometimes accompanied by aimlessly walking in circles, get the vet now.
As a responsible dog owner, what should I do?
The best thing that you can do as a responsible owner is to be completely aware of your dog’s quirks and habits. Spending more quality time with your dog enables you to understand what it needs throughout the day. Once you’ve done that, just a simple gesture could already mean a lot of things for you because you and your dog have already established a unique communication. Trying to understand what your pooch wants and needs can be a handful of skills that can make your life easier around the house.
One thing to keep in mind is that there is always training going on. You train your dog, and your dog trains you. If you get up and go play fetch every time your dog head butts you, guess what your dog is going to do when he wants to play fetch? Or eat, or is scared, etc. So be mindful of your own behavior when you get head-butted because whatever your next steps are will form an underlying understanding on Fido’s part of what happens when he head-butts you.
In the end, everything depends on your decision as the owner. With some insights into why your dog is head-butting you, you have some decisions to make in the future when it happens. Nothing will change unless you start taking action. Some of us decide to have dogs so that we have some sort of companion or protection. They make us feel safe so we also have to return the favor. Humans have dogs and many other things. But dogs only have us, their humans.
Kind of humbling, isn’t it?