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Why Does Your Dog Headbutt You?

By Aviram K.
Published in Training & Behavior
April 29, 2021
4 min read
Why Does Your Dog Headbutt You?
🏥 The information in this article is not a substitute for professional help.

Aw, doggy love. Nothing is quite as uplifting as all the little ways your pup shows you that he cares. Sweet stares, cuddles, licks, and nuzzles are all actions that show their affection.

But what if your dog seems to be giving you another signal that seems less friendly? He’s not quite cuddling or nuzzling into you. Instead, he’s forcing his head up against you in a way that you can’t ignore.

Your dog may be headbutting you.

Dogs headbutt to get attention. Headbutting is not an act of aggression but rather a harmless and playful gesture. Through training, a dog can learn to stop headbutting if their owner doesn’t like it. Headbutting is not to be confused with head pressing, which usually indicates an underlying medical problem.

How do you know the difference between headbutting and head pressing (which is dangerous)? When should you be concerned?

Also, how do you even stop the behavior?

Let’s explore all those questions in detail now.

Why Do Dogs Headbutt?

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Headbutting is an attention-seeking behavior. Let’s dig a little into the doggy mind to understand this a bit deeper.

Dogs, being pack animals, are actually known to headbutt other dogs at times. Your dog may feel like you’re a fellow member of their pack, so they may use the same technique to interact with you.

Should You Be Concerned If Your Dog Headbutts You?

The act of headbutting isn’t concerning in itself, and it doesn’t mean that your dog has any underlying health conditions. Another similar-sounding phenomenon called head pressing can indicate a serious medical emergency. I will discuss this in more detail later on.

Headbutting is also not a violent act on your dog’s part. If your dog headbutts you, you don’t need to be concerned that your dog has a problem with aggression since headbutting is more of a fun, frisky act.

Should You Allow Your Dog to Headbutt You?

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There is nothing inherently harmful about allowing your dog to headbutt you. But you may want to consider what power dynamic you are creating if you allow this act to continue.

Your dog may headbutt you because they feel like you are on the same level as them. Allowing your dog to headbutt you may actually make your dog think they are the dominant one in your relationship.

If your dog is on the larger side, you may also want to put the headbutting to an end. A larger dog’s headbutting may be painful and invasive. So, if you have small children in your house, the headbutting may be frightening and potentially hurt them.

Your dog’s headbutting may be cute and funny if it only happens once in a while. If headbutting turns into a regular thing, it can become tiring.

How Do You Stop Your Dog from Headbutting You?

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Headbutting is a bid for attention. Therefore, the easiest way to inspire your dog to stop headbutting is by withdrawing your attention. If headbutting is not giving them what they are craving, they will likely quit over time.

An easy way to deter your dog from headbutting is to give them a firm “no” each time they perform the act. You can also turn away from them or tell them to lay down to further enforce your disapproval.

What works best for your dog will be personal, of course. Still, whatever you do, you definitely don’t want to reward your dog’s headbutting by giving attention (if your intention is to get rid of the behavior).

What Is Head Pressing?

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Headbutting can be irritating, but it’s essentially harmless. In contrast, head pressing can be a symptom of a significant health concern. Head pressing is when your dog presses his head up against a wall, piece of furniture, or another flat surface.

Your dog may drag their head along the wall or other object and become “stuck” when they reach the corner. A dog doesn’t have to have their head touching the wall for them to be head-pressing. Sometimes a dog may head press just by standing very close to the wall with their head facing down.

Should You Be Concerned If Your Dog Is Head Pressing?

Head pressing almost always indicates a health issue and warrants a trip to see your veterinarian right away.

Often, head pressing means there is a problem with your dog’s brain or liver. Possible conditions that may cause head pressing include but are not limited to:

  • Metabolic or glandular disorders
  • Stroke
  • Head trauma
  • Toxin exposure
  • Brain tumors
  • Nervous system infections from rabies or fungus
  • Liver shunt & more

If you’ve noticed your dog has been head-pressing, you may also see a host of other unusual symptoms. Along with head pressing, your dog may also be showing signs of:

  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Head trauma from excessive head pressing
  • Visual problems
  • Disorientation
  • Obsessive circling and/or pacing & more

If you see your dog head pressing, that alone is enough reason to take them to the vet. Head-pressing combined with any of the symptoms above can be even more concerning.

What Will My Vet Do If My Dog Has Been Head-Pressing?

There are so many different reasons your dog may be head-pressing. Your vet will use various tests to narrow down the cause and take care of your pup.

Your vet will likely run lab work and do a physical examination of your dog. An MRI or PET/CT scan may be necessary if it appears your dog’s problem is brain-related, and treatments may include surgery, medications, or rehab, depending on what the diagnostic tests reveal.

Headbutting and Head-pressing…two Similar Sounding but Very Different Things!

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To recap:

Headbutting is your dog pushing against you. It is harmless and can be kind of annoying. Still, it’s nothing more than a playful attention-getting tactic that you can discourage through ignoring.

Head-pressing is your dog putting his head against an object with pressure and almost always indicates a serious medical issue. Head-pressing may be present with other alarming symptoms and requires a quick visit to the vet.

Headbutting Is Another Fun Quirk That Makes Your Dog Unique

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Headbutting is another precious way your dog may be saying: “Look at me. Acknowledge me. Love me.” Sure, it may be a little obnoxious at times, but you can definitely train the behavior away.

If your dog is headbutting, look at the bright side: at least they’re not head-pressing.

Thankfully, now you’re prepared with the wisdom to tackle either behavior.


Tags

Dog Behaviors

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