A friend of mine recently came over to meet our Great Dane Gus for the first time and was really caught off guard when she leaned most of her weight into him for attention! His family grew up with small dogs, and he’s never spent time around Great Danes before so this was a complete surprise.
Why do Great Danes lean? Great Danes lean as a sign of affection. It’s their way of showing that they feel safe and want to give or receive attention. Not all Great Danes are “leaners”, but it is common amongst the breed.
While my friend didn’t mind our Great Dane leaning on him, he wasn’t sure what it meant at first. We quickly reassured him that she only leans on those that she likes 🙂 While he liked this answer, he was still curious to find out more as to why they lean and if it ever caused issues.
Why Great Danes lean
Leaning reason #1 – Affection
In the vast majority of cases, Great Danes lean because they want to be close to you. This is one of their ways of showing affection towards humans. They are an incredibly social breed, and sometimes just like to be able to feel close to you. As long as the leaning is appropriate i.e. not knocking you over, feel free to shower them with love and praise. I can assure you that they’ll come back for future leans 😉
Keep in mind that what I’m referring to here is intentional leaning. This is simply a temporary lean to give or receive attention. Not leaning in the sense that they’re injured or sick, and can’t hold themselves upright. In these cases, you’ll want to make a visit to the vet as soon as possible to get them some medical help.
While leaning against family members or close friends is most common, don’t be surprised if your Dane leans on new people as well. Sometimes they just take to a person quickly and want to get in close for some attention. Some strangers are familiar with Great Dane behavior and aren’t surprised by the leaning. Heck, some even encourage it! However, it may be a surprise to others so keep a close eye on your dog to ensure that they’re not accidentally knocking someone over.
Leaning reason #2 – Fear
Leaning for attention is the most common reason, however, there are others as well. With Gus, we’ve seen her also come over and lean against us when she’s afraid. The first time she heard fireworks she was terrified and spent most of the hour pressed up against us. In this situation, she was clearly leaning more for comfort out of fear than for attention.
Leaning reason #3 – Protective behavior
Great Danes may also lean against their human in a protective manner. If they feel threatened around their family, they may come close and stand touching you as if to guard you. This is simply their natural instinct kicking in to protect their loved ones. In most cases their fear is unfounded and you can quickly reassure them that everything is alright.
While this protective behavior can be reassuring at times that your Great Dane has your back, I wouldn’t recommend encouraging it. Their giant size makes them intimidating enough to would-be threats. And the last thing you want to have on your hands is an overly-protective giant dog.
Is leaning an issue?
Generally speaking, leaning is not an issue. While some people think that leaning is a display of dominance, I haven’t found that to be the case with Great Danes. They truly love people and this is just one of the ways that they express themselves.
While many people love the Dane lean, it’s not always appreciated. Some people are caught off guard by a 130+ pound dog leaning into their lower legs and knees. This can surprise and even scare them in certain cases.
In particular, it can be problematic for elderly individuals or those with leg injuries. For these cases, you certainly don’t want your dog leaning in with their full weight and accidentally knocking someone down. While they mean well, it’s best for both parties that they not lean. I suppose they will have to settle for pets alone 😉
Leaning is also something that you want to watch with you Great Dane around children. Like the elderly, you kids don’t always have the best balance. A Great Dane leaning in to snuggle them can quickly topple them over. Given that your dog is the roughly the same height as many young kids, it’s especially easy to send them toppling. In most cases, kids find this hilarious and don’t mind at all. But you still want to be careful to ensure that no one knocks their head on the ground or another hard surface.
Training tips for leaners
While most Great Dane owners are quite ok with leaning, there are a few training related tips for leaning that I’d recommend you implement. First and foremost, they need to be trained to stop leaning on someone when commanded.
For example, your Great Dane doesn’t know what a knee brace is or what it’s for. So you need to be able to command them to stop leaning on a person wearing one if they start. The same goes for leaning on an elderly person, or someone who clearly does not appreciate it.
The OFF command
The best command to use in these situations is OFF. Off means for them to stop physically doing whatever they’re up to at the moment. While this is great for leaning, it’s also helpful in a lot of other situations as well. For example – getting them off a couch or letting go of a shoe are both scenarios where the OFF command could be used.
You may also find that some Great Danes are overly enthusiastic leaners. This will be very apparent when you feel them leaning their entire weight into you and nearly knocking you over. Even if you’re ok with this behavior for family members, it probably won’t go over well with strangers. The risk of accidentally knocking over an unexpecting stranger and injuring over is very real!
Teach appropriate leaning pressure
For these situations, you need to teach your Dane how much leaning is ok. While there are many training methods out there, I think a simple positive reinforcement approach is easiest here. They’re already leaning in for attention, so simply stop giving them attention when they lean too hard. Just take a half step back so that you’re not supporting their weight, and stop petting them of giving other forms of attention.
The first few times that this happens they will likely rush straight back assuming you just lose your balance (which would be correct!). Allow them to lean on you again and only give attention until the point at which they start leaning too hard again. If this happens, repeat the process of stepping back.
Because they want your affection, they will quickly learn that attention stops when they lean too hard. If you’re in a household with others, make sure that everyone is following this same approach so as to not confuse your Great Dane. Once they get trained with this for family members, they’ll ease up their leaning force with others as well.
Keep in mind that these are just some tips and tricks for training leaners that we’ve learned with our own Great Danes. We’re definitely not professional dog trainers, just Dane lovers 🙂 However, if you are looking for some assistance from a professional dog trainer, then I’d recommend taking a look at a great online training program like Brain Training for Dogs. This course offers a 60-day money back guarantee, with the leisure of being able to train on your own timeline. Click here to learn more about Brain Training for Dogs.
Other dog breeds that lean
While Great Danes are notorious leaners, they’re not the only breed that likes to lean on people. Funny enough, it seems that leaning is more common amongst large and giant breeds. Newfies, Saint Bernards, and Boxers are just a few of the other leaners out there. Like Great Danes, they primarily lean on their loved ones as a sign of affection. Also like Danes, they sometimes forget their size and lean too hard. In most cases, people don’t mind but it’s something to be aware of.
It certainly would be easier on the legs for a small dog to lean, but then again it wouldn’t be as impactful and probably why they don’t. Not to mention the fact that they simply just don’t have the far to lean in! Then again, it’s probably more so due to the fact that they’ve got better options like jumping up in your lap when they want to 😉