Why Does My Dog Headbutt Me?

why does my dog headbutt me

I truly believe that nothing can make you smile or even burst out in gleeful laughter like your own dog.

No matter their size, build, and personality they all have that happy-go-lucky quality.

And while we do love their enthusiastic nature, their sloppy kisses, or the sweet way they lean their weight against you, a headbutt can leave us confused and wondering…

Why does my dog headbutt me?

A headbutt from your dog can be attention-seeking behavior, whether they want food, cuddles, or play. By pressing their head against you your dog might be showing you affection, they might be seeking your protection, or their testing your boundaries. 

Of course, there are even more reasons that can explain your dog’s headbutting you, some more cute and innocent than others.

If you want to discover all of them and if you’re wondering whether this is a behavior worth stopping then keep on reading!

Is Headbutting The Same As Head-pressing?

Before we dive deeper into your dog’s headbutting habit it’s important to explain the difference between headbutting and head-pressing.

Head-pressing  according to PetMD is “a condition characterized by the compulsive act of pressing the head against a wall or other object for no apparent reason.”

This condition usually is a sign of damage to the nervous system that can be the result of prosencephalon disease or toxic poisoning. Head-pressing shouldn’t be ignored, and your dog needs to be taken to the vet immediately.

on the other hand, headbutting happens when your dog is pushing their head against you. They might simply nudge your hand, or push you from behind, and even headbutt your head.

This can be an endearing or irritating dog behavior, but it’s more often than not harmless. And as you’ll discover next there are different possible reasons your dog is headbutting you.

11 Reasons Why Your Dog Headbutts You

It’s not always easy to know the meaning behind some of our dog’s behaviors.

Take headbutting, for example, it might seem strange even rude at times, but it’s clear that through this gesture your sweet pooch is trying to communicate with you so let’s see what they might be trying to tell you!

Reason 1: They Are Greeting You

Headbutting can mean more than just one thing, and context really matters.

If your dog is pressing their head against you or they use their head to push your body when you return back home, then clearly they’re excited to see you.

Some dogs will jump up and down or wiggle their butt as if their life depends on it, but don’t be surprised if they also or in some cases only use their head to show how happy they are to see you.

I’m sure for some of us the feeling of a wet nose rubbing and nudging against our hand as we close the door behind us is the first greeting we receive from our four-legged friend and isn’t that wonderful!

Reason 2: Headbutting Is Part Of Their Love Language

During a heartwarming welcome, a headbutt might be your dog’s way of telling you they’re happy to see you, but this gesture can also be used to express their love throughout the day.

Take a moment to observe when your dog chooses to headbutt you. Personal moments like sitting down together on the couch or when you pet them could be the opportunity your dog is looking for to tell you that they love you back with a soft headbutt.

Along with headbutting, you might notice them mouthing your arm gently and licking can also be a natural progression.

It’s easy to see when our dogs are excited, they usually jump up and down, they might even let out a few excited barks, but headbutts, licking and love bites are the few things your dog can use to show you that they trust you and they love you.

Reason 3: They Are Herding You

Dogs have been useful companions from the moment of their domestication that took place more than 20.000 years ago.

One of their main jobs was to gather, herd and protect livestock. Certain dog breeds were created specifically for herding, the most famous breeds among them the Border Collie, Australian Cattle dog, and various Sheepdogs.

But this doesn’t mean that other dog breeds don’t have these herding instincts ingrained in them. Before the German Shepherd dogs became famous for their police and protection work, they were also used as a herding breed.

Perhaps if your dog is nudging you with their head, they’re trying to control your movements like they would with other animals.

In some cases, they might give you an occasional nip to push you towards the door or in whichever direction they want to point you to.

If you have children, you might notice your dog headbutting them as well. According to AKC “Since these hardwired instincts are triggered by movement, herding is usually not something your dog is doing just to get attention or to deliberately misbehave.”

AKC also adds that “if your kids run away from the dog when the dog nips their feet, that will only trigger the behavior to continue.”

But you can always train your dog to decrease this behavior and redirect their attention from moving objects with words like “leave it” or “watch me.”

Reason 4: They Are Marking You

Another possible reason your dog keeps headbutting you is to spread their scent on you.

Dogs have sweat glands on their paws but also on their nose and by rubbing their nose on you during a headbutt they leave their odor. You might notice this behavior when you’re in the presence of other dogs.

Perhaps when you’re home your dog never headbutts you, but when you’re out in the open, or at the dog park your dog keeps coming back to you and pushing you with their head.

Constant face rubbing could also be a sign of itchy skin, due to allergies or an infection. So, make sure to inspect their fur, especially the muzzle and ear area.

Reason 5: Your Dog Wants Attention

Headbutting could also be an attention-seeking behavior that your dog implores whenever they need something from you.

An eager push during training could be an effort to remind you that you owe them a treat. If it’s mealtime then a headbutt is used to ask you to feed them or refill their bowl.

If you keep track of the moments your dog is headbutting you, you may notice that this is around the time you usually take them for a walk. This action can be followed by your dog running towards the door, or bringing you, their leash.

By pushing you with their head they could be nudging you towards the door itself. If your dog uses headbutting to get what he wants then you’re probably not giving them enough attention, but you’re also reinforcing this behavior by giving in only when they headbutt you.

Reason 6: Your Dog Wants To Play

Dogs can try to initiate play by headbutting you and if you look at their overall body language you might notice other signs of excitement like jumping on you or bringing you their toys and then pushing them towards you.

Aside from a playful headbutt, hitting you with their paw, wiggling their whole body, and giving you that playful smile while their panting is a great way to know that your dog needs you to entertain them.

Other signs could be barking or looking at you with their front legs down as if they’re bowing. But headbutting you does seem like a more eager push to get you to throw that ball while you’re talking to a fellow dog parent at the park.

Reason 7: Your Dog Wants Cuddles

While headbutting you at the park could be a clear sign that your dog needs you to throw that frisbee, getting the same behavior while you’re chilling on the couch or bed can be somewhat confusing.

You’re probably wondering that there’s no way your dog is still in a playful mood after all that running, but perhaps your dog is pushing you because they want to join you.

Dogs can be quite energetic but they’re also snuggly and they’ll use their puppy eyes, possible whimpering, and grunting, as well as their head, to push you so they can enjoy a cozy spot next to you.

Aside from cuddles, dogs also enjoy a good scratch and Vetstreet suggests that the best spots are at the base of the tail, under the chin, or on the back of their neck.

By headbutting you especially your hand your little pooch is probably asking you to pet them.

Reason 8: They Are Feeling Nervous

The way your dog headbutts you and the moment they choose to do it can tell you a lot about the reason behind this behavior. Is it during a peaceful moment or is something making them nervous?

It’s easy to think of dogs as our protectors, especially if they’re large breed, but dogs can also get afraid, and they also need to feel safe.

When that happens they’ll look for that safety in their humans and research has shown that owners act as a safe haven for most dogs.

Physical contact can help your doggy feel better and they can achieve that by sitting close to you and headbutting your hand or leg to make sure they’re physically touching you, or they might headbutt you so you can make space for them to sit between your legs.

Puppies and young dogs might be more prone to headbutting when they’re nervous, especially during those first walks or first interactions with other people and dogs. You may find them hiding behind your back pushing you nervously.

Fireworks and thunderstorms can also frighten your pup and you might end up being headbutted by your litter friend who’s seeking reassurance.

Reason 9: They Are Not Feeling Well

No matter how tiresome headbutting can be, it’s a gesture your dog might find useful in showing you their emotions and needs.

If your dog has always been a headbutting goofball then it’s probably just a positive thing, but if they’ve never done this before then this out-of-character behavior could be a symptom of poor health.

Headbutting you all of a sudden could be how your dog shows you they’re not feeling well, and a vet check-up could determine whether this is a behavioral or a medical problem.

I do want to mention head-pressing again as I did at the very beginning. Head-pressing happens when your dog is pressing their head against a wall or other objects without any reason.

This condition is usually a clear indicator of a health issue most likely with their brain or liver.

Possible conditions include:

  • Head trauma
  • Metabolic disorder
  • Primary or secondary brain tumor
  • Stroke
  • Nervous system infections from rabies or fungus
  • Exposure to toxins such as lead

As soon as you notice your dog head-pressing take them to the vet and be on the lookout for additional symptoms like changes in their usual behavior, disorientation, pacing and circling, visual problems, and seizures among others.

Reason 10: They Are Testing You

If headbutting isn’t something new in your relationship with your dog and it doesn’t come from a place of physical or mental discomfort, then it’s possible that your dog is using this behavior to test your boundaries.

Puppies are quite energetic, and they usually want to use all that energy to play and run around. While you’re trying to establish some order, adolescence comes crushing in and your rebellious pooch tries to push through your limits by headbutting you.

By pushing their head against you they might be asking for extra attention, more treats, and more cuddles or games and if you give in, you’re basically rewarding this behavior and losing some of that ground to your dog’s stubbornness.

Of course, a dog might ignore you or defy you and use rude behaviors to challenge your authority, headbutting might just be one of them, but it’s nothing you can’t change with proper training.

Reason 11: It Could Be Their Breed

Last but not least, your dog’s breed might have something to do with this.

As I’ve already mentioned dogs that possess herding instincts can use headbutting to control your movement, but there are also certain breeds that are more physical in the way they choose to play and interact with people.

Let’s take boxers, for example, these dogs are known for pawing at their owners to show affection but headbutting can easily be part of their love language based on their overall intensity.

Similarly, Rottweilers are also known for their headbutting as they also have that herding instinct from when they would guard property and herd the livestock.

The Pitbull might not be perfect for a farm, but they still can use their head to push you around. Perhaps it has to do with their physique since they were raised and trained to fight bulls, an animal known for headbutting.

Thankfully this cruel sport was banned and now your Pitbull might use their head to headbutt you lovingly!

Should I Be Worried If My Dog Is Headbutting Me?

Headbutting itself isn’t necessarily a symptom of some illness on its own, but what can be concerning with this behavior is the size and force of your dog.

If your canine companion is a large dog like a Great Dane or a muscle dog like a boxer or rottweiler then their headbutting can be unpleasant, especially if they do it to your face.

Headbutting is rarely an act of aggression, but even if they do it to show their affection, a person who isn’t as strong or even children could get hurt simply from the force of the headbutt.

Then again if your dog has never exhibited this behavior before then it could be their way of telling you that they’re feeling unwell mentally and physically.

What To Do When Your Dog Headbutts You?

Whether you need to stop your dog from headbutting you, other dogs, and people is up to you.

For some, it might be a helpful gesture that reminds them that their pooch needs to be fed or walked. It can be a tool for communication as long as your dog doesn’t abuse it for every little thing they need.

As your dog grows a headbutt might no longer seem cute, but tiresome and it can make you and other people uncomfortable.

So, what can you do?

Don’t Reinforce This Behavior

To curb your dog’s headbutting behavior it’s important to restrain yourself from giving them the attention they desire at that moment.

Your dog needs to understand that headbutting won’t get them anything, so ignoring this behavior is one way that can help you put a stop to it.

If you’re working in your home office, watching a film, or talking to your guests and your dog starts headbutting you because they want food or to go for a walk don’t give in. Instead, you can ignore them or even leave them alone by going to another room.

Seeing your dog’s headbutting escalate and become more intense throughout the years might mean that you are reinforcing this behavior, and you’re allowing them to cross your boundaries by giving them what they want from you.

Find Out What They Want

Since headbutting is your dog’s way of communicating with you, you also need to consider what they’re asking of you.

If they crave more attention you need to give them more attention, through training and play but only when they’re not headbutting you of course.

When headbutting is used as attention-seeking behavior, then ignoring your dog shouldn’t be your only option. Perhaps you have been spending less time with your pooch and you need to invest in some quality time.

You might be less consistent with your walks, or training and this is making your dog insecure and needy.

Remove Any Stressors

Perhaps your dog is scared, and they need to feel safe so headbutting is their way to seek comfort.

Separation anxiety can also cause your dog to push you with their head for validation when you’re back from home.

If this is the case then you need to remove or limit these stressors that are causing your dog anxiety. This can be achieved through training and spending enough time with them throughout the day so they don’t feel lonely when you leave them alone.

If there’s a storm coming you might want to keep them in a quieter room with soothing music. You can also try to feed them, give them their favorite treat or play with them so they can take their mind off the thing that’s causing them stress.

Feed Them On Time

If it’s food that your dog wants, then headbutting you is one way they can ask for it. To avoid this kind of behavior you’ll need to be more consistent with feeding.

Dogs feel happier when there’s a routine in their life and when their owner is reliable.

For those of you who have an unpredictable schedule, you can try an automatic feeder. This way your dog will know that they’re always fed on time and perhaps they will start headbutting the feeder instead.

A feeder that I’m sure a dog owner will appreciate is from PETLIBRO that you can check on Amazon. Not only does it dispense 1-4 meals per day,  up to 9 portions but you can also record yourself so your dog can hear you call them before their meal!

Train Them To Push Buttons With Their Head…Instead Of You!

If your dog loves to push you and everything around them with their head to get what they want perhaps it’s time you gave them another tool to communicate with you.

Instead of asking you to go outside with a headbutt your dog could be like Luna and press the right buttons to let you know!

Dogs are very smart and capable of associating words with different buttons and while training them may take a lot of time and effort it can be a great way to bond with your pooch.

Talk To A Dog Behaviorist

It’s not always easy to train a dog, and sometimes there are certain behaviors that are harder to curb.

For those of you who feel helpless against your dog’s headbutting or you can’t seem to stop this habit completely a professional dog trainer or a dog behaviorist could help you find the meaning behind your dog’s headbutting and redirect it.

They can give you the right tools that are more suitable for your dog’s personality. This knowledge is precious and it can help you apply it over and over again until you’ve got the headbutting out of your dog’s head!

Why Is My Dog Headbutting Their Food Bowl?

If the food bowl is empty and you notice your dog headbutting it then it’s quite clear that they’re hungry or they need a refill.

But I understand that it can be confusing when your dog does the same thing to a food bowl that’s still full.

Usually, this means that your dog isn’t hungry and perhaps it’s best to set the food bowl aside and play with them or do some training so they can work up their appetite.

For picky dogs headbutting their bowl might be a sign of distaste for the food, so try looking for a diet that truly gets them excited.

I should note that any changes in your dog’s eating habits should be monitored because if your doggy is just headbutting their food bowl without eating what’s inside then they might be feeling unwell.

Why Is My Dog Headbutting Other Dogs?

In this situation context really matters. Is your dog headbutting a dog at the park? Or you’ve just adopted another puppy and your older dog is headbutting the poor young fella?

For dogs headbutting can be a way to show that they’re being friendly like when they lick each other’s eyes. This way they also try to initiate play, especially if it’s followed by exaggerated bouncy movement, slapping the floor with their paw, and other playful mannerisms.

When an older dog is in the presence of a more undisciplined and energetic puppy, they can headbutt them to show dominance and set boundaries. Or they might use headbutting as a gentle way to play with them.

Even if your dog’s headbutting behavior seems harmless make sure you’re always supervising them during playtime.

Be on the lookout for signs of aggression like a curled lip and growling. They might keep their ears pinned down and their overall body will be stiff and not bouncy or happy in any way.

As AKC advises “the best way to avoid a fight is to recognize the signs of potential conflict and act quickly and calmly to separate the dogs before the situation escalates and everyone can continue having a good time.”

Closing Thoughts

No matter how simple headbutting may seem, it’s a complicated gesture that your doggy uses to let you know what they want or expect from you.

Perhaps you’re walking too slow, or you forgot to give them that treat you promised after they gave you, their paw.

No matter the reason, as long as it’s not a sudden change in their behavior, and you’re not confusing it with head-pressing, headbutting is an innocent attempt to get your attention.

Of course, with clear communication and training, you can help them find other ways to achieve that without being pushy.

Do you know what your dog is headbutting you? Let us know which of the above reasons it might be!

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