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I often find my dog putting his head between my bed and the nightstand, or between the chair arm and my lap.

Some websites say this a sign of the dog trying to assert dominance, others suggest it's a sign that the dog wants to be pet, or say hi.

Is there any definitive answer on this topic?

Edit: Ok so the dominance theory seems to be bunk. (It's a shame that it's the most common answer on google right now) So I'll add some more to my question.

Often the dog seems to have "sad eyes" when putting his head between things. His ears get squished between the objects he is putting his head between, so I don't know if they are flat, forward or backward. Often the rest of his body just 'relaxes' (don't know tail position, but I can check next time.)

In addition to putting his head between furniture, he also, when in the car will sometimes squeeze his head between the driver's chair and the window.

Edit: Observed my dog a few times. The ears are flat facing back towards the body. The tail is hanging limply, a bit between the legs, but not really between the legs, and not curled forward. He never does this while siting, he is always standing on all four legs.

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    Can you add some detail about the dogs body language when it is doing this? Are ears flat to his head or relaxed? Is his tail softly wagging in a neutral position, held up between it legs, or stiffly held still or wagging sharply? I agree that this isn't dominance but it could be asking for affection, fear of something, or even resource guarding. It's hard to tell with out a description of the dogs behavior. – Beth Whitezel Apr 24 '14 at 14:27
  • Oh boy, I wish I knew. I normally only pay attention to his eyes and energy level. – avi Apr 24 '14 at 14:40
  • As I said, stop with Cesar's one-size-fits-all pseudo science (dominance, energy level, etc.) and look at your dog ;) (my own level of stress might give an unfriendly tone to my comments, no harm intended) – Cedric H. Apr 24 '14 at 14:43
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    Heh, I don't know who Cesar is. Don't confuse my ignorance in dog reading with being a follower of wrong ideas :P – avi Apr 24 '14 at 14:46
  • It's ok just take a look for those things next time it happens. Once you start looking for that stuff it is kind of fun because you get so much more information from your dog. – Beth Whitezel Apr 24 '14 at 14:58
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I can't give a definitive answer on the subject, there are so many things the dog might want to communicate.

However, I can't resist to comment on the dominance idea. The idea that our dogs are trying to "assert their dominance" or higher their position in a "dominance hierarchy" is a myth that has been debunked many times. I don't want to repeat myself in this answer, however I'll link two answer that summarise my position and provide additional references:

Of course this is not to say that your question is meaningless. Try to find out by yourself (as you have much more information than we have), you'll learn much more about your dog than just thinking that he is slyly trying to dominate you.

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  • Part of the problem, is that like, an unclear song lyric, whichever when I approach it, seems correct :P – avi Apr 24 '14 at 14:13
  • The way dominance is talked about on various websites that come up first in google, the issue is more about the dog losing control or misbehaving more than slyly trying to dominate the owner. I.e., if the dog puts his head on your lap too often, when you call the dog and it's "busy" it will not respond. – avi Apr 24 '14 at 14:20
  • "slyly" is my English adverb of the day. Googling about that or following Cesar, everything is about the dog "dominating" or "trying to dominate". In most cases that brings zero added value to the problem and as a solution it is only a way to justify punition (I'm not talking about your case specifically here). There are a few links to what I consider serious references if you want to read more on the subject. @Beth's questions will help you more. – Cedric H. Apr 24 '14 at 14:41
  • Yeah your other answers were good. The only added value it has given me so far, is that in the past few days, whenever he does this, I put my hand on his head or body, and cast a shadow over him. He has behaved more obedient on walks, but I could also be suffering from "song lyric itis" :P – avi Apr 24 '14 at 14:44
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Attention-Seeking Behavior as Communication

I often find my dog putting his head between my bed and the nightstand, or between the chair arm and my lap...Often the rest of his body just 'relaxes'[.]

This is most likely an attention-seeking behavior. According to The Social Dog: Behavior and Cognition (Kaminski and Marshall-Pescini. Academic Press, 2014: pp. 234-236.) attention-seeking is a poorly-researched behavior, and there are few canonical studies. However, most of the other body signals are consistent with a dog soliciting attention, tactile reinforcement, or food, so attention-seeking would seem to be a reasonable label pending other indicators.

Attention-seeking isn't "dominance" in the sense of outmoded pack-theory. It also isn't inherently good or bad; it's simply the dog expressing "I want." Think of it as communication, and take it at face value for best results.

Here's a useful analogy to consider. From a communications point of view, canine attention-seeking behavior is really no different than a human child saying "I want a cookie". There's nothing wrong with wanting or asking; the problem is only when the wanting turns into incessant or unwelcome demands, or devolves into tantrums.

In the same way, polite attention-seeking is generally an appropriate form of communication from your dog, as long as the dog is responsive to your communications that you've had enough, or that no attention will be forthcoming right now. Good human-dog communication is bidirectional, and requires effort on both sides to be effective.

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