Why Do Dogs Put Their Paw on You? 

Most dog parents know the scenario: You’re going about your business when suddenly, your beloved pup places their paw on you.

As Woman’s World reports, if you’ve ever wondered why your dog is pawing at you, you probably know there isn’t one definitive answer, as every situation (and every pup) is different. However, there are typically a few things this cute gesture might be getting at — it can even be a sign of distress!

When your dog paws at you, they might give a brief, gentle tap, or they might be a little more aggressive, and it’s likely that in any case they are expressing an emotion or desire. Here, some dog training and communication experts explain three of the main reasons your dog might suddenly put their paw on you and some tips for how to interpret this mode of canine communication.

1. Your dog is expressing an emotion

Experts agree that dogs are very much sentient beings, and we shouldn’t underestimate their ability to feed off our emotions and attempt to show us love through their behavior. For instance, a dog putting their paw on you as you pet or snuggle with them is usually a reciprocation of affection toward their beloved human. A dog also very well might sense that you’re sad or anxious and do their best to offer comfort. If a dog feels anxious or uneasy about something, they also might be inclined to paw at you.

2. Your dog is trained to give their paw

Ali Smith, founder and CEO of dog training company Rebarkable, says many dogs put their paw on their humans as a learned behavior — for example, if they’ve been taught the command to give you their paw, and then you reward them when they oblige. They might try to imitate that gesture even when unprompted to achieve a desired outcome.

3. Your dog wants something

“Dogs that have a one-track mind and want something may continue to paw at you so you will get up and get it,” says JustAnswer dog behavior expert Sally Grottini. “For example, if they love playing fetch, and the owner has the balls in a bin, they may continue to paw at you to get them a ball.”

Other examples of dogs having a one-track mind that Grottini notes are wanting food, a treat or to be pet (especially if they want you to continue petting them after you’ve dared to stop!) Pawing might also be something a dog does when they want to be let outside, go on a walk or relieve themselves.

“A lot of times it’s just a basic way to cue an orienting response,” says Leigh Siegfried, founder and training director of dog training service Opportunity Barks. “That’s just a long, fancy way of saying they do it to get the person to pay attention to them.”

Pawing as communication

Now that you have an idea of the various reasons a dog might be putting their paw on you to begin with, you might want to figure out exactly what they’re trying to say.

Philip Tedeschi, human-animal connection expert with Rover and founder of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver, points to what is called the principle of evolutionary continuity. This concept, he explains, says that we can think about the human equivalent of a dog putting their paw on us — reaching out our hand, for example — and the circumstances in which we would use that gesture to communicate.

Think about it: While we can verbally tell our dogs how much we love them, aren’t we also sending a similar message when we hold, hug or pet them?

Dog experts say the best way to figure out what your dog is communicating is to look at the entire context of the situation, including the rest of the dog’s body language and other behaviors they are exhibiting. For example, check the time and see if it’s near feeding time and they might be hungry. If there are loud noises nearby, or your dog is in a situation where they are exposed to unfamiliar faces or places, maybe they’re nervous. Knowing your dog, their temperament and the ways they express themselves in particular situations can help you decode why they put their paw on you.

“Dogs that are showing affection will have a certain look to them, and they may only paw you a few times and then walk to their comfort spot,” says Grottini. “Facial expressions can say a lot when they are affectionate. Their eyes may be showing some white along the side and they will look at you affectionately, tail wagging, head also resting on your knee at times.”

When should you be worried about your dog pawing you?

In general, the answer to why do dogs put their paw on you isn’t anything to be concerned about. However, you’ll want to keep an eye on the situation and the frequency of the behavior so that you can intervene if it ever becomes inappropriate or excessive. Here are some of the rare instances where you should be worried about pawing:

1. If your dog is pawing at other people

If you don’t have a problem with your dog’s paw landing on you, that’s great! However, if you have guests over — especially someone who is physically sensitive, an elderly person or a baby — you don’t want your dog accidentally hurting someone with their paw pressure or nails.

2. If your dog is distressed

“Unless there is a level of distress, evidence of pain or significant departure from normative behavior, there is probably not an urgent or dangerous issue,” says Tedeschi. “But as in all our relationships, ignoring and discounting needs or intentional communication can be frustrating and lead to various types of escalation, insistence and acting out.”

For example, Tedeschi says, ignoring a dog pawing at you because they need to go potty could potentially lead them to intensify their behavior to get your recognition.

“In rare cases it may be because they are not feeling well, but it would be combined with other symptoms of illness such lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting or diarrhea,” says veterinarian Dr. Nell Ostermeier, DVM, spokesperson for Figo Pet Insurance.

3. If your dog thinks this will always get them something

There’s a difference between a mutual respect between you and your dog and your dog thinking they can demand a reward at any given moment. If you immediately give into their pawing at you by just tossing them a treat or giving them extra food when it’s not a real need, it’s likely that they will associate the behavior with reward and might start to paw constantly or when it’s unwelcome. Of course, this doesn’t apply to situations like a dog being hungry at dinner time or needing to go outside.

How to manage a pawing habit

Cute as it may be, it’s possible to encounter a situation where a dog’s pawing habit should be curbed. Siegfried recommends implementing strategies to try and manage the behavior when you notice excessive pawing, and redirect your pup. This might look like sometimes using a leash in the house, teaching the dog how to make themselves comfortable and calm down and showing them how to not continuously rehearse attention-seeking behaviors, she explains.

“You can respond by creating physical and verbal boundaries to discourage unwanted paw action,” says Tedeschi. “Always take the time to recognize and reward the types of interactions that are desirable. This can be done with verbal praise, treats and a positive invitation to interact with you.” With all of these tips in mind you’ll have a better sense of just why your pup is putting their paw on you next time they do it.

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