Why Do Dogs Put Their Paw on You?

by Amanda Flores

Did you know that dogs use their paws to communicate with us? Here's why your pup may rest their paw on you.

Dogs may not be able to speak our language, but they sure do know how to communicate. We’re familiar with dogs barking, whining, or shaking their tails to tell us what they want, but another commonly used—but less easily translated—form of communication is pawing. 
You know the gesture. You’re watching T.V. or maybe you just answered the phone, and your pup comes over and rests their paw on your thigh or starts to paw at you repeatedly. 
Dogs use their paws to communicate and as it turns out, there’s a whole lot that they could be saying. Here’s how to tell exactly what they might want or need from you by using their body language as cues or through plain ol’ process of elimination.

Why Your Dog Puts Their Paw On You

Your pup is using their paw to communicate. This dog behavior is their way of getting your attention and starting a conversation. Now the ball is in your court, and it's your turn to figure out what to say or do in response.
“Dogs only have a couple of ways to ask for something, and if they're not using their voice to bark at you or whine at you, then they're essentially using their paw to get your attention to ask for something,” explains Amy Learn, VMD, DACVB, IAABC-CABC, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.

What Your Dog Is Trying To Communicate

Your dog can be trying to tell you many different things all with the simple gesture of placing their paw on you. They can be signaling anything from letting you know that it’s time for a walk or to alert you to something scary that’s happening. 
Here’s what they might be communicating:
  • I need a walk
  • Let’s play
  • Snuggle me
  • I need some help
  • Something is scary
  • Do you know it’s past dinner time? 
  • I’m comforting you
“Anytime a dog is communicating, you want to first look at their basic needs,” says Dr. Learn. Run through a mental checklist: is the bowl empty, do they have water, do they have to go to the bathroom.”
If their basic needs have been met, then look to see if there’s something more urgent going on. For example, they could be in pain or about to be ill all over your carpet.
Once you’ve ruled those out, think about their attention needs. It could be that you’ve been in a meeting and they could be looking to do something fun with you. 

Pay Attention To The Type of Pawing 

The intensity of the pawing or even the length of time they are leaving their paw on you could correlate with how intent they are about getting that need met. 
For example, if they have to go to the bathroom, they might be pawing at you really quickly, while leaving their paw on you could signal a more relaxed state.
“If you are petting them and then you stop and they immediately put their paw on you and leave it there, they might be saying ‘hello, can you please resume what you were just doing because my ear needs more scratching and you clearly forgot to do that’,” says Dr. Learn. 

Listen To Their Body Language 

Sometimes it’s not as easy as noticing that their water bowl needs to be refilled. Now it’s time to look at their body language for cues. 
“It’s good to recognize the signals of a dog who's comfortable versus a dog who's worried about something,” says Dr. Learn. “Dogs are really good at communicating with their body language and their facial expressions, but pet parents are not always great at recognizing what they're saying.”
Dog behaviors that show they might be fearful or anxious could include their tails down or tucked. Their ears might be back or even out to the side, kind of like airplane wings, or their lips might be pulled back instead of up closer to their nose. While, excessive yawning or dilated pupils could be signs that your dog is stressed.
Dogs who are bored or looking for some social interactive action might use dog behaviors like nudging you with their nose and then pawing you with their paw. 
So the next time your dog lays a paw on you, you’ll have a leg up on the situation. Just go through your mental checklist of what they might need or want from you and you’ll be sure to figure out how you can best respond. 
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