You talk with your hands. Why shouldn't your dog?
To say we're fascinated by our dogs is an understatement. Truth is, we're kind of obsessed. It's as if every little thing those lovable tail-wagging creatures do, from gazing at us lovingly to sighing dramatically, from licking our faces to licking our feet, is imbued with a sense of mystery and magic. So if you've ever "pawsed" to wonder, "Why does my dog put his paw on me?" you're not alone. In fact, it's one of the doggy behaviors that veterinarians and dog behavior experts get asked about the most, according to Colby Lehew, head trainer at Chicago's Dogletics dog training facility.
Pawing is a form of communication
In its most basic form, "pawing" is a form of communication, explains Gerardo Perez-Camargo, DVM, Vice President of Research and Development at Freshpet. Or, more specifically, it's a communication initiation, akin to you clearing your throat to signal you're about to speak or tapping a friend on the shoulder to get their attention. But your dog could accomplish that just as easily with barking. So, when your dog chooses to put his paw on you to get your attention, he's making a choice. The question is: Why?
Dogs, like humans, speak with their hands
Many dogs are inclined to "speak" with their "hands," observes Sarah Wooten, DVM, vet expert at Pumpkin Pet Insurance. The reason, according to Lehew, is that we've taught them to do so. When your dog hands you his paw, you're likely to react positively. Sometimes you'll even offer a reward (e.g., praise, physical affection, and/or food). By rewarding our dogs for communicating with their paws, we're encouraging them to do so again. And again. Here are 8 sure signs your dog trusts you.
The "keep petting me" paw
When you get the "paw" while you're already petting, tickling, or otherwise lavishing physical attention on your dog, you probably won't even have to ask, "Why is my dog putting his paw on me?" Chances are, you'll understand intuitively that your dog wants you to keep doing exactly what you're doing. This is one of the most common reasons dogs will put their paws on their people, says Dr. Wooten. The exception is service dogs, which you're not supposed to pet.
The "why'd you stop" paw
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Similarly, a dog may place a paw on you if you were giving him physical affection but stopped, Dr. Wooten notes. It tends to happen very quickly: As soon as you start to withdraw your hand, he'll reach out and paw you. It tends to be very effective, leaving little room for interpretation. "Give me more," your dog is saying. If you're not sure, you can usually resolve the uncertainty by looking for one of these telltale signs your dog is happy.
The "it's gonna be OK" paw
"Good or bad, dogs feel our energy, and they care about how we feel," Dr. Wooten tells Reader's Digest. "When we are feeling sad or down, our dogs can easily pick up on that." And that's when your pup may reach out to you with his paw, as if to say, "Hey, I get that you're going through something, and I want you to know, it's going to be all right." Did you know even dogs want a little space sometimes? Here are the signs your dog needs some alone time.
The "I love you" paw
"Touching you with a paw is one way dogs can communicate love," according to Texas-based veterinarian Sara Ochoa, DVM, who consults for DogLab. "Just as dogs adore belly rubs, they also seem to understand that their people like to be touched as well, and since they love us, they want to make us happy."
The "not feeling so good" paw
Dogs associate giving us their paws with getting rewards from us. But not all rewards come in the form of praise, affection, or food. Sometimes, the reward is the offer of comfort and assistance when your dog isn't feeling well. Your dog's body language will offer clues as to whether he's offering a happy paw versus an "I'm not feeling so good" paw. But in case there's any doubt, feel free to refer to these 13 warning signs your dog is in pain.
The anxious paw
Our dogs can feel unwell both physically and emotionally, points out Caroline Wilde, DVM, staff veterinarian at Trupanion. So if your dog is feeling anxious or stressed, for example, he may seek out comfort from you by offering a paw. In such a case, you might also notice your dog licking his lips or yawning repeatedly. In addition, if he's licking his paws, that could be a clue that your dog is feeling anxious or stressed.
The long "pawse"
Most of the time, when your dog offers his paw, the gesture is brief. Sometimes, however, he doesn't just tap you with his paw but actually leaves it on you. Sometimes, it's almost as if he appears to be gripping you. "Why does my dog put his paw on me and leave it there?" you might ask. The reasons behind short and long dog touches are essentially the same, according to Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for Pet Life Today. However, a long "pawse" tends to happen when a short "pawse" has been ignored or has gone unrewarded. On the other hand, if a sustained paw-touch seems to come out of nowhere, you can probably rest assured that you've just received the doggy equivalent of a bear hug. Did you know dogs can be as mystified by human behavior as we are of theirs? Here are 23 things we do that experts say utterly baffle our canine buddies.
- Jennifer Coates, DVM, a member of the advisory board for Pet Life Today
- Colby Lehew, head of dog training at Chicago's Dogletics
- Sara Ochoa, DVM, a Texas-based small animal and exotic veterinarian and a veterinary consultant for DogLab
- Gerardo Perez-Camargo, DVM, Vice President of Research and Development at Freshpet
- Caroline Wilde, DVM, staff veterinarian at Trupanion
- Sarah Wooten, DVM, a vet expert at Pumpkin Pet Insurance
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