Dogs can’t speak to us to tell us what they want, sometimes they may bark, or whine, but other times they use their paws. A dog pawing you, what does it mean? Is it just your dogs way of communicating?
We will soon find out that dogs actually paw you for many reasons. Some reasons will strike you as rude while others are more sweet and cuddly.
I love to investigate little things in our dogs behaviour that I want an explanation for. Really it is,”Why is my dog doing that” mentally. I just need to know.
The other big reason of course is, I love my dog so much that I want understand him as much as I possibly can. That connection is important to me. For me this is what makes the dog parenting journey such an amazing journey.
Like so often a puppy’s behaviour is deemed cute or funny, but then they grow up and it’s not so funny anymore. This completely applies to a dog pawing behaviour.
In the beginning it makes you feel warm inside, because you think that your dog is sweetly getting your attention. You let it go on for a bit and then BOOM, just like that, it is a regular thing that your dog is constantly doing. It can even get to the point where it can be dangerous for an extremely large dog to be pawing at people forcefully. They could harm a child or a frail person very easily.
Very quickly this type of behaviour becomes learned by your dog, so does this mean that I caused this in my dog?
First let’s look at a few of the reasons that our dogs do this pawing behaviour.
Do you know someone that talks with their hands? I think we all do. Why are they using their hands when they are talking…..it is their way of communicating! When we want to get someone’s attention we often use our hands as a way to do that.
Well it is also the same for our dogs. They throw their paw at you, because they want to get your attention. “Hello Mama, I am right here, don’t you see me”. Almost in a pushy way. The goal is just to get your attention for even a moment.
Dogs very often mimic what they see, so it only makes sense then that a dog picks up hand gestures as a way of communicating, from us. If you taped yourself having a conversation with someone, I think you would be surprised at the amount of times your hands play a part in your way of communicating.
Play vs dominance
When we watch dogs playing with each other, you will often see your dog paw at the other dog. They may even paw the ground as a way to say “Hey let’s go, come play with me”. The other dog reacts right away and the playing begins.
At times, you can even see it as a signal of your dog being submissive to the other dog, saying “OK I know you are in charge”. In the exact same way that it can be a submission action, a dog pawing can be thought of a sign of dominance over another much weaker dog.
This pawing action if directed towards you can be a way of your dog dominating your or claiming you as their own. The conversation goes something like this “You are mine and I am in control”. This negative pawing can also be their way of disobeying commands, guarding or protecting food or toys. This would be using their pawing behaviour in an extremely negative way.
Dogs naturally use their paw as a way to communicate with each other, and of course the next thing that happens is they direct that same behaviour at us.
A perfect example of play pawing is when you are playing with your dog and you decide to stop the game. More times than not, your dogs next move, will be to put their paw up at your leg or arm because they don’t want the fun to stop yet. I call this a pushy type action but not a dominance behaviour.
Another way your dog may use the play pawing, is if they bring you their favourite toy and paw at your leg for you play along with him. This would far more fall under the attention pawing and not a dominance pawing.
Love or forgiveness
Did you know that when you are petting your dog, a feel good reaction of hormones occurs. Very often when you are petting your dog even for a moment or two that when you stop, the paw comes up at you simply to say “Don’t stop”.
The petting makes them feel so good and the want that feeling to continue.
Dogs are very empathetic animals naturally. When we are feeling sad, scared or even physically hurt, our dogs have a sense of those emotions coming from us. They pick up on how we are feeling. A dog often extends his paw as a way of giving you a hug. It is their way of offering us support.
Our dogs often do things that get them in trouble. Maybe they ate your toilet paper or got in the garbage, but whatever mischievous thing your dog has done, they may use their paw as way of asking for forgiveness. By batting their sad eyes at you and lifting their paw on you to say “I’m sorry Mama”. Essentially using their paw as an apology.
The hope for them with the pawing for forgiveness is of course to try to eliminate getting in scolded for what negative thing they have done. They are pretty smart don’t you think.
Tips to help stop the pawing
There are some easy tips that you can use to help stop your dog pawing behaviour.
The most important thing to do, is to teach your dog a different way to gain positive attention. First thing you do when your dog paws at your leg is to use a command like “Sit” or “Stay” depending on which commands you normally use. Even a hand gesture of stop can work.
You need to stay with this correction every time your dog paws you. You can’t just do it once or twice and the other 10 times give in to them. Even giving in one time will continue to reinforce the behaviour that pawing is an acceptable way to get what they want from you.
Next, just like teaching your dog to stay, you slowly build up to a longer stay. The same thing applies to teaching them to stop pawing you. You could have a treat in your pocket and as your dog sits nicely extending the time length, reinforce that by giving them the treat and lots of praise. Then the next time repeat, but just make the time longer. This will teach them that sitting nicely gets them a positive rewarding action.
For our dog FERGUS, he has recently started this pawing behaviour. Although he is still a puppy, we don’t want this to continue to happen, as he is going to be a bigger dog. I don’t want an 80 lb dog pawing at my legs when I am wearing shorts and scratching my leg. The other reason we have really been working on breaking this habit, is we have noticed, that he is trying to use his paw in other ways to try to get what he wants. Right before supper time, he has started pawing to say “Hey I’m hungry, feed me”, even though he still has a 1/2 hour to wait til supper.
With FERGUS, the one tool that so far is working for us is just as I said above with treats and a Sit command. But the other thing that has really worked for us, is to just simply get up from our chair and completely ignore the behaviour. If you aren’t there for him to demand attention from, then his action of pawing you doesn’t get him the response he wants. Over time, then he will realize that it doesn’t work and completely stopping the behaviour.
Do not yell or get angry at your dog if they aren’t doing what you want them to do. Your dog can become scared or fearful of you and potentially cause more negative dog behaviour. I know it can be hard at times, but when you are at that point, simply step away and collect yourself. Your dog needs you to be calm in order to understand what you want from him.
Why do dogs continue to do this… Well of course, because it works. You may not even realize that you are positively reinforcing this demand pawing, but you are.
In almost all cases of a dog pawing at you, the action will quickly become a tactic and a habit for your dog. No matter the reason that your dog is pawing you, it is not something you want to continue to allow. Left alone without a correction, can and will lead to other negative dog behaviour. You simply don’t want to allow it to go on.
Relationships are always much healthier, when there is mutual respect. Just like if your friend is constantly tapping your arm to get attention, that would get old real quick. It would be annoying and not very respectful on their part.
Making sure that our dogs respect us equally is very important to raising a healthy and well-balanced dog. Messing around with dominate type behaviour is not something to be taken lightly.
The responsibility always falls on us as parents, to correct. Blaming a dog for their bad behaviour is more your fault than it is theirs. Remember that.
Correct the behaviour and I assure you that in the end, everybody wins. Your dog will think of you as the pack leader and not as someone or something they can control.