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Why Does My Dog Paw At Me? Asked & Answered - PawSafe

Why Does My Dog Paw At Me? Asked & Answered

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why does my dog paw at me

Dogs use various ways to communicate with their owners, and pawing is one of them. If you have ever wondered why your dog paws at you, if you are not alone. Almost all dog owners have experienced this behavior, which can mean different things depending on the context. 

In over 10,000 years of living together, body language, vocalization, and facial expression are ways dogs have learned to get what they want from us. However, every time a behavior is done constantly, not only could it be annoying, but it could also indicate health issues.

Understanding the context and body language accompanying the pawing can help decipher the dog’s intentions and respond appropriately to their needs or desires. In this article, we consulted the work of Dr. Bonnie Beaver to look at dog pawing behavior. Stick with us as we explore some of the reasons why dogs paw at their owners.

When a dog paws at you, it’s a form of communication that’s as endearing as it is important. It’s their way of saying, “Hey, I’m here, and I need something from you.” This behavior is common among many dogs, including my own Bullmastiff, Jack, who has his own distinctive way of using his paw to send a message.

Jack, with his imposing stature and gentle eyes, is a master at the art of ‘the paw.’ When we’re sitting together and I become absorbed in the digital world on my phone, he’ll extend his hefty paw and place it on me. It’s not just a gentle reminder but a statement: “Remember me? I’m still here.” This isn’t about neediness; it’s about connection. Jack uses his paw to express his desire for continued interaction and affection, something that dogs crave just as much as they need their physical necessities.

In a world where distractions are plentiful and attention is fragmented, Jack’s pawing is a grounding force. It would be easy to train this behavior out of him, to correct him for demanding attention in such a direct way. But to do so would be to silence his voice, to disregard the simple yet profound way he asks for presence. 

Thus, instead of discouraging him, I’ve chosen to let Jack’s pawing be my reminder — a living, breathing prompt to stay present and engaged with my loyal companion. It’s a small concession to make for the one who offers unconditional love and undivided attention without asking for anything in return, save for a scratch behind the ears or a moment of closeness.

According to Dr. Beaver puppies are born with communicative instincts. The behavior of using their paws is not something that dogs “learn” in the way humans learn specific skills. Instead, it’s a natural behavior that emerges as part of their overall communication and problem-solving collection.

Reasons Why Dogs Paw Their Owners

A red dog offering their paw to their owner

Pawing is a standard behavior that can mean different things depending on the context. Here are some reasons behind this action. 

1. Seeking Attention

Dogs are social animals and thrive in a company. This makes them crave interaction with their owners. If they feel ignored or neglected, they may resort to a learned habit as a way of getting attention.

They may also paw when they want you to continue petting or scratching their sweet spot. Dogs may also smack their lips when they get heavenly scratches from their favorite person.

2. Expressing Affection

Some action from our dogs may be their version of I love you, hooman. They may do this when they are happy or excited or want to show affection to their owners. It is often accompanied by wagging tails, licking, and other signs of happiness. They may also follow you around the house or sleep next to you on the couch.

3. Initiating Play

Dogs are playful animals and enjoy interacting with their owners. They may paw at their owners as a way of inviting them to play or as a way of indicating that they want to play, especially after bringing their toy near you or if they offer a play bow.

4. Begging for Food

Dogs are known for their love of food, and they are expected to paw at you when they want a share. This habit is often reinforced if the dog has received food as a reward. Some may start or even bark to express their hunger. They may also paw at you if they know you have a snack in hand. 

5. Learned Behavior

Dogs can develop habits over time, and if they’ve found that pawing gets them what they want, such as attention, they may continue the behavior even when there’s no specific motivation. They may also learn to paw at you because they’re mimicking the way you pet them.

Another way they may learn to paw a person is by learning the “shake” command. When a dog learns to “shake”, they may offer their paw at other times, looking for a reward.

6. Boredom

Dogs not getting enough physical exercise or mental stimulation may engage in pawing and other behaviors like digging holes to distract themselves.  

7. Physical Discomfort

Physical discomfort could be due to various issues, such as an injury, arthritis, or an underlying medical condition. If your dog is pawing at a specific area of their body, such as their ear or paw, it could be a sign of an infection or discomfort in that area.

8. Emotional Discomfort

Dogs are also likely to paw their owner when they are not feeling okay. When you suspect this is the case, pay attention to other signs of anxiety, such as panting or pacing. It can be a way for them to seek reassurance, or ask you for help and comfort.  Keep your vet updated and follow their advice.

9. Placing a paw on you when resource guarding

Resource guarding is a behavior that dogs exhibit when they feel the need to protect their food, toys, or any other item they consider theirs. 

This behavior is often a warning sign that the dog feels uncomfortable or threatened. Look for signs like low growling, lifting their lip, and whale eyes towards the opponent.

Dogs can also put their paw on you or lay on you when they do not want you to play with another pet. When a dog places a foot on you while resource guarding, it is also important to avoid punishing the dog, as this may make them more defensive and increase the risk of aggression. However, you don’t want to encourage this behavior either. 

Instead, try to establish a positive association with the dog by offering them treats or anything they find rewarding when calm and relaxed. If resource guarding persists, you should work with a professional behaviorist to help address the underlying issues causing the resource guarding behavior.

Remember, every dog is different, and what works for one may not work for another. It is vital to approach each situation with patience, understanding, and a willingness to learn and adapt to your dog’s needs.

Training Your Dog to Stop Pawing

dog pawing their owner

If you find it annoying when your dog paws at you, teaching your dog to stop the behavior’ is an achievable goal. Here are some steps to help you train your dog to eradicate unwanted habits:

  1. Understand the root cause

    Common reasons include seeking attention, expressing excitement, anxiety, or trying to get something they want. Identifying the underlying cause will help you address the behavior more effectively.

  2. Ignore the behavior

    If your dog paws for attention or to get something, ignore the behavior. Don’t look at or touch your dog when they paw. Turn away and wait for them to stop. As soon as they stop, reward them with attention or a treat. This teaches your dog that pawing doesn’t get them what they want.

  3. Use the “leave it” or “off” command

    Teach your dog the “leave it” or “off” command, which means they should stop what they are doing. Use this command when your dog starts pawing, and reward them when they comply. You can see our article if you are wondering how to discipline your dog at home.

  4. Provide mental and physical stimulation

    Sometimes, dogs paw out of boredom or excess energy. Ensure your dog gets enough physical exercise and mental stimulation through engaging them in plays, walks, training, and puzzle toys.

    If you are a gym person, here are some workouts you can engage your pup to ensure mental and physical health and to rule out boredom throughout the day.

  5. Positive Reinforcement

    One of the most effective ways to train your dog to stop unwanted habits is through positive reinforcement. Whenever your dog approaches you without pawing, or when they obey your “off” command, reward them with treats or praise. This will encourage them to continue this behavior.

  6. Consistent Response

    It is a known fact that dogs thrive on a routine. It’s essential to respond to your dog’s unwanted habits consistently. If you sometimes give them attention when they paw and other times ignore them, it will only confuse them. Instead, choose a consistent response, such as turning away or saying “no” firmly, and stick to it.

  7. Professional Help

    If your dog’s behavior is persistent and difficult to manage on your own, consider seeking the help of a professional dog trainer. They can provide personalized training techniques and advice to help you and your dog overcome this behavior.

Remember, training your dog to stop pawing takes time and patience. With consistent effort and positive reinforcement, you can help your dog learn to approach you without pawing.

Teach Your Dog an Alternative Way to Get Your Attention

According to MSD manuals, dogs trained with positive reinforcements tend to learn a new behavior faster and have fewer behavioral problems.

Teaching your dog an alternativ-e-archive way to get your attention can be a helpful strategy to reduce undesirable behaviors. Here’s how you can do it:

1. Choose a Distinct Signal

Decide on a specific, distinct signal or command your dog will use to get your attention. Common choices include “touch,” “look,” or “say please.” Be consistent with the chosen command.

2. Training the New Behavior

One effective alternativ-e-archive behavior is to teach your dog to “target” an object with their nose. This can be done by holding a small thing like a pen or a target stick and rewarding your dog when they make an effort to touch it or when they feel their nose to it.

Once your dog understands this behavior, you can use it to redirect their attention away from pawing at you.

3. Repetition and Practice

Practice this new behavior regularly in short training sessions. Gradually increase the distance between your dog and the treat or toy to make them work harder to get your attention. Be consistent with rewards, using treats, praise, and play to reinforce the desired behavior.

4. Ignore Unwanted Behaviors

At the same time, when your dog reverts to engaging in other unwanted behaviors to seek attention, simply ignore them. Turn away and avoid eye contact.

Wait until your dog stops the undesirable behavior. As soon as they do, promptly reward your pup if they use the alternativ-e-archive signal.

5. Consistency and Patience

Consistency is critical in reinforcing any new behavior. Everyone in your household should use the same signal and respond consistently.

Be patient, as it may take time for your dog to learn this new way of getting your attention and unlearn their old habits.

6. Practice in Various Situations

Practice the new behavior in different situations and environments to ensure your dog understands that the signal works consistently.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why does my dog put his paw on me and lick me?

Dogs often paw at their owners to get their attention, and licking signifies affection. When your dog puts his paw on you and licks you, he tries to get your attention and show you that he loves you. This behavior is usually a sign of affection, but it can also be a sign of anxiety or stress.

Why does my dog paw at my face?

When your dog paws at your face, he is trying to get your attention or to start playing. This behavior is usually a sign of affection. If your dog is pawing at your face excessively, it may be a good idea to consult with a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer.

What does it mean when a dog puts his head on you?

When your dog puts his head on you, it shows affection and trust. Dogs often use body language to communicate with their owners, and putting their heads on you is a way of showing you that they trust and love you. 

Why does my dog slap me in the face?

When your dog slaps you in the face with his paw, it is usually a sign of playfulness. Dogs often use their paws to play and interact with their owners, and slapping you in the face is a way of engaging with you. 

Why does my dog paw at me when I stop petting her?

When your dog paws at you when you stop petting her, it is a sign that she wants more attention. Dogs often use body language to communicate with their owners, and pawing at you is a way of telling you that she wants you to keep petting her. 

Do dogs pick a favorite person?

Yes, dogs often pick a favorite person. Dogs are social animals, and they form strong bonds with their owners. If your dog has a favorite person, it is usually the person who spends the most time with them and provides them with the most attention and affection.

However, dogs can also form strong bonds with multiple people, so it is not uncommon for dogs to have more than one favorite person.

Final Thoughts

Pawing is a natural behavior for dogs, and it can mean various things. It can be a way for them to seek attention, express excitement, or communicate discomfort. As dog owners, we must pay attention to our dogs’ body language and behavior to understand what they’re trying to tell us.

If your dog is pawing excessively or aggressively, it’s essential to consult a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer to rule out any underlying medical or behavioral issues. However, in most cases, pawing is harmless and can be easily managed through positive reinforcement training and proper socialization.

Remember, our dogs rely on us for love, care, and guidance. By understanding their behavior and needs, we can strengthen our bond with them and ensure their well-being.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.