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Why Does My Dog Rub Her Face with Her Paws? Expert Explains - PawSafe
Dog Behavior

Why Does My Dog Rub Her Face with Her Paws? Expert Explains

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why does my dog rub her face with her paws

If you’ve ever caught your dog vigorously rub her face with her paws, you might have wondered what’s behind this peculiar doggy behavior. Just like us, dogs have their little quirks and rituals. The reasons for this behavior can be numerous, ranging from simple grooming to signaling a possible health issue.

Sometimes, it’s just a part of their daily routine to stay clean. Dogs don’t have the luxury of napkins or hands, so a paw to the face after a meal or a romp in the grass is their go-to method for wiping away the day’s mess. But not all rubbing is created equal. The behavior may also be a red flag pointing to an itch they just can’t scratch due to allergies or an infection. Or it might even be a bid for attention, a canine version of “Hey, look at me!”

We consulted Dr Bonnie V. Beaver BS DVM MS DACVB on the matter. She said pawing or scratching of the face can have dermatologic, neurologic, pain (including neuropathic pain), or behavioral causes. So, let’s dive right into this canine pawing behavior.

Rubbing their face might seem odd to us, but for dogs, it’s as natural as chasing and biting their own tails. The frequency of the pawing, along with the presence of accompanying signs, should tell you the severity of the behavior and whether you should ring up your vet.

Key Takeaways

  • Dogs often rub their faces to clean themselves or remove irritants.
  • Persistent face rubbing can be a sign of a health issue such eye irritations, ear infections or even neurological issues.
  • Face rubbing can also indicate a dog’s desire for attention.

9 Reasons For Dog Face Rubbing

1. They’re Grooming Themselves 

Just like cats, dogs use their paws to wipe off dirt or debris as grooming behavior. Think of it as their way to keep that adorable face clean without a bathroom sink. It may be after having a messy meal, after playing outside, or even pawing around the eyes after waking up to remove boogers. 

2. Instinctual Actions: It’s Just What Dogs Do and It Feels Good

Your dog pawing at their face is as instinctual as their love for playing fetch. It’s hardwired into their doggy DNA. Canine Behavior insights observe that dogs have many specialized touch receptors, including vibrissae on the face that can sense airflow.

Pawing around this area stimulates these receptors, which obviously feels good for your pup. Some even claim that this pawing is a way for dogs to spread their scent because they have scent markers around this area. This ties to why dogs love to nuzzle their owners. It’s their inbuilt way of “marking” you.

3. Relief Due to Skin Issues (Atopic Dermatitis)

Rubbing can be a dog’s go-to move for relieving an itch or discomfort. Those paws are pretty handy when a pesky flea or annoying skin issues like atopic dermatitis (prevalent in a whopping 10 to 15% of the dog population). A study on site predispositions in dogs with atopic dermatitis showed that skin problems manifest at the face 39% of the time, so it’s only natural for dogs to scratch at this area.

4. Allergies

If you’ve ever had an itch that just won’t quit, you can sympathize with your pooch. Dogs can experience allergies or skin irritants that make them feel super itchy. Atopy (allergies) research shows that this familial disease often manifests as face rubbing or scratching. 

They might react to:

  • Pollen: Just like us, dogs can be allergic to the springtime explosion of flowers. See our article on can dogs get hay fever for a full rundown on the condition. 
  • Foods: That new treat could be the culprit.
  • Home chemicals: Your cleaning spree could be stirring up more than dust and causing a reaction in your canine.

They’ll use their paws as scratchers to get some relief.

5. Communicating Anxiety 

Believe it or not, your dog’s face-rubbing might be a kind of doggy Morse code. When your dog feels nervous or submissive, this rubbing can be their white flag, a gesture that says, “Hey, I’m no threat!”

You’ll notice signs like pinned ears, a cowering posture, or a tucked-in tail, wagging or not. This pawing is a displacement behavior, where they do it instead of something else like running away or vocalizing. It’s also a self-soothing mechanism like licking stuff like their paws or chewing your property.

6. Pain and Discomfort

Pain can make anyone cranky, and your dog’s no exception. When they’re pawing at their face, consider dental problems since teeth or gum disease can make your pup’s mouth area sore. Additionally, injuries like a thorny encounter on their latest adventure may be causing discomfort. Their paws become the go-to tool for trying to soothe that ache.

7. Eye or Ear Issues

Your dog’s eyes and ears are delicate instruments, finely tuned for sniffing out snacks and spotting squirrels. Problems in these areas can lead to a lot of paw action. Look out for infection or eye allergies with redness or discharge as a tell-tale sign. Also, find foreign objects, such as a rogue eyelash, that can turn your dog into a tiny, four-legged paw-boxer. 

Some dogs are born with eyelash or eyelid issues that cause the lashes to constantly irritate the eyes. This can cause your dog to rub their eyes on their legs and paws to try deal with the irritation.

Ear infections also cause pain and discomfort. So, when your dog is rubbing their head on objects, including their paws and legs, it may be an ear issue.

Regular checks can keep those peepers and listeners in tip-top shape.

8. Neurological Issues & Head Pain

Brain freeze from wolfing down an ice cream cone too fast is one thing, but if your dog’s head is hurting for other reasons, it’s no laughing matter. Pawing at their head could be their way of telling you their noggin hurts.

Neurological issues affecting sensory perception or motor control can disrupt normal grooming behaviors, resulting in abnormal scratching patterns. Issues like nerve disorders, infections like encephalitis, tumors, meningitis, and even seizures can cause this issue.

 Watch out for symptoms like:

  • Head tilting or shaking: They’re not just trying to look cute.
  • Loss of balance: If they’re wobbling like a weeble, best check with a vet.

9. Seeking Attention and Showing Affection

Your pup’s rubbing antics could be a playful way to grab your undivided attention. Dogs are pretty smart when it comes to getting what they want. So, your dog rubbing her face with her paws might just be another clever trick in her book to make you pause that boring human stuff and focus on her.

How can you tell? If your dog is looking at you while doing the paw-to-face dance, bingo! That’s a sign she might be seeking your attention. Let’s make a quick checklist:

  • Dog rubs face with paws;
  • Dog throws you a glance or stares;
  • They even paw at you;
  • Wagging tails or showing other playful behaviors; and
  • You’re busy and haven’t paid attention to her in a while.

If these line up, congrats, you’ve been chosen for some quality time! Now, give in to those adorable demands — carefully, though, you don’t want to teach your dog that face-rubbing is the go-to for getting your attention all the time. Balance is key!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Dogs rubbing their faces with their paws isn’t just them trying to give a high-five to their own snout. There’s often a bit more going on, and these FAQs will help you crack the code of your canine’s quirky habits.

What’s up with pups covering their eyes when I give them a good scratch?

When you hit the sweet spot with a scratch, your pup might cover their eyes as a reflex. It’s their way of showing pleasure from the scratching, much like kicking their feet up after you scratch their sweet spot.

Why is My Dog Scratching His Face After Meals?

If your dog is scratching his face after meals, it could be related to a food allergy or sensitivity. Some dogs may develop allergic reactions or sensitivities to certain ingredients in their food, leading to itching and scratching. It can also be their way of cleaning food particles. 

Why Does My Dog Keep Rubbing the Couch?

Your four-legged pal is probably trying to spread their scent or relieve an itch. Couches make the perfect face-scratching accessory. They may also be trying to get your scent on them to feel closer.

Why does my Dog Paw my face during cuddles?

Don’t worry; you’re not under attack. Your dog is likely showing affection or asking for attention in their own paws-on way. Dogs use paws to communicate, so pawing your face could be their way of showing love or simply trying to be closer to you. 

What Does Dog snuggling into blankets mean?

It could be a game, or your dog might just love the cozy feeling. Sometimes, they bury their face to feel safe and secure.

Why is My Dog Rubbing Against My Face?

When a dog rubs against your face, it is likely expressing affection and marking you as part of its social group. Dogs have scent glands on their faces and bodies, and by rubbing against you, they are transferring their scent as a way of bonding and marking you with their own scent.

Final Thoughts

When your canine goes to town with those paws on their face, they’re actually speaking a whole language of scratchy gestures! Itchiness, cleaning, allergies, coping with stress, and communication are the top reasons for this behavior.

Remember, if they’re going at their face like there’s no tomorrow, it could be something more. A quick chat with the vet can help you figure it out.

References:

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

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.