Why Does My Dog Put His Paw On Me?

What pawing you really means.

By Rebecca Newell | Dog Behaviour

Why Does your Dog Put his Paw on You?

Have you noticed your dog putting his paw on you when you stroke him? Or while you’re sitting on the sofa? Keep reading to find out why!

Dogs use their paws to communicate. They have evolved over thousands of years alongside humans, so they have an extraordinary capability to apply this form of communication to us – a completely different species.

There are several reasons why your dog might be putting his paw on you. The answer will most likely be linked to when he is doing it – it is most likely he is trying to tell you something.

“I want attention!”

Dogs thrive on human companionship. We’ve bred them to be dependent on us for everything – including fun and social interaction – so they aren’t shy about letting us know they’re feeling neglected.

For example, my dog tends to put her paw on me when I’ve been busy for most of the day. She’s asking me to play and giving me a gentle reminder ‘hey I’m here and I have needs too!’

That’s fair enough. As responsible dog owners we should ensure their needs are met. Most likely this behaviour has also been reinforced in the past – maybe intentionally (responding by playing with the dog) and maybe unintentionally (giving eye contact or laughing).

“I want food!”

Similarly to the message above, your dog might put his paw on you because he’s hungry. It always amazes owners how dogs seem to be able to tell the time! Check the clock next time your dog puts his paw on you and see if he is pre-empting dinner.

Of course, most dogs would eat all day if they could. So make sure you don’t respond to continual pawing if it’s related to food. If you allow your dog to decide when he gets fed, he could become overweight which will impact his health.

“I’m feeling insecure!”

Why Your Dog Puts His Paw on YouA raised paw in dog language can signal your dog is feeling stressed. Look at the rest of your dog’s body language – is he showing other signs of anxiety such as lip smacking, yawning and flat ears?

If so, think about why he might feel that way. Was there an argument in the household? Did you lose your temper with him? Is he in a new environment? The best thing you can do if he’s worried is stay positive and try to distract him from what he is thinking about. A great way to do this is playing with a toy or changing the environment.

Try not to comfort and console your dog though – this can reinforce to him that there is something to worry about.

“I love you”

Studies have shown “feel good” hormones such as oxytocin are released by both human and dog during a petting session. By putting his paw on you whilst you are stroking him, he is further extending contact and reciprocating affection back. Aww…

It Does NOT Mean: “I am your master”

The notion that dogs are trying to dominate us and be pack leader is quite outdated. However, you’ll be amazed at how many people still think this is true. There are even some professional dog trainers out there who use this idea to rationalise punishment to solve problems.

As dogs evolved from wolves, it is assumed that all behaviour and communication will be the same. Unfortunately our idea of how wolves behave is based on studies of wolves in captivity, none of who were related – so some pretty big fights broke out!

Next time your dog puts his paw on you, notice their expression and body language – does he look like he’s trying to put you in your place? Or do the reasons above seem more realistic?

How to Stop a Dog Putting Paws on You

However sweet it can seem, there are times when we’d rather not have a paw on us – particularly if it’s dirty, we are wearing delicate fabrics or trying to concentrate on something else. There are a few ways you can tackle this kindly without resorting to harsh methods.

  1. Ignore any pawing – don’t even give your dog eye contact. Move your body so he is unable to reach you and, once the pawing has stopped, lavish praise upon him.
  2. Stay consistent. Don’t confuse your dog – if you don’t want him to paw you, never give attention when he does.
  3. If your dog is frequently pawing when he wants something, try to see his needs are met before you sit down and relax. Is he getting enough exercise and mental stimulation?
  4. If he tends to put his paw on you when you’re petting him, try and pet him in a position where it’s harder to paw you e.g. when your dog is lying down, standing up or has their back to you.

Do you have any questions about your dog putting his paw on you? Let me know in the comments!

About the Author

Rebecca is a professional dog trainer currently working for Guide Dogs UK. She also has a passion for animal welfare. In her free time, she loves taking long walks with her cavapoo and husband.