Canine body language: What's your dog saying with his paws? (2023)


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Pawing is one of the most vital canine communication tools.

What does dog pawing mean? Most new, inexperienced dog owners may wonder what’s my dog saying with his paws. You need to understand dog is a simple language to learn.

Once you learn it, you understand your pet communicates volumes of information using their versions of sign and body languages. Dogs also use facial expressions, licking, tail positions, and barking to communicate.

Too much pawing is one of the most common complaints by dog owners.

Weary owners, usually of new puppies or demanding and often incredibly spoiled adult dogs, complain that they are being shredded to ribbons by their pet’s sharp nails, and they don’t know what to do about it.

Learn to understand pawing

Observe your pet’s sign and canine body language. If you focus, you’ll quickly learn what your dog’s body postures mean. Learn canine communication to understand better what your puppy or dog is trying to tell you.

People often wonder what pawing means and why dogs put their paws on them. The truth is, there are several reasons why our canine friends paw us.

We need to recognize canine communication signals to understand so we can understand what dogs are trying to tell us.

Dog pawing behavior is a natural and inherent way for your puppy or adult dog to get you to “focus” on them. Depending on how often your dog resorts to this method, it can be an acceptable or annoying habit.

Pawing communicates, “Hey, you up there, it’s me down here. I want your attention, and I want it NOW!”

(Video) 'What are they saying?' - Canine Body Language

If you continuously give your dog attention each time he puts his paws on you or digs on you, you wind up creating a behavioral issue. You don’t want to create a situation where your dog keeps pawing at you to get your attention.

If your dog is insistent, avoid eye contact. You need to teach your dog that behavior is unacceptable.

By knowing when, where, and how often to respond or ignore dog pawing behavior, you can curtail that demand before it becomes a problem that requires behavior modification.

Universal canine body language

Pawing is the universal doggie sign, “Hey you! I want to play! Do you wanna play with me?” It’s how dogs communicate with each other. One dog pawing another dog is a sign it’s time to play.

Since your puppy or dog doesn’t realize that you don’t speak dog fluently, your dog will be persistent and keep pawing until they get any reaction from you.

Have you ever watched puppies or dogs interact together, where one usually initiates playing, by pawing the ground or pawing at the other animal?

If the second dog is interested, they often respond by pawing. The message is now crystal clear to both of them, “Let the games begin!”

It also can be a sign of submission.In simple dog language, it’s the dog’s way of letting another dog know, “OK, you’re the boss, and I am submissive.”

When your dog puts his paws on you, he may be demanding attention, seeking comfort, or asking for forgiveness. The latter two are more likely when your dog rests his paw on you without moving it. Your dog is telling you, “I need some consoling and reassuring,” or “I’m sorry for what I did. Please forgive me.”

Tips train your dog to stop dog pawing

Start by keeping your dog’s nails trimmed. While you’re working on breaking this bad habit, keeping your dog’s nails short will limit their ability to scratch and potentially hurt you. Keeping the nails short also is better for the long-term health of your dog’s feet.

That’s especially important if you need to stop a dog from pawing at your face.

(Video) Dogs' Body Language Explained

Once you understand what your dog is trying to say, it’s easier to formulate a plan to correct or control the behavior. For example, if your dog only touches you occasionally when he needs comforting, you probably don’t want to prevent him from doing so.

If, however, your dog uses its paw or scratches you to get your attention, then you can work to modify that behavior.

Train your dog and use commands to stop bad behavior

When your dog paws at you, give your dog a “No” or “Stop” command. Then tell your dog to sit. Once your dog is relaxed and sits calmly, give the dog a treat and lots of praise. You may have to do this repeatedly to train your dog to learn the message and break this common dog behavior, especially if your dog has been pawing you for a long time.

Pawing also can be an example of dominant behavior. If your dog continues to paw you and ignores your commands to stop, your dog may be trying to boss you around. Try walking away from your dog or turning your back on him. Ignoring your dog will teach him that scratching you is unacceptable behavior.

Again, you may need to do this several times to teach your dog scratching you won’t get the result he wants.

Never yell at your dog or hit him. Negative attention could reinforce bad behavior, or worse, make your dog fearful and potentially aggressive.

If your dog scratches at the door as a signal that he wants to go outside, you’ll have to decide whether you wish to continue using that method. If you’re going to eliminate all scratching, you can teach your dog to ring a bell to let you know he needs to go out. Or you could train your dog to give one short bark as an alert. Some people even install a dog door so their pets can go outside independently.

Dogs that love to paw (and dig)

Just like some people are more prone to using hand gestures when they talk, some dog breeds are more likely to use their paws. Some dogs wave their front paws, while others cross their front paws or look like they are putting their paws together in prayer.

Dogs also tend to favor one paw over the other, just like humans do.The majority of animals are right-handers. A much smaller percentage are left-handers. Quite a few dogs are ambidextrous or use both paws equally.

Breeds more likely to use their paws to communicate also more prone to digging. Dog breeds that use their paws a lot include boxers, dachshunds, terriers, beagles, miniature schnauzers, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Australian shepherds.

Bottom line

Observe your dog’s body language. If you learn to understand dog mannerisms, you will better understand what your puppy or dog is trying to tell you.

(Video) Canine Body Language

That way, you can control the action and train your dog to stop excessive pawing before it becomes a severe behavioral problem.

Your dog will be impressed when you become as bilingual as you expect them to be.

Karen A. Soukiasian is the owner of Good Dog! — Dog Training in St. Augustine, Florida. You can follow KarenonFacebook.

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What is my dog saying when he paws me? ›

By putting his paw on you whilst you are petting him, he is expanding contact and reciprocating affection back to you. While this act can be interpreted as an expression of love, your dog pawing at you can also be credited to numerous other feelings. He wants to play, he wants food, he's anxious, or may be in pain.

How do you know what your dog is saying? ›

Essentially, the higher the tail, the more assertive the dog. Dogs with their tails pointing down to the ground or even tucked between their legs are feeling fear and stress. Dogs with their tails held up like a flag are feeling confident, perhaps even aggressive.

How do you respond to a dog's body language? ›

Upright posture and a high tail are signs that a dog is feeling threatened. Intense eye contact. Staring hard is rude and is a sign of aggression. Keep an eye on their hackles: If the hair on the back of their neck is raised, you could be moments away from a fight.

Why do dogs rest their chin on you? ›

This has nothing to do with dominance. Instead, it's an affectionate way to say, “You're safe and we're in this together.” It'll make your heart melt, really.

Why does my dog stare at me while lying down? ›

Just as humans stare into the eyes of someone they adore, dogs will stare at their owners to express affection. In fact, mutual staring between humans and dogs releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone. This chemical plays an important role in bonding and boosts feelings of love and trust.

How do you test if your dog trusts you? ›

Their body language is calm and relaxed in your presence
  1. A slightly open mouth, with a relaxed, lolling tongue.
  2. Rolling over for a belly rub (this shows they trust you)
  3. Soft, relaxed facial expression.
  4. Blinking eyes.
  5. Tail wagging side to side.
  6. A “bow” to invite and encourage play.

How do you know if your dog is trying to tell you something? ›

Generally, one bark is to alert. Multiple barks mean he is trying to tell you something – anything from hunger to needing attention. Yipping or whining – A pup usually yips or whines when he is uncomfortable or lonely. You will probably notice yipping as you leave or when you put him in his crate.

What is I love you in dog language? ›

Your dog's eyes do much of their talking. You can communicate back to them using the same language of eye contact. When a dog gives you long, lingering eye contact, it's a way of saying “I love you.” A recent study shows that oxytocin, the 'love chemical,' goes up in both dogs and humans when they share a kind gaze.

How do you say I love you in dog's body language? ›

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How do dogs tell humans they love them? ›

Their body language

Your dog shows you love them through body language and behavior. For example, they will stare at you and make direct eye content. This is their way of saying they trust and love you. They will also have obvious signs like a big smile, a wagging tail and a bottom-wiggle.

Why do dogs have a favorite person? ›

Dogs choose their favorite people based on positive interactions and socialization they have shared in the past. Like humans, dogs are especially impressionable as their brains develop, so puppies up to 6 months old are in their key socialization period.

What does it mean when a dog goes between your legs? ›

Sometimes, dogs may go between their owner's legs seeking comfort or safety. Some research has found that medium and large dogs are more likely to demonstrate this behavior than small dogs. A lack of confidence, anxiety, or excitement can cause dogs to seek the closeness or protection of their owner's legs.

Why does my dog follow me everywhere? ›

If your dog follows you everywhere then it's a sign that they trust and love you and that you make them feel safe. Following you very closely can be a sign that they're bored, they want something, they're feeling scared or are just being nosy.

Why do dogs follow you into the bathroom? ›

If your dog follows you into the bathroom, it's likely a result of their animal instinct and pack mentality. Canines who do this are referred to as “Velcro dogs,” due to their desire to be attached to your side. They may follow you around, even to the bathroom, to protect a part of their pack.

Can dogs see in the dark? ›

Obviously, his stronger sense of smell is useful, but it's also because dogs can see movement and light in the dark, and other low-light situations, better than humans. They are assisted by the high number of light-sensitive rods within the retina of their eyes. Rods collect dim light, supporting better night vision.

Why do dogs look at you when they poop? ›

Eye Contact

You'd think she'd look away in hopes of getting a little privacy, but she locks eyes with you instead. That's because when your dog is in that pooping position, she's vulnerable, and she's looking to you to protect her. "Your dog is instinctively aware of his defenselessness.

What does dogs like to watch on TV? ›

In general, dogs will prefer shows that feature animals in motion, and they'd rather see a real animal than a cartoon. If you'd like to test whether your dog is interested in TV, pick a show with very active animals—especially those your dog is attracted to in real life (such as squirrels, birds, cats, or other dogs).

Do dogs prefer female owners? ›

Dogs Prefer Adults — Particularly Women

A dog's preference for one person — or type of person — over another has a great deal to do with socialization. Dogs don't, as a rule, dislike men, but most dogs are cared for by women, and are thus more comfortable around them.

Can dogs tell if someone is hurting you? ›

Can Dogs Tell If They Hurt You? Dogs can't tell if they hurt you in the moment (e.g., from a bite.) They can only tell if they've hurt you by your reaction to what has happened (your emotions, facial expressions, and body language.) They will then express their caring and concern for you.

Can dogs sense a kind person? ›

Dogs can sense when someone is a bad or good person. Your dog may not know the moral decisions a person has made, but he can pick up on signs of nervousness, fear, anger, and danger. Dogs notice specific things about humans that even other humans are not aware of.

Who is my dog's favorite person? ›

But most dogs tend to bond to the person who gives them the most attention. For example, in a family with two parents and two kids, the dog may favor the parent who fills their bowl every morning and takes them for a walk every evening. In addition, physical affection solidifies the bond between dog and person.

Can dogs sense something is wrong with you? ›

When a person is ill, their body chemistry will change, and a dog's sensitive snout may be able to detect these subtle changes, letting them know we are sick. Dogs can be trained to sniff out volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the human body, helping with early detection for illnesses, including cancer.

How do you know if your dog sees you as the owner? ›

You know if your dog sees you as alpha if he breaks eye contact first and looks away before you can. By doing so, he shows he respects you as the alpha pack leader.

What do dogs think when you kiss them? ›

As puppies, this is not something that dogs would recognize, although they would feel you doing it. However, as they get older they associate the kisses and cuddles with you being happy with them. They then realize that the kiss is a good sign.

Do dogs like when you talk to them? ›

Talking Strengthens Your Bond

They can read our emotions, follow our instructions, and anticipate our wants. It's one of the many reasons we love them so much. As the research shows, speaking to dogs in dog-directed speech really does make them want to spend more time with us, and that's a good thing.

How do I speak to my dog? ›

Use facial expressions, gestures and possibly food treats while you talk. “Maintain eye contact,” Gallego-Abenza says. Research shows that even wolves are attuned to the attention of human faces and that dogs are particularly receptive to your gaze and pointing gestures.

Do dogs feel love when you kiss them? ›

According to Animal Behaviorists, 'dogs don't understand human kisses the same way that humans do. ' When kissing a young puppy, you may not notice any signs of recognition at all because they have yet to associate kisses with affection.

Why do dogs lay next to you in bed? ›

Why do dogs like to sleep with you? If your pup likes to sleep with you, it means they feel secure and comfortable with you. When your dog was a puppy, they cuddled up with their littermates for warmth and comfort, so now they want to do the same with their people.

How do you know if a dog smiles at you? ›

How Do I Know If My Dog Is Smiling? Do you see the corners of your dog's mouth lift slightly? A dog's smile looks similar to a human's. The ASPCA explained, "A relaxed dog will likely have his mouth open and may be panting, with no facial or mouth tension.

Does a dog trust you if they sleep on you? ›

He might kick you in his sleep or fart dangerously close to your face, but the fact he's sleeping with you in the first place is a good sign you've earned his complete trust. Dogs are the most vulnerable when they're asleep.

Do dogs miss their owners? ›

Whilst this is a natural concern if you'll be gone for weeks, it's not something you need to fear. The truth is that your dog will almost always remember you, however long you've been apart. Dogs don't forget their beloved owners, even after months or even years apart.

Do dogs feel love when you hug them? ›

Experts in dog behavior believe that, in general, dogs do not like being embraced. However, every dog has a unique personality. Some may dislike hugs more strongly than others, and some may actually adore them. The closest thing our furry family members do to a hug is something referred to as 'standing over'.

Can a dog feel sorry? ›

While there's little doubt that dogs are capable of feeling primary emotions, which include feelings such as happiness, sadness and fear, there's far less evidence that dogs experience what are called secondary emotions, which include guilt and shame, says Scientific American.

Do dogs forgive when you hit them? ›

While a dog doesn't hold a grudge against you for hitting him, the story is different if the pattern of hitting is repeated. According to Current Biology, a pooch can go back in time and recall certain events and places plus the emotions connected to them.

Do dogs lick you to say sorry? ›

“I know that dogs lick to say sorry. I've seen it with loads of my own dogs down the years who will apologize by muzzling into my neck, licking me, and generally giving me as much attention as possible until I give in and forgive them.” “How dogs say sorry is very simple.

Can my dog be mad at me? ›

While dogs can indeed get upset by a situation, they don't get mad at someone in the same way that you do. According to HealthyPsych, anger is what psychologists refer to as a secondary emotion, which is a human response to primary emotions like fear and sadness.

How do you say please in dog? ›

Your dog must 'say please' by performing a cue (e.g. sit, touch) before getting what they want. For example, your dog must sit before being fed, going outside, being petted, putting on the leash, and/or given attention.

How do you tell your dog you will be back? ›

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Do dogs know when their owner dies? ›

It's not unusual for dogs to grieve the loss of a person they've bonded with who is no longer present. While they might not understand the full extent of human absence, dogs do understand the emotional feeling of missing someone who's no longer a part of their daily lives.

Do dogs really know what your saying? ›

The canine ability to comprehend human body language and intonation is amazing. Our dogs know more than just “Sit” or “Stay” or “Walk”. They can learn the meaning of many words and can grasp that meaning even better when we say those words in an appropriate tone.

What language does my dog speak? ›

Obviously, dogs can't talk, so their "language" is comprised of other signals—primarily body language, such as movement and positioning of the ears and tail, as well as how a dog positions himself near other dogs.

How do you know what your dog is saying when they bark? ›

In addition, the more barks in a row, the more aroused the dog is. A single bark may be given when a dog is surprised or annoyed, as if to say, “huh?” or “knock it off.” On the other hand, a long string of barks likely indicates the dog is far more worked up, such as the prolonged sound of alarm barking.

Do dogs know their name or is it a command? ›

If you say good morning and head to their leash or food bowl, they will know what you are talking about right away. Dogs will also learn their name through classical conditioning. This means that they learn to respond to their name when it is said, not that they actually know their own name is Fido.

What do dogs think about all day? ›

In general, Bray says dogs probably think about all the staples in their lives, from food and play to other dogs and their pet parents. Like humans, how much time they spend pondering a specific focus “depends on the dog and their individual preferences and experiences,” she notes.

Do dogs enjoy when you talk to them? ›

Talking Strengthens Your Bond

They can read our emotions, follow our instructions, and anticipate our wants. It's one of the many reasons we love them so much. As the research shows, speaking to dogs in dog-directed speech really does make them want to spend more time with us, and that's a good thing.

What human words do dogs understand? ›

Altogether, there were ten words or phrases specifically recognized by more than 90 percent of all the dogs. These common words and phrases included the dog's name, as well as 'sit', 'come', 'good girl/boy', 'down', 'stay', 'wait', 'no', 'ok', and 'leave it'.

How do dogs laugh? ›

Do Dogs Laugh? Dogs do laugh; however, it is not the same way humans do. In humans, laughter is composed of rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory, and involuntary actions. The sound can be any variation of “ha-ha” or “ho-ho.” Dogs produce a similar sound through forceful panting—a “hhuh-hhah” variation.

How do you talk to a dog? ›

Use facial expressions, gestures and possibly food treats while you talk. “Maintain eye contact,” Gallego-Abenza says. Research shows that even wolves are attuned to the attention of human faces and that dogs are particularly receptive to your gaze and pointing gestures.

What does it mean when a dog barks 3 times? ›

If it's repeated two or three times, its meaning changes to, “Come look at this!” to alert the pack to a new event. Single yelp or very short high-pitched bark: “Ouch!” This is in response to a sudden, unexpected pain. Series of yelps: “I'm hurting!” “I'm really scared” This is in response to severe fear and pain.

What do dogs think when humans bark? ›

Most dogs become surprised or shocked by unexpected behavior from their owners. While some dogs will tolerate this behavior, others understandably may react out of fear or discomfort by barking, lunging, snapping, or even biting out of fear/discomfort.

What does it mean when a dog yawns? ›

Simply put, dogs yawn when they are stressed. According to Turid Rugaas, Norwegian behaviorist and author of On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, yawning is one of many signals dogs use to calm themselves when they are stressed or uneasy.

Do dogs remember their siblings? ›

Research suggests that dogs are able to recognize their siblings and their parents later in life as long as they spent the first 16 weeks together. Intuitively, the less time dogs spend with their families as puppies, the less likely it is they'll be able to recognize a family member later on.

Do dogs recognize themselves in the mirror? ›

Although dogs can't identify themselves in the mirror, they still have some level of self-awareness and ace other self-recognition tests. They can recognize their own odor, and recall memories of specific events, reports.

Do dogs like hearing their name? ›

Ideally, your dog thinks of their name as the best thing ever. Every time they hear it, it should mean good things are coming. Hearing their name might signal love and attention from their owner or a special treat.


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