Behavior

Why Is My Dog Pawing At Me Constantly? What Does It Mean?

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Last Updated: May 8, 2024 | 10 min read | 137 Comments

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Our dogs love us, and because of this, they want our constant attention. Our pups can’t say, “Hey, look over here!” so instead, they get our attention in the only way they know how. Pawing and poking us when they are trying to communicate is their easiest option, but what are they trying to tell us?

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Dogs can’t communicate like humans can. They will sometimes growl, bark, or yip to get your attention. Most times they do this, there’s a reason behind it. They can also get physical, and that means putting their paws on you or even engaging in other unsavory behaviors like biting or jumping. While you can train your dog to use their paw on-demand with the shake command, the type of pawing we will dive into is pawing without a request from you as their master.

Most pups mean well when using their paws, but you may not fully understand why your dog does it. Let’s discuss the 10 most common reasons that your dog wants your attention, and how to stop them from scratching you for their every need.

Ten Reasons Dogs Like To Paw

Dogs have a variety of reasons they like to paw. Some owners think this behavior is rude and disruptive, while other owners will tolerate it. It’s often viewed as more tolerable if the dog is smaller because pawing from a small dog isn’t likely to cause any problems.

Pawing from an extremely large dog can knock kids over, cause scratches or injuries, and have other ill effects. Dogs paw for dominance, affection, and many other reasons. Let’s dig in a little deeper and find out why your pup loves to put their paws on you.

1) It’s Their Communication Base

Dog Pawing at Me
Your pup may be pawing at you for the sole reason of communicating with you.

Every creature has their own way of communicating. By having our own language, we are able to spread the word on what we need, and get through our day-to-day lives. But what do you do when you are trying to communicate with a completely different species, that doesn’t speak your language?

Think of it as trying to have a conversation with a person from another country, who does not speak English. There will probably be a lot of hand gestures, and a game of charades in order to spread your message. When our pups are trying to get our immediate attention, they resort to their very own “hand gestures,” and throw their paw our way. They may also tilt their heads, and exhibit other behaviors.

Our pups pawing us is truly no different than a toddler tugging on your leg when they are trying to tell us something. When our dogs paw at us, they are simply communicating in one of the ways that they know how, pushy as it may be at times.

Our furry friends have lived alongside us for many years now, and have seen how often we use our hands to communicate. It’s no wonder that they have become more paw-centric in their communications.

2) They Want Instant Love

Dog Wanting Affection From Owner
Your dog may be signaling they want instant love from their owner.

If you are spending quality time with your fur child, they may paw you as a way to persuade you into giving them extra love. Have you ever been petting your pup, and they throw their paw your way once you’ve stopped? This action is a way of getting your attention in an effort to continue an action that they like. We often find it sweet when our doggy friends come up to us asking for our love and affection. By giving in to this action so often, they know to repeat this habit each time they want your immediate attention.

Studies have also shown that dogs have “feel good” hormones that are released during petting sessions, so it’s very possible that by extending out their paw, they are showing you their affection right back. Overall, this is one of the most endearing times that our dogs use their paws to communicate.

3) They Did Something Bad

Guilty Dog with Owner
A guilty pup may slip their owner the paw after doing something bad.

While this pawing behavior can be quite demanding, it can also be your pup’s way of apologizing for something they have done. A guilty dog may throw his paw on you while wearing a very guilty face. Pawing you can be their way of asking for forgiveness, and showing their submission to you at that moment.

Part of why they may do this is how well this action may have worked for them with you in the past. Think back to a time when your companion did something they shouldn’t have done. Their sad eyes and need for forgiveness is often cute enough that we quickly forgive them, and move on from any scolding. Our pups have become quite skilled in the art of forgiveness with their ability to produce those sad, puppy dog eyes. Either way, this is definitely one of the times that their pawing can be quite difficult to not give in to.

4) They Need Food Or Water

Jack Russell Pawing Owner
If your pup is hungry or thirsty, they may paw you to let you know.

When it’s getting close to mealtime, your doggo may feel the need to remind you of their hunger, especially if it seems like you have no idea just how close it is to their dinner time! When they are not able to use their words to tell us just how hungry they are, they have to get creative with their communication and hope that you understand. A hungry pup may paw at your legs when they are ready to eat, along with a possible nudge of their food bowl.

While this dinner-time reminder can seem harmless, try your best to not create a food-demanding monster. Some dogs have perfected the art of begging for treats by using pawing and scratching for communication. If your pup uses demanding tactics when they are craving their favorite treat, it may be time to consider a new routine for snack time.

5) They Empathize With You

Empathizing Dog With Owner
If your canine companion sees you sad, they may try to console and empathize with you.

Our dogs are incredibly empathetic creatures. By living with us, they become in tune with our normal habits and emotions. Even the slightest change in attitude can have our pups sensing that something is a bit off.

When a furry friend paws at us in a time that we are feeling stressed, upset, or angry, it may be their way of showing us that they are here for us in our time of need. Our dogs love us and show their support in many ways that we may not even notice. Think of their paw as their very own way of extending out a hug.

6) They Want To Play

Dog wanting to Play
Sometimes your pup may want to play, and paw you to grab your attention.

A playful dog who wants to initiate a game will often try several tactics to get you to interact. They may wag their tail, jump up and down in excitement, or even paw at your leg in an attempt to get your attention. While this is considered a pushy way to engage in playtime, it’s often successful.

If our pups come up to us, with toy in hand, pawing at our leg, how likely are we to engage? Our fur babies know this is a successful way to play with us and get our attention.

7) They Are Talking Back

Pug with Attitude
Sometimes your pup may be talking back to you and giving you attitude.

Just like humans, some dogs have a bit more attitude than others. While some dogs will cower and turn away from any kind of punishment, some pups will challenge the authority being thrown their way! By throwing their paw at our legs in times of punishment, some pups aren’t asking for forgiveness. When paw throwing is associated with a playful bark, these furry friends are showing their very own version of sass!

Think of this as an angsty teenager who is talking back to their parents. Our pets love us, but sometimes, they can offer an attitude when being scolded.

8) Talking With Their Paws

Border Collie giving owner high five
Some breeds just like to talk using their paws.

Just like humans, some dogs use more body language than others when they are communicating. The figure of speech explaining when someone “speaks with their hands”, goes for our pups as well.

This may just be their own unique way of communicating or the behavior of a pup who is used to getting a reaction each time they use their paws to communicate. Frequent pawing can be a sign of a pup who is lacking manners.

Some pet owners purchase dog-talking buttons to train and communicate with their dogs. Our team has reviewed some of the most popular dog-talking buttons available.

9) You’re The Boss

Submissive Dog with Owner
Submissive pups may use pawing as a signal to let you know you’re in charge.

Similar to dogs using their paws when they did something wrong, is the possibility that they are pawing at us as a sign of submission. When accompanied by other submissive behaviors, a dog may be showing you that he knows you are the boss, and that he respects you.

10) They’re The Boss

Dominant Labrador with Owner
More dominant dogs may use it as a signal to let you know they’re in charge.

Just as possible as it is for a pup to paw you as a sign of submission, is the possibility of the complete opposite. In communication between dogs, a dominant dog will often put his paw on the weaker dog as a sign of being above them. When our furry family member puts their paw on us, it may be their way of asserting their dominance.

This is often accompanied by other acts of dominance such as resisting commands, guarding food or toys, or inappropriate responses to authority or eye contact. If this is the case, it’s important to discourage this behavior, as you should always be the alpha in your “pack.”

Should You Allow It?

Owner with Mixed Breed Dog
Only you can decide if your pup’s behavior needs correcting.

While the occasional paw during petting sessions or sweet moments with your pup can be endearing, it can quickly become an annoying habit. When our dogs are used to getting what they want each time they paw at our legs, they will continue to use this tactic whenever possible.

In most cases, when our companions are using their paws for communication, they are demanding our immediate attention at that moment. Allowing your pet to continue this behavior is only opening the door for other behaviors that lack manners.

While we love our pets dearly, it’s important to instill a relationship that is respectful on both ends. You wouldn’t tolerate a friend who constantly tugged at your arm each time they needed something, right? The relationship with our doggy companions should be no different. While our pets play a role in this pushy action, we also have to consider if it’s appropriate to let this pattern continue.

Don’t Enable

Dog Communicating with Owner
The best way to stop the behavior is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Putting an end to this behavior can be tough since we don’t realize just how often we reward this type of behavior. Think of each time you walk in the door after a long day of work, and are greeted by your excited pup. It warms our hearts to have our pets so excited to see us at the end of the day, that we allow the playful jumping and pawing at your legs as we are setting our things down in an effort to deliver the immediate love they are asking for.

Each time we allow this form of communication which is essentially asking for our immediate attention, we are blurring the lines of when these manners are acceptable. Every time we give in to pawing in any form, we are showing them that this behavior works, so why wouldn’t our dogs want to try it at other times?

A habit like this usually starts small and grows with time. What starts off as a gentle nudge under the table for a bite of your dinner, can quickly turn into rough scratching at your leg each time you sit down to eat. Taking away your response to this action is essential to stopping this behavior if it’s becoming overwhelming and something that may bother guests or family in your home.

Stopping The Paw

Dog Training with owner
There are several ways to stop the behavior once it starts.

It’s up to us to stop giving in to the behavior when it does happen. Start by teaching your dog a new way to gain positive attention. When your pup tries to scratch your leg, immediately correct this behavior, and encourage them to sit instead. By being consistent with this training your doggo will learn that they no longer get what they want with pushy behaviors, but instead, have a positive reaction when they sit politely and wait for your attention.

Each time try to delay the response in which you offer the attention that they are looking for. By extending the time that your pup has to wait for your response, he will eventually learn that we do not offer our attention on their time.

The most difficult part of this process is sticking to the training, as our pups can be quite convincing when they want to be! Just remember that a well-behaved pup is a joy, and will result in a much happier home for everyone.

If at-home training fails to end this habit, basic obedience training can be a great way to teach your furry companion some manners. Basic training can only improve your pup’s quality of life, as structure and confidence are often gained from these courses.

You could also try an online dog trainer like Doggy Dan for an affordable solution that fits your schedule.

Find The Best Pet Insurance For Your Dog

You clearly adore your pup and want to know what he’s trying to communicate to you so you can address his wants and grow closer to him. As pet parents, we want our dogs to live as long and healthy as possible. One way to assist is to consider signing your dog up for pet insurance. 

Pet insurance helps cover the cost of unexpected accidents and illnesses so you can focus on your dog’s health instead of the cost of his veterinary care. Many insurers and plan customization options exist to find a policy that fits your needs and budget. Read our pet insurance reviews to get started and get free quotes from many providers by using the form below. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, there are several reasons why a dog is trying to communicate with the use of their paws. While some of these reasons are tender by nature, there are always better forms of communication that our pups can practice to gain our attention.

Get to know your beloved companion’s quirks, and help them to practice better manners to achieve the attention that they seek!

White dog licking paw (Caption: Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?)

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