If you have been around dogs very much, you realize that they tend to communicate quite a bit through body language. One part of this is by using their paws. No, it is not like with humans where we use our hands to point. A dog's paws have a language that is all their own, so understanding what the gesture can mean is important. And since your dog is not pointing, you may wonder what he or she is trying to say to you. The question then becomes, why do dogs offer or place their paw on me? Truthfully, understanding a dog's body language may not always be easy. But it is definitely worth exploring the possible reasons behind this action.
The Root of the Behavior
One of the most simple explanations for pawing is because your fur baby wants attention. We can all agree that dogs can be very much like small, human children. And since your pup can't verbally tell what he or she wants, they may just place a paw on you when they want attention. The attention they are seeking could mean they are wanting to play or just need a little one on one time.
If you have ever had to reprimand your pooch you may have noticed that he or she gently placed a paw on you afterward. This can be interpreted as a non verbal way of Fluffy saying "I'm sorry" for whatever mistake he or she made. Dogs have been known to calmly place their paw on your arm, lap, or leg to show remorse and apologize for misbehaving. And who could resist the sweet face that usually accompanies such a gesture?
One way that dogs and humans are alike is in their need to feel connected to the other members of their 'pack'. The simple act of touching you with their paw can be your pup's way of felling a warm connection to you, their pack leader. Letting you know simply that they are by your side is just another way Fluffy says "I love you" even though he or she cannot say the actual words.
Of course your pooch may also be trying to say "Hey, I need something down here" when he or she is pawing at you. If they are hungry, hurting, or maybe want whatever you have your pup may put their paw on you as a way of asking for what it is they are wanting. This can happen even with dogs who have been trained not to jump up on people or beg.
Encouraging the Behavior
Not everyone thinks that pawing is cute and amusing. If you are one of those people who prefer their pet keep their paws to themselves, there are some suggestions from experts to help. One trick is to just ignore the pawing. Since behavior that is followed up by positive or pleasant consequences tends to cause a repeat performance, ignoring may be a good option. Don't make eye contact with Fluffy after he or she paws at you. You may also want to move your body to a position where it makes it more difficult for them to reach you with their little paws. If they are pawing when you are petting them you may want to change positions, both yours and theirs, so that you are not as easily accessible.
You should always stay consistent with whatever you decide with regards to pawing. If you choose to try and break this habit, don't confuse your dog by sometimes giving attention when they paw and then reprimand them other times. Being proactive and learning why your pup seems to paw at you the most is also key to helping break the habit. You should only give them what it is they are seeking once the pawing has stopped. Rewarding the behavior will only encourage it to continue.
Other Solutions and Considerations
There is an antiquated belief that pawing is a means of domination. Even today some experts think that pawing is a way for your dog to tell you that they are the pack leader. This is a controversial topic and only a small handful of canine experts share in this school of thought. Some so called experts in canine training have gone as far as to use this belief to justify punishment as a means to solve certain problems. They assume that just because dogs evolved from wolves all of their behavior will be the same. If you question if this could be the case with your furry friend take notice of their expression and body language when they are pawing. Does it really look like he or she is trying dethrone you as pack leader?
If you are still unclear what Fluffy is trying to tell you with that little foot, talk with your veterinarian or dog trainer. They may be able to shed a little light on the subject that could help you better understand your pup. And remember, when it comes to the meaning behind your dog's body language the 'pawsibilities' are endless.