Whether your puppy wants to play or is saying “I’m sorry!” after a scolding, we have all seen our dogs put their paws over their faces. They hide their eyes, only to peek out after a minute and stare up at us – and it’s adorable! We love every second of it. But why do our dogs do this? Is it a learned habit, or is it instinctual? Do they do it because they know we think it’s the cutest thing ever, or is it a sign of submission? If you’ve ever wondered why your dog puts their paws on their face, read on – we’ve got the scoop for you!
The Root of the Behavior
There are many different reasons your pooch might be covering their face with their paws. But the first thing to remember is that dogs use their paws to communicate with both you and other dogs, much in the same way they use their tails and their bark! Understanding your dog’s body language is an important part of understanding why they might be placing their paws on their face. Your dog might be putting their paws on their face for a few reasons. Some people believe that your dog avoiding your gaze or hiding their face is a way of recognizing your superiority in the pack hierarchy, a holdover from when dogs lived in the wild. They understand that you’re there to take care of them, and they recognize this with their body language.
Also, dogs feel emotions, just like people! Not only do they feel things, they respond to your feelings as well. You may notice your dog covering their face when you’re upset, in a show of solidarity, or it may be a sign of fear or submissiveness (“don’t look over here! I didn’t do anything!”) when you’re angry. They may also react this way to fear of things like stormy weather or strangers; hiding their face makes them feel safe, especially combined with other actions like retreating to a bed or crate or hiding behind your legs. Or they may just do it because they know you like it. While this behavior is an instinctual one, it can also be learned, much like whimpering at night. If you respond positively to your dog hiding their face in their paws because you think it’s cute, they’ll learn to do it again when they want your attention! Dogs are very smart, and they want you to recognize that. What’s more, as the leader of their “pack,” they absolutely want your positive attention and praise, and they’ll do anything they can to get it!
Encouraging the Behavior
Dogs putting their paws over their faces is, in itself, not a negative behavior. You can easily encourage it the same way you’d encourage any other behavior you’d like your dog to do; give them attention and treats when they put their paws over their face! Some owners even prefer this method of attention-getting to other standard methods, such as dogs pawing at them or jumping on them. You can divert that sort of behavior by not rewarding it and reward less aggressive or damaging actions. You could also consider training them to put their paws over their face on command, but this would not discourage their methods of trying to get your attention (though it would be a fun trick to show your friends).
However, it’s important to keep an eye on your dog. If they’re putting their paws over their face constantly, even when you’re not around, it could be a sign of high anxiety or stress. They may also have some sort of facial irritation that’s causing them to repeatedly scratch at their nose and eyes. So, while it’s instinctive of us to think this behavior is just cute and fun, it’s still important to understand your dog’s body language and recognize when the behavior has transcended from cute to concerning or unusual.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Remember, your dog could be itching their face, licking their paws, or smelling themselves; the gesture of paws-on-face is not always related to you! Sometimes, it’s simply normal dog behavior. However, if it’s frequent, combined with any facial redness, or your dog is shaking their head repeatedly, they may have some sort of irritation or allergy that’s causing them stress. In this case, you should see a vet to clear up any issues your canine companion might be experiencing, so that you can be sure they’re comfortable! Your dog also may be experiencing anxiety or stress, and if making sure they’re comfortable and have a safe place in your home doesn’t alleviate the compulsive face-pawing or hiding then this is also a good time to visit the vet. They can make sure that nothing is physically wrong with your pooch and provide you with ways to help control your dog’s anxiety.
Your pup’s paws are one of the many tools they use to communicate their thoughts and feelings with you. Whether they are just being cute or they are showing submission, putting their paws on their face is not normally something to worry about. As long as you’re attentive and recognize when the behavior becomes abnormal, you can keep enjoying your pup’s adorable looks for a long time!