If Your Dog Keeps Putting Their Paw on You, This Is Why

Written by Sharon Parry
Updated: January 23, 2023
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It can be one of the most adorable gestures and one of the most exasperating if you are trying to work at your computer! Either way, when your dog puts their paw on you, it’s pretty hard to ignore, right? So, why do dogs put their paw on you?

It’s pretty clear that they are trying to get our attention and most of the time they are successful. It’s also obvious that they are trying to tell us something but it can be tricky to determine what that is. Let’s look a little closer at this subject and find out what’s behind your dog putting its paw on you.

Why Do Dogs Put Their Paw on You

This checklist should help you narrow down what your dog is trying to communicate with you. It could be a combination of any of these.

Hey, I Want to Talk to You

You can look at your dog putting a paw on you as them saying “Hey, I want to talk to you.” Dogs have observed humans waving their arms around with hand gestures for thousands of years. It is not surprising that they try a few themselves. It gets our immediate attention and starts us thinking about what they may want.

Give Me Some Attention

My dog puts his paws on my arm when he feels I have been on my laptop for long enough. So, if your dog feels that you have been focusing on something else for too long, this may be a gentle reminder that they need some attention too. Some dogs will be happy for you to stare at a screen for two hours but others will get fed up after 20 minutes!

Basenji puppy putting paw on owners face

This basenji puppy is clearly asking his owner for attention.

©Cast Of Thousands/Shutterstock.com

I Want Some Love

We all know that petting our dogs makes us feel better. It releases oxytocin which is a feel-good hormone. Did you know that dogs have feel-good hormones too and they are released when they spend time cuddling with their human friends? You may notice that your dog puts their paw on you if you stop petting them. They are simply indicating that they want some more love.

I’m So Sorry

Pups do not have that many facial expressions but we have all seen the guilty face with the wide eyes and slightly bowed head. This is often accompanied by a paw on your leg. Your dog is apologizing and asking for your forgiveness. It is a sign of submission in many dogs.

I Need a Potty Break

Young dogs and older dogs cannot go that long without taking a pee. So, your dog may be signaling to you that they need a potty break. Adult dogs are very good at recognizing that they need to go potty and have a variety of ways to tell their humans. Some dogs go and sit by the door, some start whining and pacing up and down and others put their paw on you. You can even get a bell that your dog can ring when they need to go to the toilet.

I’m Hungry or Thirsty

A paw on the leg just before mealtime is probably a gentle reminder that you need to get up and fix their dinner. Dogs have inbuilt clocks and will soon learn to recognize the time of day when they get fed. They may also put a paw on you and then go and wait by their food bowl. The same may happen if they are thirsty. Your dog should always have access to fresh water. If you find that you are forgetting to top up their water bowl, you may want to invest in a dog water fountain.

Dog's paw on owner's hand against a white background

It’s likely that dogs learned to communicate with their paws from watching humans communicate with their hands over thousands of years.

©Javier Brosch/Shutterstock.com

I Know How You Feel

Dogs have been our companions for many hundreds of years and they have learned how to tell that we are sad. Dogs feel empathy towards their human masters and will be able to detect that you are stressed, upset, or angry. When your dog puts their paw on your arm or leg, it is like a human putting their arm around your shoulder.

I Am in Pain

It is possible that your dog is presenting their paw to you because they are in pain. This will be more obvious when they get up and walk around. It could be a leg sprain, a cracked paw, or a thorn in the paw pad. It is certainly worth you having a good look at what could be causing the problem.

Is It Okay for a Dog to Put Their Paw on You?

Most of the time it is fine for your dog to put their paw on you. It is an endearing trait that often gets them what they want. Many owners love the fact that their dog is ‘talking’ to them with this gesture.

However, as with many canine behaviors, it can go too far. You may find that your dog is being demanding and is constantly tugging at your arm with their paw. Every time you respond to them, you are re-enforcing the behavior.  Eventually, it can turn into quite a rough scratching at your leg at all hours of the day and night.

Also, it can be an act of dominance. If this is the case, there will be other signs such as refusing to do what you tell them and guarding behavior with food and toys as well as a refusal to obey commands.

Two dog paws, one with a heart-shaped marking, being held by a human

Often, when your dog puts its paw on you the message is “I love you.”

©savitskaya iryna/Shutterstock.com

How to Stop Your Dog from Putting Their Paw on You

If you feel that this behavior has gotten out of control, it is time to do something about it but that is not very easy! You have to create a new way that your dog can get your attention. Sitting quietly in front of you is a good option! So, you need to stop responding when your dog paws you. And you need to reward them when they sit quietly. Gradually delay your response so that eventually your dog knows that if they sit quietly for several minutes in front of you, they will get what they want.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © DashaNesterova/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Why does my dog paw at me when I stop petting?

Because they want you to start again. Dogs find it hard to end anything that they are enjoying. As far as they are concerned, you cannot get enough of a good thing! Petting a dog releases a feel-good hormone into their blood so they want the sensation to continue.

Why do dogs give you their paw without asking?

Putting a paw on you is different from giving a paw when commanded to. Your dog is trying to tell you something rather than simply doing what they are told. Having said that, your dog has probably learned that they get a tasty treat when they give you their paw and they may also have that in the back of their mind!

Why does my dog put their paw on my face?

Because it works! It’s much easier to ignore a paw on the arm or leg than it is to ignore a paw on our face. So, we respond to it quicker. Dogs soon learn this and learn where to put their paw for maximum effect. Especially first thing in the morning!

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.