How Dogs Use Their Paws to Communicate

May 5, 2015

dog paw larkynBy Laurie Darroch

Dogs have many non-verbal ways of communicating with us, including the use of paws to get a message across to their human companions or even to other animals. Paws are much more than merely the part of their body used to walk on; their use has an individual language all its own. We just need to learn how to understand that method of communication.

Pay Attention to Me!

Dogs are much like small children. Sometimes they simply need our attention for a myriad of reasons ranging from wanting some play time or affection, to letting you know they want some one on one time. Dogs like to be included in whatever is going on. How many times have you seen a child tugging on her mom’s clothing or poking her to get attention? It is the same for your dogs. They use their paws to say “Here I am! Pay attention to me!”

I’m Sorry

If you’ve ever had to scold your dog or put them in time out for bad behavior, the reprimand is often followed by some sort of apology. There might be suddenly contrite behavior or even calmly placing a paw on your arm, lap or leg immediately following the scolding. They are trying to say “I’m sorry” in their own way. Dogs follow their instincts and may become rascals when temptation is too much. They sense when they have behaved badly by reading your body language and hearing the tone of your voice, but also by training. It is hard to resist that plaintive look accompanied by a gentle paw placed on you. They are asking for reassurance when they paw you after they have been bad.

I Need Something!

When your dog is hungry, is hurting or they need or want something you have, pawing you can be a more subtle way of letting you know. They may exhibit this behavior even though you have trained them not to jump up or beg.


Like humans, dogs need to feel connected to the beings in their lives. They are pack animals after all. Simple touch is a warm way to connect. If they can’t cuddle with you, your dog may find other ways to make that bond and reinforce it. Pawing you gently or setting a paw on you is one way to touch and feel connected. A paw on you is saying, “I love you” or “I am here.” If you’ve ever been upset yourself and noticed that your dog becomes extremely attentive or clingy when they see and sense how you are feeling, the touch of a paw on you can be as calming as your gentle hands are on them.

Playing with Other Dogs

Watch how puppies and young dogs interact with each other at play time. To initiate play, a puppy may paw the other dogs or paw the ground in front of them to let them know it is time to play. If the other dog paws back, they have agreed that it is time for play.

As a caveat, be careful how much you give in to those pawing demands if you don’t want it to become an annoying behavior. Decide when you need to say no to any undesirable pawing. Use a favorite CANIDAE dog treat to help train your dog not to paw in those situations.

Learning to speak dog in all its variations, including their use of paws, is part of being a responsible and attentive companion to your dog. It’s another way to keep the bond strong between you. Pay attention to what they do with their paws when they are trying to communicate. It will make communication between you even better.

Top photo by Larkyn T/Flickr
Bottom photo by Wagner Cezar/Flickr

Read more articles by Laurie Darroch

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  1. Sherry Mazzella says:

    My dog keeps trying to tell me something by pawing my face My dog is a beagle

  2. TheBold1 says:

    I’m scouring the internet to find other dogs that perform this strange behavior. When my dog is caught doing something silly or something that he knows he shouldn’t have done, he starts rubbing his face with his paws, like “Oh, shucks,” while I’m asking him if he did it. He’ll bring a paw up by his ear and rub down past over his eye to his jawline in an abrupt motion and then do it again and sometimes do the other side. He appears to be embarrassed, but ik that’s a human emotion and may not be the way a dog thinks. He’s done this his whole life, and he’ll be 11 this October. He’s an Australian shepherd, Chow Chow, & Lab mix according to his DNA profile. Anyway, has anyone else ever experienced this with their own dogs? Thx!

  3. Keith janota says:

    I want to thank you for the way you explained why my dog uses his paws to communicate with me. I really enjoy learning new things about my dog. My dogs name is Wrigley.

  4. Kathy says:

    My rescue chihuahua always puts her back foot on top of my foot when I’m standing!

  5. Tilly says:

    My dog knows how to slap someone when he is scared or if he is protecting himself but he always will cuddle the youngest in the family as if he is protecting them as well

  6. Sandy says:

    My Maltese x stands up on her hind legs & begs for everything to go out side go in the car for a treat it’s hard to know what she wants everyone thinks it’s cute we didn’t teach her she does it herself if we mention the car she is out the doggy door & sits at the car door & begs just wish we knew the other things she begs for

  7. Kathy says:

    My dog all day long puts his paws on my feet what does it mean

  8. Terry Bowling says:

    I think that is just amazing and it’s a blessing to get the information that you can from Google because it’s amazing when I pet her how she makes it noticeable she wants to put her left paw and she’ll take it down then her right pop in my hand and I wasn’t understanding why she kept doing that or what she was wanting so I ask Google and I got all the information I was needing and some so I’m grateful thank you

  9. Angie L. Sullivan says:

    Our half pit, half lab big baby, sleeps under the covers in the middle of our bed. She has to touch both of us. Why? And she loves LOVE!!!!! Alot of thing if she cant go, we dont go. She is my best friend.

  10. aliyah smith says:

    I looked this up because my dog just put his paw on my thigh for few seconds then left.. what does that mean? We were sitting aide by side by the way

  11. Sherri Manuel says:

    My Yorkie was kneeling with it’s tail in the air, and it’s front paws and head low to the ground. I have never seen her do this before. What does this body language mean?I also pet her while she did it.

    1. Aimee Rivera Azua says:

      She wants to play, it is called a play bow. They put their head down/front paws down, and tail way up with their butt up in the air. Some might paw at you, or make a low bark. “common, you want to play”, if you turn away they may lay down and put head between paws as submission of “guess not right now”, or if you want to play you can use this time to throw a ball, play with a stuffed animals, etc.

  12. Alice says:

    My dog is a Yorkshire Terrier, and she likes to bark at me when she wants my attention. But, when I give it to her she still barks at me.

    1. mary corso says:

      She wants something other than your attention. Maybe a treat, maybe a visit outside.

  13. MaKayla says:

    My dog is a Shih Tzu Maltese mix and I’ll be laying on the bed and she randomly walks up to me, caresses my face, then lays on my chest. I cry everytime she does it!

  14. William says:

    Ok,so I have a husky Rottweiler named midnight and almost Everytime I go over by her she raises her paw off the ground just a little bit, she does not touch me with it,she just looks at me and keeps it raised until I go over there but she also does it to other be people to as well,if you can give me some kind of explanation on why she does this that would be awesome,thank you for your time.

    1. Alice says:

      Maybe she’s trying to tell you something. Dogs have different ways to talk to us. My dog barks at me when she wants attention from me. Maybe she’s telling you not to come near her or maybe she’s telling you that this is her territory and not to come near it.

  15. Bonita Inez Bush says:

    My sisters Corgi put want you to hold her back paw!!! She asks up to you and holds her paw up for you to

    1. TheBold1 says:

      Uh, what?

  16. S Spat says:

    Putting a paw on you does not mean ‘I love you.’ It is a show of dominance. If anything, it more closely means, ‘I own you.’

  17. very nice usefull tips for dog breeds

  18. gavin says:

    Whenever I pet my clingy Chihuahua terrier mix, she does the mose adorable little thing by bringing her paws to her face as if she’s shy! Melts my heart every time!

  19. Rhi says:

    I had to look this up when my dog started doing the oddest dance. My sister came over and my chihuahua kept spinning around at her feet and would rest only his rear paw on top of her foot then look up at her. He use to do this to my baby when she was very little and she would tug at his foot so they could play. Now we know it was for love and affection!

  20. Jadah johnson says:

    I have a pomchi and he is always pawing and pulling my arm closer to him what does he want???

  21. Taylin says:

    My dog sometimes lays on the floor and puts his paws together, moving them up and down. Me and my sister call it “prayer paws”, but I never have understood why he does it.

  22. Chavonne Holland says:

    My 5 lb male Chihuahua will take both paws and rub his eyes and down his nose over and over, kind of in a peek a boo manner when I talk baby talk to him and tell him how loved he is. It is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s like he’s acting shy about my feelings but loves it at the same time.

  23. John J. Roberts says:

    Thank you for the very informative article.

  24. Chris says:

    this cool, my dog is a yellow lab and he is consititaly wanting to go on car ride, walk he gets a ride with my dad i am waiting on more money for dog seat covers. I am the only whom can take him on walk. my dad has fear of disclocating is shoulder hthere more to that that for another time. What he does is the funniest oddist things i ever seen he put his paws on me like push but laying down. he lay his head on me (i don’t stay much sometimes so he won’t always lay with me) i can ususally get him to sit either my hand or he knows what i want he does it. i play hide and seak with him i take him out the one thing he gets annoyed with me is my cell phone and me either taking pictures or videos lol

    1. TheBold1 says:

      Okay, this is all totally weird. By “this”, I mean your entire comment. Are you sure you’re talking about a dog and not a girlfriend? Lol. How can a dog be jealous of or annoyed with a cell phone? That just doesn’t happen, dear. This must be your first dog. Also, your English syntax is awful, but I believe I understood you say that you are rarely home. So, how on earth do you expect this dog to see you as his alpha? He thinks he needs to protect you, that HE is the leader in the dynamic. You’ve never given him any boundaries, rules, or limitations. Lastly, go purchase a Gentle Leader for your walks. It’ll change your life, and your dog will NEVER pull again if you use it correctly. Good luck.

  25. Audrey says:

    Interesting site!! ❤

  26. Judy Ferrie says:

    After a long walk or a venture to the dog park my 9 month old husky gets in front of me and lifts my hand and nudges me. What does he want?

    1. Maegan Jones says:

      most likely he wants you to pet him

  27. My fur babie Dozer when ever I sit down always walks up to me, sits and puts his paw on my knee or he wants my to hold it. Ahhhhhh he loves me. After he does this, he will lay down and expose his belly. He wants also to be loved and needs attention. I’m glad I found this article! Thank you!

  28. Michael says:

    THANK YOU. MY PITT. TANK GIVES ME HIS PAW WHEN WE ARE DRIVING TO HOLD AT TIMES ??? Comfort. Scared. ? Or like hey. I like car riding and my head in the wind ?? Thank you for the ride ? Hmmm. I don’t know. But he’s really kool. With me !!!

    1. TheBold1 says:

      Idk how that’s possible when dogs are to be in the back seat. A dog should NEVER be in the front seat for MANY reasons. One being that it’s illegal because of the distraction. A safety I have is the airbag and that there’s no safety belt. It’s my opinion that a dog should have a harness and should be belted into the back seat, notwithstanding the law. I agree that does sound cute, but please think of yours and your dog’s safety tier next time you are both in your vehicle.

  29. Moesha says:

    How to do train a 4mths pit bull to sit and stay while she still so hyper and not to good on listen

  30. Moni M says:

    Thanks for the loving comments–I have a female Chihuahua mix who only communicates with her paws and legs for everything. She will stomp at you when she wants out or its 5:30 pm (dinner time) and the stomping gets harder the longer I take to get up!! We adore our Honey Girl’ Thanks Baja Rescue you’ve made our lives so much happier.

  31. AnaMaria Russo says:

    My rescue Chihuahua mix has recently started pawing at my knee when I am sitting on the couch..we used to live in a place that had carpet and he had the traction to jump up on the couch by where we live has hardwood floors and he has tried jumping up and almost missed now he paws my knee to pick him up to get on the couch..its kind of funny..he kind of chirps at me and stares at me until I pick him up..Ive had him since he was little and we enjoy each other..he also leans on my right side and tips his head up at me and I know thats his way of hugging me..

  32. Mae robinson says:

    I have a beagle cross collie and when you pet her she puts her front legs around your arm as you stroke her, is there a reason to this or is it just a way of keeping you close?

  33. sherry ingram says:

    WE have a Border Collie/Healer/Australian Shepherd mix. He is a different from any dog we have had??? He cups his paws when puts his paws on your leg. It is painful. Why does he cup his paws??

  34. Lee says:

    I’ve a Basenji hound rescue that is a precious love pup. He was adopted by a young man to be his fraternity mascot. Never was an animal more misplaced. When Falcor adopted me he was 11 months & afraid to to do anything but sit in a corner with his head lowered & tail tucked. I don’t believe he was mistreated, only overwhelmed by too many towering loud young men. Now he is truly the happiest pet who’s ever loved me. He makes me laugh out loud every day. But when I walk him & my female blue tic hound he is totally out of control. If he sees another dog or person he is out of control. Barking, growling & snapping. Lunging at the leash. Yet if someone were to run at him he’d trip over himself to get behind me for protection. I’m at the end of my patience. Any ideas what’s going on?

    1. Lucy says:

      He’s afraid! “Aggression” like that is a common fear response, especially for dogs on leashes. See Kikopup’s videos on “leave it” on YouTube, and don’t force him to confront his fears too early – build it up slowly, with lots of positive reinforcement – if he fails, it’s because you went too fast.

  35. Sophie says:

    My dog Lexie puts her paw in my hand, on my foot or on the couch near me both for connection and attention. I think it’s really cute, she does paw with both paws whenever I ask too. She is a rescue dog and it’s a privilege to have such a sweet dog in my life.

  36. Chris says:

    My dog sits on couch he litterly pushes his paw todays paws into me. Evnutally laid down put his had near leg knee. Than i stop petting he look at me…

  37. Nancy says:

    My labradoodle comes sits in front of me and lays both paws in my lap and just sits there. What is he trying to tell me? We have only had him a few weeks.