Canine body language is a source of fascination for humans. We are forever assessing what a dog could be thinking and feeling based on the position of their tail (for example, does it mean they’re sick?), and interpreting whether those big, brown eyes are sad or just sleepy. One thing that baffles a great many owners is why dogs want to hold hands with you.
Why is a dog insisting on having their paw held? Why are they swiping at us? What does that paw resting on our shoulder mean? Did you shake us awake in the morning with their to paws to announce that they’re hungry and need the bathroom? This in-depth guide will answer all of these questions, and more besides. Read on to learn about how and why dogs use their paws to communicate.
Table of Contents:
Why Does My Dog Present Its Paw to Me?
A dog handing over a paw is a learned habit. If you have adopted your dog from a rescue shelter, for example, they have been taught to hand their paw over in exchange for a treat.
It could also be something that your dog has picked up from watching you, and he or she is trying to imitate human behavior. Dogs will watch us greeting people with handshakes, and their natural curiosity will mean that they want to know what it means.
Pets often learn habits from each other (a dog that lives with cats may start to wipe their feet after eliminating, for example), and the same goes for humans.
Alternatively, your dog may be presenting you their paw because they are in discomfort and are trying to bring this to your attention. This is unlikely though, as many dogs hide their ill health through fear of being seen as weak.
If your dog appears to be limping or otherwise struggling, do take a look at their paw if offered and check for any insect bites, splinters, cuts or other signs of physical discomfort. You should consult a vet if you have any concerns.
Should I Be Worried That My Dog Presents Their Paw to Me?
Some dogs will constantly provide their paw when looking for reassurance from their owners or human family members, especially when they are nervous or feeling insecure about something.
Like any canine behavior, this can become a compulsion if you provide your dog with attention, stimulation or treats every time they offer their paw. If you are worried about your dog continually seeking you out and handing over their paw, try ignoring the behavior from time to time. Your dog will soon find another way of getting what they want from you.
Should I Teach My Dog to Give Me Their Paw?
If it’s not an instinctive behavior for your pet, it may be worth teaching your dog to offer their paw when they are looking for something.
It’s a great way of coaching good manners into your pooch and a handy and unmistakable way of getting them to inform you that they want something. Also, it will strengthen your bond and the sense of trust between you and your dog.
If you’re keen to teach your dog to offer you’re their paw, it’s a comparatively easy training exercise. Allow AnimalWised to explain all – or follow the instructions below.
- Use a simple command, such as, “paw” – though, as always, make sure this does not sound like any other command words that you may use.
- Take your dog’s paw in your hand while you say this, and give them a treat.
- Take another treat and hold in your closed fist so your dog can smell it but not access it, and repeat the “paw” command.
- If your dog willingly offers their paw, give them the treat and make a huge fuss of them. If they seem confused, repeat the first step.
- Keep repeating this training in short, controlled bursts.
- Your dog will soon understand what is going on, and eventually, they’ll automatically approach you and hold out their paw whenever they’re peckish and are looking for a treat.
Once you have trained your dog to offer you their paw, they will do so on command – whether it’s you that asks, or anybody else. It’s a worthy exercise, as it could become beneficial in the future. Just make sure that you always have a steady supply of treats on hand for when your pooch attempts to hold hands in the future, or you will be violating the unspoken treaty.
Why Do Dogs Like to Hold Hands?
If your dog always wants their paw held, the explanation is the same as above – they are looking for something. Whether it’s attention, food, sympathy or comfort, holding hands with their human can release endorphins in the canine brain.
It may be as simple as looking for a little reassurance while your dog is feeling vulnerable, especially if they are tired or sleepy. Your dog always feels exposed and a little helpless while they are asleep, so if they want you to hold their paw while they doze, it’s because they are relishing the human contact.
Remember, many dogs do not like to be hugged in the conventional sense as they find it uncomfortable being ‘trapped’ in an embrace. They enjoy leaning against a human, however, which is a canine cuddle. Encouraging a human to hold a paw in their hand gently is the next logical step in this process, and it could be taken as a sign of trust being placed in you by your pet.
This level of trust doesn’t always come easily, and it has to be earned. Don’t lose it by making any sudden movements or behaving in a way that makes your pet suspicious.
My Dog Won’t Let Me Touch Their Paw! Do They Hate Me?
Despite what we have said above, it also doesn’t mean that your dog doesn’t trust you. Some canines cannot abide having their paws touched just as some people dislike having their feet massaged. As Wag Walking explains, the pads in a dog’s feet can be extremely sensitive, and even ticklish.
Despite this, you should do what you can to desensitize your pet to the idea of having their paws touched – if only briefly – as a matter of sheer logistics. Your dog will need to have their feet washed from time to time, for example, and that means that you’ll also need to give them a good rubbing with a towel. Another dog may also accidentally aim for your dog’s feet during a playtime (though many canines avoid these body parts by default), and you do not want your dog to react aggressively to an innocent mistake.
Of course, the biggest problem that anybody will encounter if their pooch refuses to allow anybody to touch their paws is trimming claws. Walking and running on hard surfaces will go some way to grinding down your pet’s nails, but sooner or later they will need to be clipped – for their safety as much as your own. You can check out our guide to cutting dog nails for advice and guidance, but if your canine refuses to entertain the idea, you will have to call in a professional groomer.
Why Does My Dog Hold My Hand in His or Her Mouth?
This is known as mouthing, and it’s a common behavior in teething puppies. It stems from the fact that dogs explore the world through their mouths, and most of their early place revolves around nipping and biting in an attempt at learning their limits.
This is not a behavior that you will want to encourage, especially when those puppy milk teeth give way to a mouth filled with sharp fangs in an adult canine.
The ASPCA provides a little more information on how to curb mouthing behaviors, which largely revolve around one major do and one major don’t.
- DO pull your hand away and make a high-pitched yelping sound. This is speaking your dog’s language, as it is now a member of their pack would let them know that they are biting too hard.
- DON’T scold your dog or shout at them. They will not understand why you are so upset as they were playing, and it will potentially leave them afraid of you.
If the worst happens and your dog bites you then be sure to clean up the wound, but you should be able to coach this behavior out of them by following the advice above.
Why Does My Dog Wrap Its Paws Around My Arm?
You see that hand attached to your arm? It tickles and pets your dog, it opens their tinned food, and it attaches their lead and takes them for walkies … your dog loves that arm as it’s responsible for all their favorite things!
To this end, they will wrap their paws around your arm to keep you close and ensure that you don’t get too distracted by anything else. After all, it’s also the same appendage you use to change the channel on the TV remote, pick up your cell phone, turn the pages of a book – all things that you do when you’re not paying your dog attention.
Why Does My Dog Slap Me With Their Paw?
Every dog uses his or her paws differently. Watch your pooch next time you give them a substantially sized treat, and you’ll get an understanding of what we mean. Some canines use their paws as hands, clutching something between them so they can sink their teeth into it, and others will bat their food around for a while.
The first, and most likely, explanation is that your dog is imitating your actions. When you pet your dog, they find it hugely pleasurable and part of the bond between human and canine, so they are trying to return the compliment. Swiping at your with a claw-laden paw may look like a sign of dominance, but it’s an attempt at being gentle.
This can also be factored into a dog’s play style. Some pooch packs climb all over each other, some chase, and some wrestle. If your dog is thrusting their paws into your face, it’s usually not because they are trying to attack you; they consider it to be all part of a fun game.
However, some dogs tend to use their paws to gain attention – a slap with a paw may be translated as, “tickles please!”, as can a paw that rests on your arm or shoulder. This is bad manners and poor form from your pet, so you will need to train this out of them. You may find it acceptable, and even cute or funny, but not everybody will necessarily feel the same.
Cutting this behavior out is pretty simple – you have to resist the urge to reward the pawing with what your dog wants. Turn your head away and don’t acknowledge the actions, and eventually, they’ll grow bored. Once they stop pawing, then you can cave in and offer strokes, belly rubs, treats or whatever they were looking for in the first place. Just remember, doing so while they are in the midst of an undesirable action will create a connection in your dog’s mind between the behavior and reward.
Why Does My Dog Paw at Me When I Pet Him or Her?
If you are already petting your dog and start flailing their paws, they’re signaling they love the attention and that you should continue. Some dogs will even be having such a great time that they lose control of their limbs, and start to shake involuntarily.
As we have just said, dogs may also place their paws on you as they are trying to return the favor. After all, if they love being petted then surely you will too? A young or excitable dog may get a little rougher than you’d like in such a circumstance, but never scold them for doing so.
If your dog is getting a little too boisterous with their pawing, very gently remove the paw in question from your body and make the same high-pitched yelping sound that you used during the mouthing training. As before, this will replicate how a fellow pack member would react, and teach your dog that they need to calm down a little if they are to continuing enjoying the experience.
Is My Dog Shaking Me Awake With Their Paw?
It’s entirely possible, and maybe even likely. As we have previously discussed, the canine brain sometimes operates on a “doggy see; doggy do” basis. If you have shaken your dog to wake them up in the past (which is not advisable, but that’s another story for another day – we’ll settle for suggesting that you rouse a sleeping dog using noise rather than physicality), they may replicate the action when they want your attention.
Of course, your day may also be checking that you are OK. If you are sleeping silently, your dog may be worried that you are hurt in some way and wants to ensure that this is not the case. Partly because they love you, and partly because they are concerned about who will handle the feeding and walkies schedules if you are not available.
My Dog Keeps Licking and Sucking Their Paw
We have an entire article dedicated to this behavior. Dogs lick and suck paws for many reasons, but more often than not it will be a health concern.
It could be a case of your dog suffering from a skin condition, or having been bitten by a flea or another parasite. There are also many different medical problems that may be leading to the behavior, including allergies, or your dog may have dry skin.
Of course, it’s equally likely that your dog is just bored and is trying to get your attention! This is a tightrope that needs to be delicately walked as if you prove that stimulation the moment you see your dog behaving in such a way they’ll have no deterrent to avoid doing so again. However, if you ignore them, your dog could do some permanent damage. As always, use your discretion when it comes to knowing how to approach this action!
My Dog Keeps Rubbing Their Eyes With Their Paws
This is one of the most adorable things that any dog can do, and there are three primary explanations for the behavior:
- They did it as a puppy, and you made such a fuss over how cute they looked, they keep it in their locker for when they want attention!
- They’re exhausted, or have just woken from a long nap, and are trying to rub the ‘sleep’ from their eyes.
- They have an infection or allergy.
If you notice any form of discharge from your dog’s eyes, make sure you get them to a vet. It’s usually something that is very easily dealt with by a prescription of eye drops, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
My Dog’s Paws Smell Pretty Bad
It’s an issue faced by many owners, even those that have long since accepted and learned to love the smell of their dog, to notice a strange aroma from their pet’s paws. Many people describe the scent as being akin to popcorn, and it’s hugely common – it’s a result of the microorganisms and bacteria that live within your dog’s feet.
That may sound alarming, but try not to panic too much – this smell is largely similar to the BO that plagues humans if we don’t wash. As you can imagine, this means that it’s easily resolved by washing your dog’s paws after a walk, even if it’s just with plain water or a rub down with a wet wipe.
In more serious instances your dog could have a yeast infection in their paws. This isn’t anything to worry about, although it’s worth getting an official diagnosis from a vet to be on the safe side. Take a look at our guide to treat a yeast infection for more guidance on how to resolve this issue.
When a dog offers you their paw, it’s usually because they want something from you – whether that’s a cuddle, a snack or their favorite toy. As long as your pet is not following you around the house and continually thrusting their paw into your face, which is often a sign that they are feeling insecure or frightened, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
Indulge your dog when they offer you their paw, as it’s typically a bonding exercise and a great way of learning that are looking for something – as well as giving you the chance to detect any health concerns. In the same vein, it is well worth training them to hand you their paw if they are reluctant to do so. Just don’t force the issue, as relinquishing their paw is a matter of trust for a canine.
As long as you respect this, and do not betray the trust that a dog places in you by allowing you to handle their paws, you will be able to use the behavior to enhance your sacred bond with your dog. Next time they offer you their paw in an attempt at holding hands, embrace the opportunity. Not everybody will have such a privilege.