How Dogs Use Their Paws to Communicate

May 5, 2015

dog paw larkyn
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