It’s a common experience to have a dog use its paws to communicate, but what exactly does it mean? We’re sharing all that, plus tips on how to respond, in this blog post.
Why does a dog hit you with its paws? It is likely because they are trying to get your attention, whether to tell you they are hungry, want to play, or express their love. Dogs may also hit their owner with their paw to express submission, angst, or empathy. To determine the reason, pay attention to cues that can shed light on what’s going on inside their brain.
Want to learn 12 different reasons why your dog may be hitting you with its paw and be able to differentiate between when it means one thing vs. another? Read on for detailed explanations and tips.
They Are Hungry
If your dog is hitting you with its paw, there’s a good chance they’re telling you they are hungry and it’s time to eat. Food is often on dogs’ minds, so it’s not surprising that this could be the reason behind their paw communication.
You may notice your dog do this when you sit down to eat, or if you’re in the kitchen, or when they think it’s their mealtime. It may happen when a shift happens, like daylight savings time, which can confuse the dog’s internal clock and tell them it’s time to eat when they’re an hour off.
If the dog only paws at certain people, maybe that person is giving them table scraps or extra treats.
They Want Your Attention
Another likely reason is they want your attention! Certain dogs are more hungry for attention than others, and some may be looking for pets while others want to play. If you haven’t paid attention to your dog in a while or you are focused more on something else, and they hit you with their paw, they are likely bored and want more engagement from you.
Pet owners often experience this when they are paying attention to work, watching TV, or spending more time with other people than with them.
They could be trying to alert you of something more serious, such as something wrong with them, a stranger in the yard, or even a carbon monoxide leak.
They’re Asking to Play
Playful dogs often use their paw as a cue for wanting to play! It may be a gentle pawing, but they may repeat themselves until you play with them. You may notice that they do this more often to the person in the house who plays with them the most because they know that person is the most likely to stop what they are doing and start playing with them.
However, if the dog is in the right mood, it may use its paw to hit anyone close by to initiate a play session.
They’re Asking You to Stop
Sometimes, a paw hit is not encouraging something but rather asking you to stop doing something they don’t like. For example, if you’re trying to brush your dog, but it keeps hitting you with its paw, the dog is likely using its hand to push the brush away and say, “No thanks.”
It could be the dog doesn’t like the activity you’re doing, like play-fighting with someone else in the house or playing music that hurts their ears.
They may also paw you to stop playing with another dog (or child) and start playing with them instead, a bit of a combination between this reason and the last.
They’re Showing Their Love
Dogs can be extremely sweet, and using their paws is one of the biggest ways they show their love. Dogs use physical touch to show affection to their owners and friends, often using their paws. Some dogs use their paw to get your attention so you can hold their paw, and they’ll keep it there.
Others may do it when you pet them, trying to reciprocate what you’re doing.
Sometimes, dogs will do this as they get sleepy or while you’re asleep to reassure them that you’re nearby so they can sleep peacefully.
They’re Expressing Empathy
Dogs have a deep potential to experience empathy due to their high emotional intelligence. They can get extremely in tune with their owners and tell if they are sad, mad, or hurt. Dogs show these signs of understanding and empathy through their body language, including their paws.
Dogs can sense it if you’re crying or having a bad day. They may use their paws to tell you that it’s okay and they’re there for you. Additionally, they may increase their physical contact by resting their head on you, sighing or barking in out-of-place situations, excessive licking, and separation anxiety. If you feel bad, your dog will want to comfort you, and it often uses its paws to communicate that.
They’re Showing You a Trick
Some dogs know how to shake or give a high five as a trick; and though you might not be giving them the command, they may instinctively try to show you their trick. Adopted dogs usually come without a history, and they are just showing you the tricks in their arsenal.
Submissive dogs have a few different tactics to communicate this position to other dogs and humans, and using a paw to hit you is just one example. They are showing you that they are part of the pack and are attempting to show you the respect they have for you.
They Need to Go Potty
Your dog may be trying to get your attention with its paw because it needs to relieve itself. Dogs can’t communicate the way we do, yet they rely on us to allow them to use the bathroom.
If your dog feels an urgency to relieve itself, it may repeatedly hit you with its paw so that you will take them outside.
If your dog is hitting you with its paw, it’s smart to take them outside just in case. No one wants an accident inside because they ignored their dog’s request to go out.
They’re Play Fighting
Dogs love to play, and that usually looks a bit like fighting. Most dogs are gentle, and they typically look more menacing than they are.
A dog may play-fight with its mouth by showing its teeth and growling but without biting down on anything. They may also use their paw to push their “fighting” opponent down since they don’t have hands the way we do.
If your dog just got in trouble for doing something wrong, it can easily pick up on that energy. When your dog knows it behaved badly, it wants to earn back the love and respect from its owner. It may use its paws to express how sorry it is. It’s a bid to reconnect with their owner after a tense moment, and it can be super sweet.
They’re Expressing Adolescent Angst
As dogs grow up and out of the puppy phase, they enter an adolescent stage that still carries some of their rougher edges from puppyhood but combines it with the independence and growth they seek as they mature. If your dog is in its rebellious and angsty teenager phase, it might use its paws to disagree with you or show its indifference.
Other signs of this include selective amnesia, only remembering or listening to certain commands, and excessive wandering.
Tips on Dealing With a Dog That Is Hitting You With Its Paw
Want to improve or reduce this behavior at home? Use these tips to adjust:
- Determine when the paw hitting is appropriate and when it’s not, and stop the behavior when it is inappropriate. The pawing behavior is cute and useful, but it can get out of hand. If your dog is pawing you for inappropriate things, you need to be sure to reinforce only the reasons you find acceptable.
- To keep yourself safe from any hits from their paws, keep their nails trimmed short, so they don’t cause any cuts or scratches.
- Give the behavior a name and teach them how to do it on command. While this might seem counterintuitive, it provides more structure around the action and helps them learn that they should only be doing it when commanded. Most people use “shake,” “high five,” or “paw” as the command.
- Replace it with another behavior if it becomes excessive or out of line. For example, instead of using its paws to tell you when it needs to use the restroom, you could put bells on the door that it can learn to ring when nature calls.
Dogs are intelligent creatures. If they use their body to communicate something, there’s a reason behind it. Figuring out why they are hitting you with their paw involves using context clues. After a while, you’ll be better able to understand what they’re trying to tell you, and you’ll be able to correct the behaviors using the right strategies.