Pretty much all dog owners have gotten "the paw": that moment your dog puts his paw on you as you're petting him or after you stop petting him as if to say "hey, keep petting me; I like it." You probably thought it was so cute, and then continued petting him to fulfill his silent command. But why exactly do dogs do this? Are they really objecting to you no longer giving them affection and attention?
We're so fascinated by canine behavior, and it's not surprising. Our pets are huge parts of our lives. We love them and want to understand them— their behavior and emotions. They can't speak, and so we must rely on other cues to understand them. Pawing is definitely one of those cues and a form of communication.
"Speaking" with their "hands"
When humans speak, we obviously use our mouths, but we also tend to use our hands quite a lot. It's not so different from dogs using their paws to communicate their desires and feelings. According to Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, dogs use their paws to "speak" to us with silent cues that are not necessarily hard to interpret. They might do so because when they paw at us as we're petting them, they get rewarded with more petting or a laugh or smile, even a cuddle. So much of what our dogs do we tend to think of as adorable, so it's no wonder we would be delighted with them pawing at us or using positive body language.
"Please keep petting me"
This is definitely one of the main reasons dogs paw at us when we're petting them, according to Dr. Wooten. They're basically just telling you that they're enjoying the affection you're giving them. Dogs are highly social animals, whether they are domesticated or wild. They enjoy our attention (which you probably realized when your dog or puppy would not stop following you around and cuddling with you on the couch). Not to mention - and you probably surmised this also - petting feels good to them. Research has shown that grooming is a way for social animals to build good relationships. When you put your dog not only does it stimulate nerve endings and send pleasure signals to the brain, it's also like a form of grooming that makes them feel closer to you. And it has a calming effect too.
Asking for attention
Another reason dogs will paw at you while you're petting them or after you've stopped is because they want your attention. You may know that just making eye contact with your dog releases oxytocin, a stress-relieving and bonding hormone. Quite a lot of research has determined this to be true, not just in dog and human interactions but between babies and parents too. Scientists have determined that the oxytocin is released in humans and dogs when this eye contact occurs. But oxytocin is also released when we touch our pets or cuddle with them. As these feel-good, calming hormones are released, and your dog finds it pleasant, she may paw at you as if to say "keep the attention coming" or "oxytocin is awesome; give me more." Research has even shown that dogs prefer being pet to vocal praise. So, yes, keep the petting going!
Dog pawing is a form of communication above all, and how they use their body language to articulate their desires and needs. You can be sure that when your dog paws at you during petting, she's most likely not telling you to stop. She's also enjoying bonding with you in this way. So if you're not tired, you may want to continue petting them for a little while longer. Remember that giving your dog affection will also help you release stress and feel better. It's a win-win.