Why Does My Dog Always Give Me His Paw?

By Adrienne Farricelli

So Scruffy has learned how to give you his paw, impressing all of your family and friends. Except now he seems to do it even if you don't ask for it! If you've ever wondered why your dog has a penchant for pawing you, a closer look into doggie psychology could provide some interesting insights into what's going on in Scruffy's cute li'l head.

Endless "Paw-sibilities"

If you ever wondered why some dog trainers aren't too eager about teaching a dog to give a paw, now is the time to figure out why. As cute as Scruffy is as he gives you his paw, things can easily get a bit "out of hand." While your pooch is always willing to give you his paw when asked to, if you aren't careful, he may end up discovering a whole world of "pawsibilities"! Soon you' ll have a dog pawing at you for attention, pawing you to play and even pawing as to remark: "Hey, it's about time you cook up my dinner, now get your butt off the couch and just make it happen."

Reinforcement History

If you're looking for a better scientific explanation as to why your dog gives you his paw, your curiosity may be satiated by looking at Edward Thorndike's Law of Effect. According to this American psychologist's theory "any behavior that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and any behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be stopped." This means if every time your dog paws he gets attention under the form of treats, play, praise or any kind of attention, all bets are off he'll increase the pawing behavior because it has a history of reinforcement.

Appeasement Gesture T

here's more to pawing though than attention soliciting behaviors and a history of reinforcement, and it's meaning generally varies depending on the context. In some cases, dogs may fall back on the pawing behavior if they don't know what else to do. What may seem like giving you a paw may actually be your dog's way to express uncertainty or feeling a bit under pressure. Your dog may, therefore, start pawing at you when you're training him to do something else just because he's not sure what you're asking him to do.

Hands Off!

If your dog's pawing is getting out of hand, you may want to do something about it to reduce its frequency. A good way to do this is by finding out what's ultimately fueling this behavior. If you have been petting your dog every time he raises his paw, you'll need to be persistent and stop petting him every time he paws. Same goes with giving him any form of attention when he paws and you didn't ask him to. Expect the pawing behavior to increase at first, but if you're persistent, Scruffy will eventually give up pawing as it no longer works.

Putting Paws to Good Use

Some dogs actually don't need to learn to give paw as they're naturals who discovered how they can use their paws on their own initiative. If your dog has talented paws, you can train him to perform other cool tricks other than pawing such as turning on lights, pushing a ball and even playing the piano. Just make sure every time you give your dog a command to use his paws that you praise him lavishly, and when you notice annoying and pushy pawing behavior, you ignore it. Scruffy this way should learn that pawing is on your terms and should paw at you only when you explicitly ask for it.

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References
Simply Psychology: Edward Thorndike
Whole Dog Journal: Understanding How Dogs Communicate With Each Other
Dogs Best Life: Why Does my Dog Paw me?

About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.