Why Dogs Cover Their Faces With Their Paws

We cover our faces with our hands for a variety of reasons. We may be trying to hide a smile out of embarrassment. We may do it because we are shocked or scared. Or maybe we're just worried we have a piece of spinach in our teeth! Maybe your dog is covering his face because he wishes he was looking adorable in a hat?

What a shame
credit: s5iztok/E+/GettyImages

Humans and dogs have been interacting for thousands of years, and we're pretty good at deciphering a lot of our dog's emotions by reading their body language, such as perked up curious ears or ready-to-play tail-wagging. But dogs cover their faces for reasons that we might not know how to interpret.

Wiping or scratching

Wag Walking says it's important to remember that your dog's paws are the only tool, along with her mouth, that she has to do things such as scratch and groom herself. If she just finished eating or drinking she might wipe her face with her paws as part of basic grooming. She may simply be scratching an itch or trying to wipe some goop out of her eyes. If it happens once in a while, it's probably nothing to worry about, and you could walk over and give her a scratch to help her out. However, if it's continual, there could be more to it, such as a rash, an allergy, eye irritation, or even an infection.

Emotional response

Dogs are highly tuned in to the reactions and behaviors of humans. It's possible that you responded with a shower of affection the last time he put his paws over his eyes, so he wants to keep doing it hoping you'll notice again. If you've scolded him, the Canidae blog says he might be hiding his eyes out of embarrassment just like you might if you got punished. That could also explain why he might paw at your face when he's trying to get your attention.

Fear or anxiety

You hide your eyes when you see something scary on TV. Your dog may do the same thing. I Heart Dogs says it's a normal reaction for a dog to hide her eyes in response to fear or anxiety. The frequency of the behavior is what could tell you if it's important or not. If it happens a lot, it could be an anxiety issue that your vet can diagnose and treat.

Submissive behavior

Making eye contact and holding your gaze is a powerful show of dominance in humans. Making eye contact is similar for dogs and establishes their hierarchical position with other dogs and humans. If you want to show that you're submissive to another human, you probably would not lock your eyes with theirs in a power gaze. If your dog covers his eyes, it could be his way of showing you that he considers you to be the boss.

As a symptom of something more serious

When face-rubbing happens compulsively or repeatedly, Wag Walking says it could be a symptom of something more serious. If the face rubbing is accompanied by little yelps as if she's in pain, she may have been stung by an insect or have a thorn in some tender skin. Try to gently examine her and see if you can find any swollen or painful spots.

Facial swelling can also be a sign of an allergy. If you don't see an obvious site of an injury such as a sting, consider anything she might have eaten or been exposed to that could be irritating.

Fleas can cause irritation that can make your dog scratch or paw at her face. Also up for consideration are mites or ticks.

There's a condition called blepharitis that is an inflammation of the eye and eyelid. Your dog's eyelid area may be red, swollen and itchy. Pawing at her face is a way of seeking relief from the inflammation. But it can also cause further damage to the eyelid if she scratches that tender skin.