It's a question all dog owners have probably asked at some point. Gazing into your pooch's glassy eyes or taking inventory of a room filled with chewed and torn possessions, you ask yourself, "What is he thinking?" You might wish that your canine companion could talk, but while Fido can't hold court on issues, he's often trying to tell you something with his body, like when he puts a paw across his eyes or on his snout.
Wiping or Scratching
Before delving into finer interpretations of a dog's "paws-on-face" move, consider that the animal may just be scratching an itch or wiping his eyes. When performed compulsively, the move could be an indicator of a chronic condition such as rash, eye irritation or even infection. As with all animal behavior, pay attention to your pet's habits to make sure they don't stem from more serious conditions.
Show of Emotion
Animals feel things in a more primal, rudimentary way than humans and aren't capable of advanced cognition, but that doesn't mean your pup doesn't have emotions, and that he doesn't respond to yours as well. Happy, angry, sad, scared -- anything you feel viscerally likely has your furry friend reacting at some point as well. Each dog responds differently to his own emotions, but it's not uncommon for a dog who feels afraid to plant one or both paws on his snout to hide his face from whatever's causing the emotion, be it a clap of thunder or an owner's angry glare.
Dogs are pack animals -- they're genetically predisposed to live in groups of more than one and to behave according to the pack's social hierarchy. For a companion animal, human family members are his pack and he behaves according to his interpretation of the chain of command. A dog who recognizes his owner as alpha dog is happy and secure in knowing he's taken care of, and he will communicate his submission through actions such as avoiding eye contact, giving his owner room and covering his face with his paws.
Because He Knows You Love It!
While there are a handful of reasons a dog may cover his face with his paws, the most common one is that it makes his human happy. From the smallest teacup breed to the greatest of Great Danes, a dog's paw-on-snout-or-over-eyes routine makes you smile and shower him with affection for the adorable behavior. All it takes is one positive response for a dog to recognize that the gesture makes you happy, and a dog's drive to appease his master will keep him rubbing those eyes until you give him the grin and belly rub he seeks.
By Rodney Wilson
About the Author
Rodney Wilson is owner and manager of Goldfinch Farm in central Kentucky, where he oversees veterinary and management practices for a diverse group of animals, from dogs and cats to pigs and chickens. He's written professionally since 2001, with articles appearing in such publications as The Cincinnati Enquirer, CiN Weekly, Baby Guide and Akron Life.