Why is My Dog Pawing at Me Constantly? What Does it Mean?

Our dogs love us, and because of this, they want our constant attention. Our pups can’t say, “Hey, look over here!,” so instead, they get our attention in the only way they know how. Pawing and poking us when they are trying to communicate is their easiest option, but what are they trying to tell us?

Dogs can’t communicate like humans can.  They will sometimes growl, bark, or yip to get your attention.  Most times they do this, there’s a reason behind it.  They can also get physical, and that means putting their paws on you, or even engaging in other unsavory behaviors like biting or jumping.  While you can train your dog to use their paw on-demand with the shake command, the type of pawing we will dive into is pawing without a request from you as their master.

Most pups mean well when using their paws, but you may not fully understand why your dog does it. In this article we will discuss the 10 most common reasons that your dog wants your attention, and how to stop them from scratching you for their every need.

Reasons Dogs Like To Paw

Dogs have a variety of reasons they like to paw.  Some owners think this behavior is rude and disruptive, while other owners will tolerate it.  It’s often viewed as more tolerable if the dog is smaller, because pawing from a small dog isn’t likely to cause any problems.

Pawing from an extremely large dog can knock kids over, cause scratches or injuries and have other ill effects.  Dogs paw for dominance, affection and many other reasons.  Let’s dig in a little deeper and find out why your pup loves to put their paws on you.

It’s Their Communication Base

Every creature has their own way of communicating. By having our own language, we are able to spread the word on what we need, and get through our day to day lives. But what do you do when you are trying to communicate with a completely different species, that doesn’t speak any of your language?

Think of it as trying to have a conversation with a person from another country, who does not speak English. There will probably be a lot of hand gestures, and a game of charades in order to spread your message. When our pups are trying to get our immediate attention, they resort to their very own “hand gestures”, and throw their paw our way.

Our pups pawing us is truly no different than a toddler tugging on your leg when they are trying to tell us something. When our dogs paw at us, they are simply communicating in one of the ways that they know how, pushy as it may be at times.

Our furry friends have lived alongside us for many years now, and have seen how often we use our hands to communicate. It’s no wonder that they have become more paw-centric in their communications.

They Want Instant Love

If you are spending quality time with your fur child, they may paw you as a way to persuade you into giving them extra love. Have you ever been petting your pup, and they throw their paw your way once you’ve stopped? This action is a way of getting your attention in an effort to continue an action that they like. We often find it sweet when our doggy friends come up to us asking for our love and affection. By giving in to this action so often, they know to repeat this habit each time they want your immediate attention.

Studies have also shown that dogs have “feel good” hormones that are released during petting sessions, so it’s very possible that by extending out their paw, they are showing you their affection right back. Overall, this is one of the most endearing times that our dogs use their paws to communicate.

They Did Something Bad

While this pawing behavior can be quite demanding, it can also be your pups way of apologizing for something they have done. A guilty dog may throw his paw on you while wearing a very guilty face. Pawing you can be their way of asking for forgiveness, and showing their submission to you in that moment.

Part of why they may do this is how well this action may have worked for them with you in the past. Think back to a time when your companion did something they shouldn’t have done. Their sad eyes and need for forgiveness is often cute enough that we quickly forgive them, and move on from any scolding. Our pups have become quite skilled in the art of forgiveness with their ability to produce those sad, puppy dog eyes. Either way, this is definitely one of the times that their pawing can be quite difficult to not give in to.

They Need Food or Water

When it’s getting close to meal time, your doggo may feel the need to remind you of their hunger, especially if it seems like you have no idea just how close it is to their dinner time! When they are not able to use their words to tell us just how hungry they are, they have to get creative with their communication, and hope that you understand. A hungry pup may paw at your legs when they are ready to eat, along with a possible nudge of their food bowl.

While this dinner time reminder can seem harmless, try your best to not create a food demanding monster. Some dogs have perfected the art of begging for treats by using pawing and scratching for communication. If your pup uses demanding tactics when they are craving their favorite treat, it may be time to consider a new routine for snack time.

They Empathize With You

Our dogs are incredibly empathetic creatures. By living with us, they become in tune with our normal habits and emotions. Even the slightest change in attitude can have our pups sensing that something is a bit off.

When a furry friend paws at us in a time that we are feeling stressed, upset, or angry, it may be their way of showing us that they are here for us in our time of need. Our dogs love us, and show their support in many ways that we may not even notice. Think of their paw as their very own way of extending out a hug.

They Want To Play

A playful dog who wants to initiate a game will often try several tactics to get you to interact. They may wag their tail, jump up and down in excitement, or even paw at your leg in an attempt to get your attention. While this is considered a pushy way to engage in playtime, it’s often successful.

If our pups come up to us, with toy in hand, pawing at our leg, how likely are we to engage? Our fur babies know this is a successful way to play with us and get our attention.

They Are Talking Back

Just like humans, some dogs have a bit more attitude than others. While some dogs will cower and turn away from any kind of punishment, some pups will challenge the authority being thrown their way! By throwing their paw at our leg in times of punishment, some pups aren’t asking for forgiveness. When paw throwing is associated with a playful bark, these furry friends are showing their very own version of sass!

Think of this as an angsty teenager who is talking back to their parents. Our pets love us, but sometimes, they can offer attitude when being scolded.

Talking With Their Paws

Just like humans, some dogs use more body language than others when they are communicating. The figure of speech explaining when someone “speaks with their hands”, goes for our pups as well.

This may just be their own unique way of communicating, or the behavior of a pup who is used to getting a reaction each time they use their paws to communicate. Frequent pawing can be the sign of a pup who is lacking manners.

You’re The Boss

Similar to dogs using their paws when they did something wrong, is the possibility that they are pawing at us as a sign of submission. When accompanied by other submissive behaviors, a dog may be showing you that he knows you are the boss, and that he respects you.

They’re The Boss

Just as possible as it is for a pup to paw you as a sign of submission, is the possibility of the complete opposite. In communication between dogs, a dominant dog will often put his paw on the weaker dog as a sign of being above them. When our furry family member puts their paw on us, it may be their way of asserting their dominance.

This is often accompanied by other acts of dominance such as resisting commands, guarding food or toys, or inappropriate responses to authority or eye contact. If this is the case, it’s important to discourage this behavior, as you should always be the alpha in your “pack.”

Should You Allow It?

While the occasional paw during petting sessions or sweet moments with your pup can be endearing, it can quickly become an annoying habit. When our dogs are used to getting what they want each time they paw at our legs, they will continue to use this tactic whenever possible.

In most cases, when our companions are using their paw for communication, they are demanding our immediate attention in that moment. Allowing your pet to continue this behavior is only opening the door for other behaviors that lack manners.

While we love our pets dearly, it’s important to instill a relationship that is respectful on both ends.You wouldn’t tolerate a friend who constantly tugged at your arm each time they needed something, right? The relationship with our doggy companions should be no different. While our pets play a role in this pushy action, we also have to consider if it’s appropriate to let this pattern continue.

Don’t Enable

Putting an end to this behavior can be tough, since we don’t realize just how often we reward this type of behavior. Think of each time you walk in the door after a long day of work, and you are greeted by your excited pup. It warms our hearts to have our pets so excited to see us at the end of the day, that we allow the playful jumping and pawing at your legs as we are setting our things down in an effort to deliver the immediate love they are asking for.

Each time we allow this form of communication which is essentially asking for our immediate attention, we are blurring the lines of when these manners are acceptable. Every time we give in to pawing in any form, we are showing them that this behavior works, so why wouldn’t our dogs want to try it at other times?

A habit like this usually starts small and grows with time. What starts off as a gentle nudge under the table for a bite of your dinner, can quickly turn into rough scratching at your leg each time you sit down to eat. Taking away your response to this action is essential to stopping this behavior if it’s becoming overwhelming and something that may bother guests or family in your home.

Stopping the Paw

It’s up to us to stop giving in to the pawing when it does happen. Start by teaching your dog a new way to gain positive attention. When your pup tries to scratch your leg, immediately correct this behavior, and encourage them to sit instead. By being consistent with this training your doggo will learn that they no longer get what they want with pushy behaviors, but instead have a positive reaction when they sit politely and wait for your attention.

Each time try to delay the response in which you offer the attention that they are looking for. By extending the time that your pup has to wait for your response, he will eventually learn that we do not offer our attention on their time.

The most difficult part of this process is sticking to the training, as our pups can be quite convincing when they want to be! Just remember that a well behaved pup is a joy, and will result in a much happier home for everyone.

If at home training fails to end this habit, basic obedience training can be a great way to teach your furry companion some manners. Basic training can only improve your pups quality of life, as structure and confidence are often gained from these courses.

Final Thoughts

Overall, there are several reasons in which a dog is trying to communicate with the use of their paws. While some of these reasons are tender by nature, there are always better forms of communication that our pups can practice to gain our attention.

Get to know your beloved companions quirks, and help them to practice better manners to achieve the attention that they seek!

28 thoughts on “Why is My Dog Pawing at Me Constantly? What Does it Mean?”

  1. My west highland white terrier pats my leg to tell me he needs to go potty outside and other times to tell me he loves me. There are other messages he sends. You just have to understand your pet and what he is telling you at that time.

  2. My miniature schnauzer uses her paw to gently touch our hands and drag them to her body when she wants us to pet/scratch her. It is def a form of communication for her to tell us what she wants. When she is hungry or wants to go outside she uses her voice with little sounds and yips to “talk” to us. If we don’t respond quickly enough she gets louder and louder and adds in some actions as well!

    When she does NOT want to go outside she will walk to a corner of the room, sit and turn her back away from us to show that this is not what she wants to do!

  3. Our Shih Tsu paws me twice because she is cold & wants 2 get under the covers…so I hold them up so she can burrow-this goes on several times a nite.

  4. I cuddle my chihuahua, when I’m done she paws me & drags my hand under her stomach where she leans on it. She is telling me I am hers. She will do this with her favorite toy, only one toy. Also she sits & stares at me for hours with such love in her eyes. We talk at night before bed, she tries so hard to talk.

  5. My fury baby she very kind sweet loving dog she always tap me with her paw , in the most gentle intelligent loving way, very good well behaved dog.

  6. Scarlet is the love of our life! At night she will paw at me to move so that she can lay in my spot! Nice. Toasty. Warm. 65 pounds of beautiful pitbull! She also paws at us to show love and tenderness towards us. She’s adorable!

  7. My rescue dog will put her paw on my knee if I’m not paying attention to her… and if she wants to me to play our game. I made a toy that she and her ‘sister’ dearly love and it’s VERY interactive.

    After we are through playing, she is satisfied for a while, but if I don’t at least play with them at least once a day, she will just not leave me alone. Both of them are sweethearts!

  8. I adopted a female Chihuahua, she is around 8 years old. She never barks but she does paw at my hands and chest when I am holding her. She has very strong legs and it hurts, also she pushes her paws on my chest and pulls down. How can I stop this? I have tried just tapping her feet and saying no it’s not working.

  9. Hi Theresadale, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’d start with encouraging your pup’s good behavior by rewarding with high-value treats. Not sure if your pup is food motivated or not, but that can be a very useful training aid for a pup that’s not listening, especially an older one. You also need to make sure you correct it every single time. Not harshly, but put the paws where they belong (usually on the ground) and repeat.

    Eventually, your pup will get the hint. If not, you may also want to look into having a professional dog trainer meet your pup and help you train. Our Male English Mastiff had some really bad habits and consistency was the primary thing that helped him become a much more well-behaved pup. Hope this helps!

  10. My yellow lab is 6 months old and does this all the time. He even nibbles me! Which sometimes hurts. We get out for walks on a daily bases. He constantly wants to play. He’s 75lbs and when we go out to play he gets really wild. Jumping up on us. When this happens I say no and walk inside. Any suggestions?

  11. Hi Karen – we had a chocolate lab for many years, and she used to do the same thing. We resolved to walk her twice per day, starting with an early morning walk to wear her out. This helped, and then constant correction of the behavior. You can’t let it slip, even once. You also have to correct the behavior as it’s happening. We have found that with our mastiffs who are very high-value food motivated, that constantly rewarding the right behavior helps. You will get there, just make sure to be consistent! Thanks for commenting!

  12. Unfortunately I can only get him out in the afternoon for our long walks. Being winter it is still dark until after 7 and we all leave for work at 6:30. I do go out in the mornings and throw the ball around and play with him before I leave but lately that is when the trouble has started because he plays rough and starts jumping and nipping.

    What did you do to stop this? “No” is not working nor do I want to keep yelling no at him. I have to quickly remove myself as he’s running after me. There is someone in and out every few hours so he does get let out to run around. Please let me know what you did for stopping this issue. I’ve had dogs all my life but it’s been 16 years since I went through the puppy years as I have lost my two dogs in the past two years that I have had for 10 and 14 years.

  13. Hi Karen, to stop jumping we have always turn our backs to our dog and ignored them. That worked for our chocolate lab. She always wanted attention, so when we gave it to her, she’d continue the behavior. When we stopped, she stopped. We didn’t yell, just a firm correction with “no” and then ignoring the behavior. Good luck, and definitely continue rewarding good behavior with treats. If none of that works, I’d suggest looking at a professional trainer.

  14. This was such a pleasure to read. I have an almost 4 yr old red nose Pitt bull, who displays all of the above pawing.

    When I get home daily (first to arrive from work), I unlock the door, he jogs in the house ahead of me, straight to my bedroom, where I unarm the alarm. When I turn from the keypad, he’ll have a flip flop or slipper in his mouth, picked up from the floor.

    He then jogs past me, goes outside and knows that I’ll go after him. Sometimes he’ll come when I call to gently tug flop out of his mouth, sometimes he’ll not listen and gives me the run around before letting me take the flop.

    This happens daily, and he’s not impartial to who’s shoes he takes, mine, hubby’s, daughter’s. Doesn’t matter, as long as he takes a shoe.

    Just thought I’d share… : )

  15. I have a six y/o yellow female lab who occasionally has bowel issues. If she ever needs to go outside to do her business in the middle of the night she ever so gently touches her paw to my arm. Her touch is so soft and gentle that if I weren’t in tune with her I’d sleep right through it.

    It doesn’t happen often but when it does, I know immediately what she needs. This is not something I taught her and the first couple of times I was not happy she woke me up. I’d grumble and tell her to lay back down and I’d drift off back to sleep until I felt her paw on my arm again a minute later.

    Finally, I got smart enough to ask “do you need to go out”? She jumped out of the bed faster than I could blink. Duh!!! Now I never question her, I just know. When in the car if my arm is resting on the center console, her paw is resting on my forearm. She is a VERY loving dog who shows me in many ways I hadn’t thought about until reading this article. Thank you!

  16. Thanks for your comment Lori, sounds like you have a very sweet pup! Our dogs paw at us when they want to be pet, and do it constantly!

  17. My shi-poo Milo is my service dog now partly because he will paw at my face and arm. I have a vaso- vagel condition and he can smell when I may pass out. He will smell my breath and paw my face then sit on my chest for support.

  18. My Bubba, Pyrenees mix, he lays next to me on the couch, puts he’s paw on my leg, falls asleep. If I move that paw, he wakes up.

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