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What Does It Mean When A Dog Puts His Paw On You?

A dog pawing at its owner's leg

Although they can’t use words, it turns out dogs have a lot to say to us. In the past, it may have been disputed whether animals experience emotions as humans do.

Still, modern science has proven that dogs have a range of emotions equivalent in complexity to a child of two to two and a half years old, and just like a small toddler, they rely on body language and gestures to get their message across. 

When a dog puts his paw on you, it simply means he wants attention. Dogs have learned to use their paws as a way to communicate with us. Placing a paw may mean your dog wants more petting, is hungry, wants to play, feels insecure, is supportive, or wants to reciprocate love

But how do you distinguish between all these different needs with one gesture? It’s essential to look at the rest of your dog’s body language as well as the situation to figure out precisely what their paw is trying to tell you. 

How Do You Work Out Why Your Dog Is Pawing You?

As much as we all wish our dogs could have entire conversations with us, speaking to them is like talking to someone in a foreign language. To understand each other, we need to resort to gestures rather than words. 

With their emotional capacity being similar to that of a young child, it is not surprising that dogs use their paws much in the same way as a toddler tugs on your leg to get attention.

It is up to us to notice the subtleties and other body language around their paw placement to precisely determine what they are trying to say. To Tell You To Keep Petting Him

According to Dr. Sarah Wooten, vet expert at Pumpkin Pets Insurance, the most common reason for a dog to place his paw on you is to get you to continue to pet him.

If you are giving your dog a good scratch or rub and he puts his paw on you, this is his way of letting you know that you are doing a good job, and please continue to do so. 

In a similar capacity, if you are giving your dog some love and attention and then stop doing so, your dog might place his paw on you to say, “please don’t stop, hooman, that feels good.” 

A Dog Puts His Paw On You To Tell You That He Is Hungry Or Thirsty

Your dog may use his paw as a way to let you know he is hungry. As the dog trainer Rebecca Forrest explains in her Dog Clinic post, it’s incredible how dogs seem to be able to tell the time.

If you seem preoccupied or if it’s past their usual feeding time, dogs will come and remind you that you need to feed them. One of the main ways they do this is to put their paw on you. 

They may also be trying to tell you they are thirsty. If it’s nowhere near their feeding time and they are not showing any other body language signs, but they place their paw on you, be sure to check their water bowl. It may be empty, and they are trying to let you know they are thirsty. 

A Dog Puts His Paw On You When He Wants To Play

Your dog may place his paw on you to let you know he wishes to play. Perhaps you’ve been at work all day or have been absorbed on your phone, and your dog places his paw on you to let you know you’ve been ignoring him. 

If he wants to play or go for a walk, placing the paw will possibly be accompanied by some toy in the mouth. A toy together with the paw would be the most obvious combination indicating your dog wishes to play, but there are also other body language signs to look out for. 

If your dog places his paw on you and with his ears erect, mouth open, tongue exposed, pupils dilated, and tail up, this most probably means he wishes to play. If your dog then also bows down and dashes away, it’s game on for sure. 

A Dog Puts His Paw On You When He Feels Insecure

Your dog may place his paw on you when he feels anxious and insecure, and it’s his way of seeking comfort. To determine whether your dog is feeling anxious, you should observe whether the pawing is accompanied by flattened ears, lip licking, and repetitive yawning.

In her Dog Clinic post, Rebecca Forrest explains that the best thing to do for your dog in this scenario is to remain upbeat and try to distract him. She advises not to comfort your dog as this reinforces that he should be worried. 

A Dog Puts His Paw On You To Let You Know He Made A Mistake

Sometimes a dog will place his paw on you if he has done something bad, and this is a way of showing submission. Although a dog cannot feel guilt, they do understand when you are mad with them.

 As humans, we would take the paw gesture as an apology, but it’s a learned behavior. Colby Lehew, the head dog trainer at Chicago’s Dogletics dog training facility, explains that usually, the paw is met with a positive reaction, and dogs are therefore encouraged to keep pawing. 

Dogs are relatively excellent manipulators of humans and know what to do to melt our hearts and stop us from being angry. The paw is one of the many tricks in their arsenal. 

A Dog Puts His Paw On You To Let You Know That He Is There For You

There is a reason the adage “dog is man’s best friend” exists. Dogs are incredibly attuned to us and our emotions, and although they may only have the emotional range of a toddler, they possess great empathy. 

Your dog can pick up on even subtle changes in your mood and energy. If you feel sad or anxious and your dog places his paw on you, this is probably his way of letting you know he is there for you. 

A Dog Puts His Paw On You To Let You Know He Is Unwell

As explained by the dog trainer, Colby Lehew, dogs have learned from us that the paw is met with a positive response. It is, therefore, no surprise that when feeling unwell, they would adopt this form of communication to let us know. In this case, they are looking for a positive response, not in the form of a treat, but for you to make them feel better again. 

If your dog is pawing you, these are some other signs to look out for to see if they are unwell or in pain. 

  • They won’t eat
  • Their breathing is labored
  • They are whining
  • They stop wanting you to give them cuddles
  • They bite, growl, or snap 
  • They are licking excessively
  • They arch their back
  • They are restless
  • They are blinking constantly
  • They are trembling

A Dog Puts His Paw On You To Tell You He Loves You

It is by far the best of all the reasons that a dog will place his paw on you. Science has proven that oxytocin, the hormone responsible for making us feel love, gets released in humans and dogs during a cuddle session. 

Just as we are petting them, they wish to return the favor. Their physiology doesn’t allow them to stroke you, so their way of expressing tactile affection is to place their paw on you. 

A happy dog putting his paw on owner
A happy dog that is putting his paw on its owner to show affection

What Other Ways Do Dogs Communicate With Us?

Dogs don’t only use their paws as a way to communicate with us; there are a number of other gestures and body language signs to look out for. Their eyes can certainly tell a story, and sustained eye contact is your dog’s way of bonding with you. 

Their tail posture can tell you how they feel, from happy to playful to scared. Tongue flicking can indicate anxiety, while misplaced yawning and sneezing can mean your dog is uncomfortable. Dogs, however, also sneeze to let us know they are playing and not being aggressive. 

Exposing their belly is a form of submission. Bowing means playtime, freezing means leave me alone, and leaning against you means a big bear hug. 


Dogs have evolved to be able to communicate with their human counterparts. They can’t use words, so they have resorted to body language and gestures. The placing of the paw is one of the most common ways to communicate with their human. 


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