Why Does My Dog Paw at My Face?

There are many reasons why your dog is constantly pawing at your face.

Our dogs love our company and want our constant attention. They can’t communicate verbally, so they get our attention by pawing and poking us. That’s the easiest option for your dogs, but what are they trying to tell you?

Dogs will sometimes bark or yip to get your attention. Whenever they do this, there’s a reason behind it. They may also get physical and put their paws on your face. While you can easily train your dog to paw on-demand with the shake command, unsolicited pawing is what we will discuss here.

Let’s dive in!

Communicating with Owners

Your dog may be pawing at you for the only reason of communicating with you. Every animal has a unique way of communicating. We can communicate what we need and get through our everyday lives by speaking our language. But how do you communicate with someone that doesn’t speak your language?

There will be plenty of hand gestures and a game of charades to spread your message. When our dogs try to get our attention, they use anything that works, including pawing at us.

Dogs pawing at us is no different than a baby tugging on our leg. They want your attention.

Seeking Affection

Your dog could be signaling they want affection from its owner. I’m sure every dog lover has experienced a dog pawing at you because you just stopped petting it—a clear signal for you to continue. We find the behavior endearing and continue petting while they have just figured out how to tell us they want more.

Feeling Thirsty or Hungry

If your dog wants water or food, it may paw at your face to let you know. When it’s getting close to dinnertime, your dog may worry that you’ll forget. Dogs have to get creative with their communication to help you realize just how hungry they are. Pawing at your legs and pushing an empty food bowl around is also possible.

Some dogs have perfected the art of begging for snacks using their paws. If your dog uses demanding tactics when they want their favorite treat, it may be time to try a new routine for snack time.

Feeling Empathetic

If your dog sees you sad, they may try to empathize with you. Our dogs are very empathetic creatures. By living with us, they recognize our normal habits and emotions. The slightest attitude change can signal our dogs that something is wrong with us before we even know.

If your dog paws at your face when you’re stressed or angry, it may be their way of expressing that they are here for you. Our dogs love us and express their support in many ways. Think of their pawing as their way of giving out a hug.

Feeling Playful

Sometimes your dog may want to play, and pawing at your face for attention has worked for them. A playful pup who wants to start a game will try several other tactics to get you to interact. They may wag their tail, jump up and down, or even paw at your leg to get your attention.

Talking Back to Owners

Sometimes your dog may be talking back to you or giving you attitude. Just like humans, some dogs are more rebellious than others.

Talking With Paws

Some breeds use their paws more than others. Each breed has individual subtleties when engaged in communication.

When is Pawing an Issue?

When a dog paws, it’s generally an attention-seeking behavior for pats, food, water, or playtime.

You may also unknowingly reinforce this behavior. For example, your dog paws, and you pet them. So the next time your dog wants food, pets, or toys, they will paw at you. Any behavior that results in a dog getting what it wants will be repeated.

Even if you find your dog’s pawing endearing, remember that others might not. Your dog’s pawing can sometimes harm children and the elderly.

If you decide to allow pawing only in certain circumstances, consider redirecting their attention or ignoring the behavior to extinguish the unwanted behavior.

Remember too that an upheld paw may indicate an injury. Consult your veterinarian if you are unsure of your dog’s health.

How to Prevent Excessive Pawing

Long Walks

Taking your dog for long walks is a good way to burn pent-up mental and physical energy. As a result, your dog may become less demanding of your attention. Using a cheerful tone and offering positive interactions with your dog when it’s not pawing at you may convince it that pawing is not necessary.

Encouraging Alternative Behaviors

Pawing can be a tiring behavior to deal with as a dog owner. Unwanted pawing can be frustrating and cause painful scratches. Luckily, there are some ways you can reduce your dog’s pawing. Teach your dog to engage in other helpful behaviors like fun tricks or commands to divert attention.

For example, your dog may paw at your face when it needs attention. Each time you notice your dog pawing, say, “Sit!” And don’t reward your dog with any attention until it sits. Your dog will learn to sit and wait for attention instead of pawing.

Another thing to teach your dog is to “shake” your hand instead of pawing at your face. You can also convert your dog’s pawing into a trick. If your dog associates the pawing behavior with the command, “Shake,” it will learn only to paw when it hears that command.

Hold your hand or face near your dog and say, “Shake.” Wait for your doggo to paw at your face or hand, then reward it with a treat. Repeat this a few times a day until your dog learns to paw when it hears, “Shake.”

Once your dog learns the “shake” command, only reward it with food or attention when it paws in response to the command. Eventually, your dog will understand pawing is only suitable when you ask it to shake.

Be consistent

Whichever command you choose to practice, be consistent. Dogs learn with consistent training over time. Be sure to reward your dog with treats when it engages in the behavior you want instead of pawing. If you notice pawing at other times, ignore the behavior and don’t reward your dog. If you interact with them while pawing at your face, they will continue this behavior.

For example, if you need your dog to sit when it wants food instead of pawing, don’t feed your dog until it follows your command and sits.

Provide Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Ignore pawing.

Dogs respond to all kinds of attention, including negative attention. If your dog is pawing, the right way to react is to ignore it. When your dog paws at your face, freeze completely and avoid making eye contact with your dog. Don’t engage with the dog until the pawing stops.

When you start ignoring your dog, it will probably paw harder to grab your attention. Be patient and don’t engage with persistent pawing. Engaging with pawing after your dog gets more aggressive encourages your dog to paw.

Ignoring bad behavior is more effective than scolding your dog, as scolding is a form of attention.

If ignoring your dog’s pawing isn’t working, try moving away from your dog to avoid them and not praise their pawing.

Manage pawing during playtime.

It is normal for dogs to paw during playtime. But, you should discourage unnecessary and aggressive pawing. If your dog paws at your face during play, stop playing with your dog for 10 to 20 seconds. Continue playing once your dog calms down and their paws are on the floor. Then, resume playing. If you consistently stop playing in response to pawing, your dog will learn not to paw.

Reward only pawing that occurs on command.

Consistency helps discourage any unwanted behavior. Only engage with a dog’s pawing when responding to specific commands.

Make sure other people know not to encourage pawing. Many people reinforce pawing without realizing it. Guests, relatives, and friends often pet a dog pawing them for attention. Let your houseguests know you are working on discouraging your pet’s pawing and ask them to refrain from interacting with your dog if it paws at them.

Keep your dog relaxed.

Dogs thrive on a schedule, so give your dog regular feedings and bathroom breaks. Sometimes they paw or exhibit other unwanted behavior to communicate their basic needs to you, such as needing to be fed.

Take your dog out and feed it frequently to relax, be happy, and minimize pawing.

Make sure your dog gets regular exercise.

Dogs can become anxious and seek attention if they’re not getting enough exercise, which can translate into pawing. If your dog paws a lot, try increasing its exercise routine. Play with it more often and take it for daily walks.

Talk to your veterinarian about how much exercise is healthy for your dog, especially if your has underlying health problems.

Play retrieving games.

Retrieving games are great for dogs with anxiety—keeping your dog active and focused. If your dog has severe pawing issues, play games like fetch to keep your dog calm.

If your dog paws at your face during a game, halt the game until the pawing stops.

Provide your dog with space to relax.

Dogs with anxiety problems may not feel like they have space to feel calm and relaxed in their home. If your dog paws and shows other nervous behaviors, such as pacing or barking, evaluate your home.

Make sure your dog has a bed and easy access to food and water. Your dog should also have access to spaces where you hang out frequently, such as the living room, as dogs that feel left out may engage in attention-seeking behaviors.

Take an obedience class if pawing persists.

Find obedience classes in your area if pawing doesn’t stop with increased exercise. Very anxious dogs are behavioral issues and can benefit from professional training.

You can find obedience training programs online or ask your vet for recommendations. Plus, trainers can help you work through other unwanted behaviors with your dog, such as jumping.

Final Thoughts

Whether your dog is hungry or needs attention, there are many reasons why your dog may paw at you. By observing your dog’s behavior, taking the time to understand its personality, and talking to your veterinarian, you’ll have a better understanding of your dog.

It’s a good idea to keep your dog’s nails cut short, especially if your dog is pawing aggressively. It could accidentally scratch your face or eye with a sharp claw.

Eventually, you’ll figure out why your dog is pawing, and you’ll be able to give it what it needs.

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