Why does my dog paw at my face?

If your dog is constantly pawing at you, it can mean various things.

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 can’t talk like humans can. They 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, the type of pawing we will explore is pawing without a request from you as their owner.

Most dogs mean well when extending their paws, but you may not understand why your dog does it. This article will discuss the most common reasons your dog wants your attention and how to stop your dog from pawing at your face.

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 their unique way of communicating. We can communicate what we need and get through our everyday lives by speaking our language. But what can you do when trying to communicate with a different species that doesn’t speak your language?

That’s almost like trying to converse with someone from another country who does not 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 resort to throwing their paw our way. They also tilt their heads and exhibit other behaviors.

Your pup pawing at you is truly no different than a baby tugging on your leg when they are trying to tell you something. When our dogs paw at us, they communicate in the only way they know how.

Seeking Affection

Your dog could be signaling they want instant affection from their owner. If you spend quality time with your doggo, they may paw at your face to persuade you into giving them more love. Have you ever been petting your dog, and they throw their paw your way as you stop? This is a way of getting your attention to continue petting. We often find it sweet when our fur friends come up to us asking for more love and affection. They know to repeat this habit whenever they want your immediate attention.

Studies also show that dogs have “feel good” hormones that are released during petting sessions, so it’s possible that by extending out the paw, they are showing you their affection. 

Feeling Guilty

A guilty dog may paw at the owner’s face after doing something bad.

While this pawing behavior can be very demanding, it can also be your dog’s way of apologizing for something they have done. A guilty dog will throw his paw on you while wearing a very guilty face. Pawing you can be their way to ask for forgiveness and express their submission to you.

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 remind you of their hunger, especially if it seems like you don’t remember just how close it is to their mealtime! Dogs have to get creative with their communication to help you realize just how hungry they are. A hungry dog may also paw at your legs when they are ready to eat, along with pushing around their food bowl.

While this mealtime reminder can seem harmless, try your best not to create a food-demanding, hungry little monster. Some dogs can perfect the art of begging for snacks by using pawing communication. 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. Even the slightest attitude change can have our dogs sensing that something is wrong.

If dogs paw at your face when you’re feeling 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 paw at your face to grab your attention. 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. While some dogs will be scared of any punishment, some dogs will challenge the authority and go their own way! By throwing their paw at your face in times of punishment, some dogs aren’t asking for forgiveness.

Talking With Paws

Some dog breeds just like to talk using their paws. They use more body language when they are communicating.

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 are going to paw at you. Also, when they learn that’s how they get what they want, it may increase in frequency.

Pawing is only an issue when it becomes bothersome to you. First, examine everything to make sure there isn’t a need to be addressed, like an empty water bowl or food bowl.

If there is no immediate need, and your pup just wants attention, then giving in and petting or playing reinforces the behavior. Consider redirecting their attention or ignoring the behavior to help reduce the frequency or eliminate unwanted behavior.

If it’s unclear whether the held paw is for attention or due to injury, talk to your veterinarian. They can examine your dog and recommend the next course of action.

How to Prevent Excessive Pawing

Long Walks

Take your dog for some extra walks and offer extra attention to see if that helps. Keep your face away from its paws if you can. Remember to use a cheerful tone and positive behavior when it’s not pawing at you and reward him ahead of time for good behavior. Reward him if it starts to paw at your face and then stops.

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. That way, 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 your dog 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 only 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 they’re 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 discourage it is simply ignoring 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 supernatural 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, friends may be naturally inspired to pet a dog that’s pawing them for attention. If you have new people over, let them know you’re working on discouraging your pet’s pawing. Most people will understand when you explain that you’re trying to cut down on your dog’s annoying habit. Ask them to refrain from interacting with your dog if it starts pawing.

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.

Sometimes, dogs will become anxious and seek attention if they’re not getting enough exercise. This can cause problematic behavior such as 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 amazing for dogs with anxiety as they keep 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 your 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.

If pawing doesn’t stop with increased exercise, find obedience classes in your area. 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. But 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’s communication style for years to come.

If your dog pawing at your face is troublesome, try to prevent some problems until you break the habit. Keep your dog’s nails cut short. If your dog is pawing aggressively, it could accidentally scratch your face or eye with a sharp claw.

Eventually, you’ll figure out why it’s pawing at you, and you’ll be able to give it what it needs. If it’s just a means of communication, you can redirect your dog toward more positive behavior.

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