Many dogs get satisfaction from touching their humans with their paws. Some of us like it, some of us tolerate it, and some of us prefer dogs keep their paws to themselves. Why do dogs want to touch us with their paws? What’s in it for them?
Why Dogs Give You Their Paw
We know that behaviors that persist are somehow being reinforced. If your dog insists on touching you with her paw, she’s getting something out of it. It could be:
- Someone taught her. “Shake” is a popular trick, and if you – or someone else – taught her this, it was probably done using treats (or something else your dog likes) as her reward. Now she thinks the way to get treats is to offer to shake!
- Attention-seeking. Just like we might touch someone to get their attention, your dog learns that pawing you gets you to pay attention to her.
- Reassurance-seeking. If your dog is worried about something, touching you with her paw could be her way of saying, “Please comfort me.”
What Should You Do About Paw Touching?
If you like it, you can continue to reinforce the paw-touching behavior when your dog offers it. If you find it annoying, you can teach her that she gets reinforced for “Shake” only if you’ve asked her to do it, and that, in contrast, attention-pawing will make your attention go away. (You can even use a cheerful “Oops!” as a no-reward marker to say, “That behavior made the good stuff go away.) Alternatively, you can reinforce her for touching her paw to something other than you.
Comfort-seeking is another matter. Anytime your dog seeks comfort from you, the best response is to give it to her, and determine why she needs comforting. Bottom line? If your dog is paw-touching you to communicate, value her communication efforts and try to figure out what she is trying to tell you.