Dogs have a wide range of communication tools at their disposal, including body language, vocalizations and the use of their limbs. When a dog places his paws, he is trying to communicate. You can figure out exactly what he’s trying to say by observing the accompanying body language and taking note of what’s happening in his environment.
When a dog wants to play, he’ll typically display a range of gestures, including the famous “play bow,” where he sticks his rump in the air and flattens out his front legs. If he really wants to play and nobody seems interested, he may make his request a little more difficult to ignore by placing his paws on your arm or leg and then running away. This is a classic play instigation technique. If you don’t like being pawed, you must never respond to being pawed by playing with the dog, otherwise he’ll think this is a perfectly good way of getting what he wants.
Dogs use their paws to get attention. Owners often reinforce this by responding positively to a puppy who paws at them. When a small puppy with tiny paws does it, it’s about as adorable as it gets. It’s not quite as adorable when a muddy, fully grown German shepherd does it while you’re drinking hot coffee. Needy dogs are a lot more likely to use physical inducements to receive attention, especially if they think they’re being ignored or are anxious about the presence of a new person or dog in the home. You can distinguish between attention seeking pawing and play pawing by looking at the body language. An attention seeker will be a lot less animated and energetic.
Dogs use their paws to assert themselves over other dogs. He may also attempt to assert dominance by resting his head on the other dog’s neck. When a dog puts his paws on another dog’s back, he’s saying “I’m top dog around here.” If he tries the same thing with a member of the family, he deserves a time-out. He may attempt to paw the back of someone who is bending over, or he may try to stand up and place his paws on her shoulder. If corrective measures are delivered consistently through puppyhood and family members are able to gently show Lucky he’s bottom of the pack, this problem typically goes away in time.
Dogs learn by association. If your dog paws the door and it opens, he discovers that the action has a positive consequence, hence the behavior becomes self-rewarding. You can use this concept when training your dog. To teach him to raise his paw, simply demonstrate that doing so has a positive outcome, for example by giving him a treat.