What Does It Mean When a Dog Covers Its Face With a Paw?

by Rodney Wilson
    A dogs uses his body to communicate, like when he covers his face.

    A dogs uses his body to communicate, like when he covers his face.

    Apple Tree House/Lifesize/Getty Images

    It's a thought all dog owners have at some point. Gazing into your pooch's glassy eyes or taking inventory of a room filled with chewed and torn possessions, you ask yourself, “What is he thinking?” You might wish that your canine companion could talk, but while Fido can't hold court on issues, he's often trying to tell you something with his body, like when he puts a paw on his snout.

    Before delving into finer interpretations of a dog's “paws on face” move, consider that the animal may just be scratching an itch or wiping his eyes. When performed compulsively, the move could be an indicator of a chronic condition such as rash, eye irritation or even infection. As with all animal behavior, pay attention to your pet's habits to make sure they don't stem from more serious conditions.

    Animals feel things in a more primal, rudimentary way than humans and aren't capable of advanced cognition, but that doesn't mean your pup doesn't have emotions. Happy, angry, sad, scared -- anything you feel viscerally likely has your furry friend reacting at some point as well. Each dog responds differently to his emotions, but it's not uncommon for a dog who feels afraid, embarrassed or ashamed to plant one or both paws on his snout to hide his face from whatever's causing the emotion, be it a clap of thunder or an owner's angry glare.

    Dogs are pack animals -- they're genetically predisposed to live in groups of more than one and to behave according to the pack's social hierarchy. For a companion animal, human family members are his pack and he behaves according to his interpretation of the chain of command. A dog who recognizes his owner as alpha dog is happy and secure in knowing he's taken care of, and he will communicate his submission through actions such as avoiding eye contact, giving his owner room and covering his face with his paws.

    While there are a handful of reasons a dog may cover his face with his paws, the most common one is that it makes his human happy. From the smallest teacup puppy to the greatest of Great Danes, a dog's paw-on-snout routine makes you smile, and dogs love to make people smile. All it takes is one positive response for a dog to recognize he's made you happy, and a dog's drive to appease his master will keep him rubbing those eyes until you give him the grin and belly rub he seeks.

    Photo Credits

    • Apple Tree House/Lifesize/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Rodney Wilson has been writing professionally since 2001, with articles appearing in such publications as "The Cincinnati Enquirer," "CiN Weekly," "Baby Guide" and "Akron Life." Wilson graduated summa cum laude with a BA in creative writing in 2000.

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