Dogs have numerous methods of communicating and their paws are a vital part of their repertoire. The same dog could use his paw to communicate two entirely different things, depending on his mood. The key to understanding the meaning of this behavior is to observe the accompanying body language.
An excitable, happy dog who places his paw on you is most typically trying to instigate play. If he’s wagging his tail, running away and then back, “bowing” and possibly even barking it you, he’s saying “Come on, let’s play!” If his request is ignored, he may intensify his behavior to include jumping and mouthing. If you want to play, there is no harm in accepting the invitation, but if you want to discourage your dog from using his paws so readily, playing with him when he does this will only encourage him to repeat the action. In which case, ignore him until he calms down before joining in the play.
If your dog places his paws on you in an attempt to subdue you, for example by standing on his hind legs and putting his paws on your chest or shoulders, or by putting his paws on your back if you’re on the ground, he’s trying to assert his dominance. This behavior must be corrected firmly and consistently. If you let him get away with doing this, he’ll begin to believe that he is the top dog. A dog attempting to assert his dominance in this way will not demonstrate the lively demeanor of a dog instigating play. Instead, he may accompany this behavior with a fixed gaze and may even growl as he does so.
If Lucky is feeling ignored, he may use his paw to let you know he’s there. Attention seeking is not the same as play solicitation. An attention seeking dog just wants you to notice him. Discourage this behavior, as your dog should learn that he only gets attention on your terms, not his. Typical accompanying behaviors include whining, jumping up and any other unruly behavior that Lucky knows will make you pay attention, for example inappropriate chewing. As hard as it may seem, it’s imperative to ignore this behavior and to only give attention when your dog is being well behaved and passive.
If you’ve trained your dog to raise his paw, for example during target training or by giving the classic “high five,” he may use his paw to get a reward from you. In Lucky’s mind, raising the paw elicits a reward, whether that’s verbal praise or a treat. What he doesn’t understand is that the reward is only forthcoming when he raises his paw on command. Lucky may think that you’ve not noticed his brilliant trick and will therefore put his paw on you to let you know that he’s doing the trick.
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