You are sitting on the sofa reading a book or watching television. Your dog is lazing around next to you. Suddenly you feel a paw right on your face. You look at the dog and wonder what your beloved furball wants.
Your dog could be hungry, did not want to be ignored anymore, want to go out, or simply wanted to say, ‘I love you.’
Dogs will bark, whine, growl, sigh, groan and howl to try and communicate with you. And if vocalizations fail to get your attention, it will use its paws to point at objects or place its paws on your body.
You need to consider the context of the behavior to understand why your dog is behaving. For example, is it time for the dog’s meal? Or were you away the whole day and could not spend time with the pet?
So, if you are one of the pet parents wondering, ‘why does my dog put his paw on my face,’ the article will explore possible reasons. And if you want to stop the behavior, we will look at techniques that may help.
Why Does My Dog Put His Paw on My Face?
Let us look at nine possible reasons your dog put its paws on your face.
1. Your Dog Wants Attention
What would be the best way to get your attention than placing a paw on your face? You may try to remain still, but the action is so in the face that most times, you would give in and react, even if it is to remove the paw from your face.
All dogs want attention. Some dog breeds are independent, and a minimal level of attention will be enough for them. Breeds like Greyhounds, Basset Hounds, Maltese, and Pugs are low-maintenance.
You may have taken the pet for a walk and played with it. But the dog may still plop itself on you, paw, or nudge you for attention. On the other hand, some dog breeds will want your attention 24/7.
Breeds like Siberian Huskies, Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, and Jack Russell Terriers require much attention.
2. Your Dog is Expressing the Emotion of Love
As a dog owner, you love your goofy little pet. You may express your love by hugging, petting, and raining the dog with kisses.
Dogs are capable of feeling the emotion of love. And they will use non-verbal cues to let you know they love and care about you. For example, the dog will paw at your face, lick, hug, or try to cuddle with you as a form of love expression.
You tenderly gazing at your dog may help you relax and lead to the release of love hormones. Again, it is the same for your dog.
These hormones help strengthen the bond between you two. It helps develop a relationship of trust.
If you are quietly enjoying each other’s company, the dog puts its paw on your face, looks at you, and is otherwise calm; it would be safe to assume that the dog is expressing its love.
3. Your Dog is Stressed or Anxious
Dogs can get stressed or anxious for several reasons. For example, loud noises like thundering or firecrackers, strangers inside the house, or other pets can be causes of anxiety in dogs.
Such behavior is typically rooted in the dog’s history. For example, dogs that are not well-socialized, neglected, or abused take time to open up to new experiences. Your dog may panic and look to you for comfort when faced with such situations.
These dogs need extra love and care regarding training and overcoming triggers.
Your dog loves and trusts you to take care of it. You are its safe space. So, when the dog is stressed or anxious, it may find you and place its paws on your face. According to AKC, your dog may have a low tail, and uneasiness will appear on its face.
Your dog is seeking comfort and assurance. You can pet the dog or repeatedly assure it that it is ok. If the dog is too stressed, separate it from the trigger.
4. Your Dog May Want Food
It is no surprise that dogs like to eat. Human food may seem all the more tempting to the dog as it smells way better than kibble. So, you may find the dog begging for food, hoping you would throw some table scraps for it to gobble up.
On other occasions, it may put its paw on your face so it can enjoy some dog treats.
You should be careful of such behavior. If you give in to the pawing and reward the dog with food, the behavior will soon turn into a habit.
Keep the dog from dictating its meal and treat times. Giving an excessive amount of food can make the dog overweight. It would be best to ignore food-related pawing.
If you are concerned your dog may be going hungry, you can consult with the vet. In addition, you can get a customized diet plan that will ensure the dog receives the right nutrition.
5. Your Dog Wants You to Continue with the Activity
Dogs like it when you shower them with affection, play with them, give them toys and spend quality time with them. And they would want you to keep going with the activity.
So, the ‘activity’ here can be petting, cuddling, hugging, kissing, or playing. For example, your dog likes it when you pet it. So, you may pet it for 10 minutes, give it one kiss and attempt to get up.
Your dog was enjoying the pets and did not want you to get up. So, it will put its paw on your face, asking you to keep going.
The dog will immediately place its paw on you. Such pawing will be almost immediate. For example, when you are done petting, you withdraw your hand and place it in your lap.
So, the next time it happens, you know the paw means the pet wants you to keep going.
6. Your Dog Wants to Initiate Playtime
Your dog might be trying to get your attention because it wants to play. It may first try to get you to play by barking, jumping in front of you, and finally deciding to sit on you and place its paw on your face.
The action may be accompanied by others, like pointing to the door or bringing toys and placing them at your feet or in your lap.
Different dog breeds have different requirements when it comes to exercise, playtime, and mentally stimulating activities. If the dog is not engaged enough, it will resort to such behavior to get your attention.
So before you bring home a dog, you must understand the level of care and attention it needs. Failing to meet such requirements can make the dog unhappy and lead to destructive behaviors.
7. Your Dog is Trying to Comfort You
Dogs are natural empaths, one of the reasons they make for excellent service animals. There have been studies that found that dogs are capable of understanding the emotional state of people they love.
Dogs cannot make sense of complex emotions, but they understand when you are happy, sad, stressed, or anxious.
So, for example, if you are sitting on the sofa crying or anxiously worrying, you will find the dog hovering around you. It understands you are not ok and will attempt to comfort you.
Placing its paw on your face is one of the dog’s ways of saying, ‘It is ok; I am here for you.’ There are days when the dog looks to you for comfort, and on others, it is a part of your support system.
8. You Have Encouraged the Dog to Put Its Paw on Your Face
One of the reasons for ‘why does my dog put his paw on my face’ is you, yourself. You have encouraged the behavior, and now the dog has made it a habit.
Dogs do not have a moral sense of what behavior is right or wrong. It is the result that determines whether it will repeat the behavior. The dog is looking out for itself, a basic survival instinct.
For example, the first few times the dog placed its paw on your face, you reacted with pets and cuddles. Or you may have gotten up to play with it or fed it some table scraps.
All these reactions are positive. The dog sees these reactions as rewards. The dog learns, ‘ I put my paw on my human’s face, I get a reward.’
There is no reason for it to stop the behavior. You have not shown any aversion to its paw. In the dog’s world, everything is good.
If the behavior starts getting annoying, you should pay attention. You may have to direct the pet’s attention or engage it in other activities. Breaking an undesirable behavior will take more time and consistent training.
9. Your Dog Could Be in Pain
Your dog may develop health issues that may not show any outright symptoms like redness, inflammation, or discharge. But the dog could be in pain. Placing its paw on your face could be the dog’s cry for help. It may be trying to tell you it is not ok.
Suppose the dog’s food, exercise, and playtime routine are taken care of. In that case, you need to consider an underlying health concern to be the cause, especially if the pawing is a new and sudden behavior.
Some warning signs that may indicate your dog’s pain are increased vocalization, like whimpering and whining, reduced appetite, irritability, and change in sleeping habits.
It would be best if you discuss the sudden behavior changes with the vet. Then, if needed, the vet can call in for a physical checkup.
How to Stop Your Dog From Pawing At You?
If you do not mind the dog putting its paw on your face to show affection or get your attention, there is nothing to worry about. But if you do not want the behavior to continue, below are a few tips that may help.
1. Fulfill Your Dog’s Exercise and Attention Needs
If the dog keeps pawing at you to get your attention, it may feel ignored or has too much energy and no outlet to spend. The dog may want you to play with it, take it outside, or sit together.
It is natural for dogs to want to be in the company of their humans. If its basic stimulation needs are not met, it will look for other ways to spend its energy.
Thus, it is important you ensure the dog gets enough exercise and is engaged in meaningful activities. If you need to stay away for work, consider hiring a dog sitter or enrolling the pet in doggy daycare.
2. Ignore the Behavior
If you do not want to encourage any new behavior, the best thing to do is ignore it. For example, when the dog begs for food or wants an unreasonable amount of attention, ignore it.
Do not push the dog or forcibly move its paw. The dog may misconstrue the reaction as play and may respond with its own friendly wrestling moves.
Ignore the dog; when it sees it is not getting the desired result, the dog will eventually stop. Any reaction and the dog will think – ‘I only need to try harder for a reaction.’ But it would help if you were consistent.
3. Address Triggers
You must address the triggers if the dog seeks you out when anxious. For example, if other animals scare your dog, you need to start getting it comfortable around them and show they mean no harm.
You could arrange a playdate where both dogs are kept on a leash and are at a distance from each other. Next, you can reduce the distance between them but keep the dogs on the leash. Then, once comfortable, you can allow short interactions off the leash.
You can gradually let the dog around other animals before you take it to a social place like the dog park.
As you address the trigger, the dog will not come seeking you every time it sees another dog nearby.
4. Redirect the Behavior
Next time the dog places its paw on your face, first ignore it. When the dog stops and leaves you alone, call it back. Command it to stay or go towards its crate or play area. When the dog obeys you, give it a small treat.
This teaches it that behaviors like pawing do not get your reaction, but listening to your commands gets its rewards. You can use this opportunity to teach the dog new tricks.
Why does my dog put his paw on my face? It could be because the dog wants your attention, it could be hungry, it wants to play, or it may want you to keep petting it.
The dog may use its paw to show affection towards you or comfort you when upset.
The behavior is not a cause for concern. But if you do not want the dog to place its paws on your face, you can try techniques like ignoring and redirecting its attention.
The behavior could also mean the dog is stressed, anxious, or in pain and is seeking comfort. In such cases, it would be best to consult with the vet.
Elena Gherman is a highly skilled and knowledgeable animal care expert. At the start of her career, she gained practical expertise with multiple animals. In addition to that, she works as a DVM veterinary editor for Joy Pet Products, which focuses on offering reliable information on pet health and wellbeing. She meticulously reviews each piece of writing before it is published to make sure pet owners get the most precise and updated information possible.