Have you ever wondered why dogs hold out their paws? Perhaps you’re like me, and you’re often wondering what goes on in your dog’s mind.
Dogs will hold out their paws toward you for various reasons, including a possible injury, expressing anxiety or curiosity, or simply seeking your attention. Certain hunting breeds will also lift their paws to exhibit focus. Whatever the reason, however, your dog is gesturing toward you because it’s one way he communicates with you.
Dogs are affectionate animals, and they long to connect with you, their pack leader. Below you’ll find a few ways to help further develop your understanding of how your dog may be trying to tell you something.
How Do Dogs Communicate?
Dogs use body language to communicate, perhaps even more so than humans. While we have the ability to speak with one another to express emotions and feelings, dogs depend on nonverbal communication and vocalization, including body language and barking (source).
It’s important to take the time to learn and understand your dog’s needs and what he is trying to tell you through his movements. Dogs desire a strong connection and a sense of belonging with you, their owner, and even other people and animals.
One way to understand more about why dogs hold out their paws is to learn more about how they communicate. Knowing why your dog does something can help you to understand his needs, and in turn, help solve his problems.
If you observe your dog carefully, you can figure out what he is trying to express through his position and the movement of his body. It is also important to understand and take note of the context in which his actions occur.
For example, most dogs wag their tails when they are excited or happy, but that is not the only reason a dog will move his tail. Tail movement can also reflect feelings of nervousness or tension. Is he jumping up and down and boisterous, or is his body stiff and his ears held back?
To determine what your dog is trying to express, you have to take a look at the context and surroundings, as well as what else your dog may be trying to show you.
If his tail is moving back and forth in a circular, side-to-side motion, he is likely at ease and comfortably happy. However, if his tail is rigid against his body and moving stiffly, he is likely anxious and unhappy about something or someone (source).
In both instances, a moving or wagging tail can be a source of communication, but in the latter situation, the communication is quite different as evidenced by his position and stillness.
When it comes to a raised paw, the same is true — context combined with other factors are both important in determining the correct meaning and even further understanding what your dog is communicating to you.
A Held-Out Paw to Express Emotion: Anxiety or Curiosity?
If your dog is holding out his paw in a situation that is new to him, or one in which there are other signals that reflect fear or discomfort, he may be doing so to express that he is not comfortable.
Sometimes, dogs will hold out their paws when they are nervous. Our immediate reaction is typically to provide some comfort, either holding his paw, petting him, or even providing him with a treat.
Of course, all of these things will help to make your dog feel better. Still, it’s equally important to take notice of the situation and remove him from a context that is resulting in his discomfort.
Take a look at his eyes, the position of his ears, as well as the stiffness of his body. If his ears are held back, his eyes low, and his body rigid or unrelaxed, your dog may be holding his paw out to you to ask for your help.
Conversely, a held-out paw could easily mean that your dog is simply curious about something. Is he in new territory with new smells and new people? If so, a held-out paw may not mean that he is uncomfortable at all but, rather, interested in something he is seeing or smelling.
Again, take note of body language and context to determine the meaning of his held-out paw. If he is comfortable, you will be able to determine so by his movement, body language, and the context of the situation.
Focused Hunting Dogs and How They Use Their Paws
If you are wondering why your English Pointer, Beagle, or Bloodhound is holding out his paw, the reason could be as simple as genetics and heredity. Some dogs are natural-born pointers, and they will use their paws to quite literally point when they see prey — or anything else they’re interested in chasing (source).
Hunting dogs will often lift their paws as a sign of focus, waiting for the exact moment in which to pounce or run after whatever it is that has gotten their attention. These are natural instincts.
If you have adopted your dog from a shelter or at an older age and he was trained to point, he will likely continue this response beyond his “hunting years.”
Regardless, he is communicating with you in some way. Many dogs who are natural pointers are telling you that they see something, and they want your attention, too.
Similarly, a dog who has been trained to lift his paw for his treat will likely do the same. If you notice that your dog lifts his paw when in search of food or treats, he may have simply been trained to do so from a young age.
A Held-Out Paw Could Be an Injured Paw
Another reason your dog may be lifting his paw toward you is that he’s injured. Before any other action, it’s important to rule out injury and make sure that there is nothing hurting your dog’s paw.
There are quite a few reasons dogs can experience injured paws, including cuts or abrasions from running on surfaces, muscle damage, or even a broken bone. If you notice excessive licking in the area of his paw, there is likely something wrong (source). You should check for broken nails as well as this can also be a problem.
If you have found an injured paw, try to keep your dog from licking the area or putting pressure on it. Call your veterinarian to be sure you do not need to get your dog extra help or first aid.
Raised Paws as a Sign of Attention-Seeking
Finally, a raised paw can simply be your dog’s way of telling you that he wants your attention. Ultimately, it’s your job as his owner to figure out what his raised paw means since every dog has his own personality and way of expressing himself.
While that sounds like a challenge, over time, you’ll find that it is pretty easy to figure out, especially as you learn more of his personality.
Dogs repeat behaviors, and, certainly, if he’s raised his paw to get you to play with him, and you’ve done just that, he will continue to do so. He knows when his attempts at communication work, as well as when they don’t.
How much playtime and exercise your dog needs will depend on his breed, but all dogs need interaction with you, their owner, as well as time to run and play — not only will it keep him healthy and happy, but it will also prevent other negative behaviors that can occur when dogs are bored or lonely (source).
When your dog gives you his paw, you’ll know that he needs something, whether it is your attention or your help. Like most of us, we want to feel comfortable in our surroundings, and it only takes a little effort to learn what your dog is trying to tell you with his paw and his body language.