Dog Pawing Behavior: What It Means And How To Stop It

Dog Paws
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As a professional dog trainer, I’ve witnessed dogs pawing people, which leave long scratches on arms and legs behind. Many years ago, during a private dog training lesson, a Great Dane welcomed me at the front door with a massive swat across my back. Wow, that scratch burned, bled and bruised over the next couple of days. The pet owner and I immediately put a plan into place to prevent it from happening again. If your dog paws at you or your guests, check out these tips to avoid painful dog scratches.

Why Dogs Paw

Dogs paw at people for numerous reasons. They paw mostly because it’s been rewarded. When a dog paws a person, the person will most likely turn around and look at the dog, which is considered a reward for some dogs. Additionally, pet owners may respond to dog paws by:

  • Petting their dog.
  • Continuing to pet their dog.
  • Picking up their dog’s paw and moving it.
  • Giving bits of food under a table when the dog paws a leg.

Teaching a dog to “shake” can increase pawing behavior. When dogs learn that “shake” makes treats appear, they will offer a “shake” behavior more often. Plus, dogs will try out their new behavior with guests in hope of treats. 🙂 Instead of teaching a dog to “shake,” teach him a stationary behavior, such as “sit.” This prevents a dog from pawing guests, and it’s a great behavior to reward.

How to Stop Dog Pawing Behavior

When behaviors are no longer rewarded, they will disappear. When a dog paws at you, take a step back and wait until all four feet touch the ground. The moment all four feet touch the ground, say “yes” and reward your dog. Of course, most dogs will paw right afterwards because they’re not sure which behavior provided the treat. Reward only when all four on the floor again.

Continue to practice daily, and wait for your dog to make a choice—watching your dog make a decision is a glorious thing to watch. Some dogs will gently place their paw on a person, think for a few seconds, then drop their paw to the ground. Reward good choices every time!

To prevent your dog from jumping up and pawing guests, teach him to “touch” guest’s hands with his nose. This keeps all four feet on the ground, gives your dog a chance to decide if he wants to greet a guest and offers a form of physical contact (like petting) for your guest.

If you don’t reward it, the behavior will disappear. 🙂

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