Part of the pleasure of caring for a pet is trying to decipher their idiosyncratic behaviors. Dogs like to follow their owners everywhere due in part to having a pack mentality. They like to dig because they might be smelling something underground. But figuring out why dogs like to rest a paw on a person's leg or shoulder can be a puzzle. Some people believe it signals a dog’s dominance. Others think it’s a sign of affection. What’s the real reason?
Writing for TheDogClinic.com, accredited dog trainer Rebecca Forrest says dogs who put their mitts on humans generally want to communicate one of several things. The most obvious is that they want attention. This method of requesting your company is probably reinforced by past interactions: When dogs put a paw on someone, it’s usually seen as endearing and results in petting. The dog learns that the act will result in a belly rub, so they continue doing it.
But not all motivations for pawing are that clear. Many dogs like to paw at human company when they’re hungry or when they sense dinner is supposed to be served. The pawing is a reminder that it’s feeding time. (Naturally, owners shouldn’t react by offering a snack or food every time.)
A dog might also paw when they’re feeling stressed out. You can tell by checking to see if the dog’s ears are flat or if they’re smacking their lips, which are other signs of distress.
Dogs often paw for no reason other than wanting to bond with their owner. Touching releases oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone, just as it does in humans. While your dog may be looking for attention, is hungry, or feeling stressed, pawing can also be a sign it wants to reinforce your friendship.