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What Is the Meaning of Dogs Lifting Their Paws?

| Updated September 26, 2017

Dogs lift their paws for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they do it deliberately and sometimes it’s instinctive, but paw position and movement always give away something about their mood, intentions or physical well-being. By observing your dog’s accompanying body language and the context in which he raises his paw, you can decode this gesture to find the true meaning.


If Lucky only paws at you when you’re ignoring him and he accompanies his pawing with whining and restless behavior, it’s probable that he just wants you to pay attention to him. It can be annoying to be persistently pawed at, so don’t always respond by giving the attention, otherwise your dog will learn that this is the best way to get what he wants.


Pawing is a classic play instigation tactic that dogs use with each other and with their owners. If accompanied by a bowing posture, high energy levels and a wagging tail, it’s highly probable that Lucky is trying to play.


Lucky might raise his paws to assert himself as the dominant force in a relationship, either by pawing at or placing his paws on another person or dog to position himself in an elevated position. If Lucky is showing other signs of dominance, such as refusing to obey commands, it’s likely that this is the meaning behind his raised paws. If he’s trying to dominate members of the family, ensure that Lucky receives regular obedience training and that all family members are well drilled in how to deal with the dog’s undesirable behavior.

Seeking Reward

If you’ve trained Lucky to “high five” or to target, he’s learned that the action of a raised paw has a positive consequence. Regardless of whether you’ve asked him to raise his paw, Lucky may believe that in doing so, he’s going to get rewarded. Over time, he’ll learn that only when commanded to raise his paw does he receive his reward.


Sometimes when a dog catches a scent, he raises his paw as an instinctive response. Typically a dog with strong pointing or hunting instincts will stop dead in his tracks and will use his body to indicate the direction from which he has picked up the scent.


Lucky may avoid putting weight on his paw if it’s painful. So if he raises it off the ground when standing, or appears reluctant to put the paw down fully when walking, have a look at the paw for signs of injury. If Lucky persists with this kind of paw raising for more than a couple of days, take him to the vet for an exam.