Why Does My Dog Hit Me With His Paw?

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My dog uses his paws way more than I’ve seen other dogs. I’ve only had him for a year but he keeps finding new ways to use them!

He used to just bat his toys around the floor but recently he started hitting me in the leg with his paws. It seemed like it was a totally random times and I couldn’t figure out why he kept doing it.

I looked into it a bit and I finally realized why my dog kept hitting me! 

So why do dogs hit people with their paws?

Dogs paw at you to communicate. They could simply be asking for something, like food, attention, or play, or it may be more complex social engagement expressing love, submission, or dominance. You need to understand what your dog is communicating when they hit you with their paw before you address the behavior.

For me, I realized that my dog would find me, sit, and hit me with his paws every time that the neighbor’s lawn care crew came and used the leaf blower.

He was nervous about the sound he hadn’t heard before (I don’t leaf blow) and was making sure I heard it too and asking for attention and reassurance that we don’t need to be worried and go barking at the neighbor’s landscapers.

Regardless of the situation, pet parents should realize that if their dog is hitting them with their paw, that the dog is trying to communicate SOMETHING to them, and that it’s their responsibility to figure out why.

This article will help you figure out what your pup is trying to communicate and this table of contents will help you find what you’re looking for:

10 Reasons Your Dog Is Hitting You With Their Paw

1. Asking for Food

Let’s be honest, dogs usually have food not far from their minds. It is very likely that your dog is pawing at you to ask for a meal or a treat.

This is probably pretty obvious to you if your dog always paws at you while you’re sitting down to eat a meal.

It may also be that your dog is pawing at you when it is close (or if they think it is close) to their mealtime. 

When we change the clocks back for Daylight Savings Time, my dog pawed at me, grunted, and barked, thinking that I was an hour late feeding her dinner.

If your dog only paws certain people in your house, it may be worth asking them if they are giving them table scraps for extra treats. Your dog may be seeking them out in particular and displaying this particular behavior because they think they’ll get a reward.

2. Asking for Attention

Giving someone a poke is a universal way of getting that person’s attention, and your dog knows this rule just as well as you do. 

This is especially true if you have discouraged your dog from barking or from doing other loud or demonstrative behaviors. They may begin to hit you with their paw as a quiet, new way of getting your attention.

Dogs may hit you with their paws if they need to go outside to relieve themselves, especially if you are not paying close attention to them. It is not uncommon for a dog to surprise their TV-watching parent with a poke or paw to the foot when they least expect it.

Paw hitting for attention may occur at particular times of the day, such as when you are getting ready for work or preparing for bed. What your dog is trying to get your attention for may be something as simple as some snuggles, a scratch, or for you to open the door so that they can go outside.

Or it may be that they are trying to alert you to something, like a neighborhood dog walking by or someone in the driveway. 

The main point here is to understand that your dog is trying to draw your attention to them, so what they do after they have gotten your attention is key.

However, be careful that they don’t wield this tool to the point of abuse. Successfully pawing to get your attention will, of course, lead to more pawing every time that they want your attention and that can get old very quickly. 

3. Showing Affection

In most cases, a dog is hitting their pet parent or another person in the house with their paw in order to show affection.

Your dog loves you!

And, just like people, they want to express that love through physical touch.

Some dogs use their paws more than others. Dogs that do use their paws are likely to use them to come into physical contact with someone they care about, not unlike a person reaching out to hold your hand or pat you on the back.

This is why it is common for dogs to hit their pet parents when their pet parents are petting or brushing them. It is obvious to the dog that they are engaging in a peaceful, bonding moment. While it may seem kind of silly, your dog is probably trying to pet you back.

Your dog may hit you with their paws when you are talking with them or playing with them as a way for them to engage with you back.

Or they may do it when you or they are sleeping. It’s reassuring for your dog to know that you are close by while they sleep.

4. Asking for Play

Playfully poking at a friend is a silly way to entice them to play, and your dog knows that, too. 

If they hit you with their paw when you are playfully talking with them or are otherwise getting them worked up, excited, or anticipating playtime, there is a good chance they are hitting you so that they can continue to up the ante and engage you further.

Again, this is often targeted towards certain individuals in the house, particularly the kids who are more likely to play with them.

But anybody can be the target of a playful poke from the paw of a dog who is in the right mood.

5. Want You To Stop Something

Your dog may be hitting you with their paw because they want you to stop doing something and are physically trying to stop your hands or get your attention.

While it might be nice to think that your dog is trying to brush you back while you are running a detangler through their coat, it’s likely that your dog is trying to stop your arm from continuing to brush through his tangled hair.

Conversely, though, many people find that their dogs will hit them with their paws when they stop petting their dog. This is likely because they have enjoyed the petting time and are now frustrated that you are stopping, so a poke with a paw may be their way of saying “hey, don’t stop petting me.”

They may also poke at you when you are leaving the house or when you are not paying attention to them and want you to stop what you’re doing and get their attention.

Remember,  when a dog is hitting you with their paw, they are trying to communicate how they feel, so context is incredibly important when you’re trying to understand why your dog is hitting you.

If you are doing something that the dog may not like when they hit you with their paw, it is likely because they just want you to cut it out!

6. Expressing Empathy and Love

Dogs have an incredible amount of emotional intelligence and are especially in tune with their pet parents and family. A dog may hit you with their paw not to get something for themselves but maybe doing so how to express sympathy with you.

Dogs show many signs of understanding when their owners or the people around them are going through hard times. Stress, grief, sadness, depression, and anger in pet parents have all been shown to cause emotional responses in their dogs.

Dogs, being unable to send a wreath of flowers when a loved one passes away, have to use their bodies to show you that they understand and care about you. These behaviors include hitting you with their paw as well as 

  • Resting their head on you or maintaining an above-average amount of physical contact
  • Sighing, howling, barking, or other out of place vocalizations
  • Sudden separation anxiety
  • Excess licking

While it may not be the shoulder to cry on that you need, understand that that awkward hit on the arm from your dog’s paw may be their way of consoling you the best way they know how. 

7. They Already Know How To Do It

This section mainly applies to people who have adopted their dogs or who have otherwise ended up with a dog who used to belong to someone else. If you raise your dog from a puppy, you probably know all the tricks that they know.

However, if someone else used to own your dog, it may be that they taught them to use their paw to shake or to give a high five.

So what you see as them weirdly hitting you with their paw may actually be them going for a high five, and you left them hanging! 

Even if you have had your dog for a long time, they may still be able to do this trick, and maybe you trying to use it with you, even though you’ve never taught it to them.

I have taught my dog a lot of different tricks over the years. When she wants a treat from me I usually ask her to sit, but if it’s a really high-value treat or she’s particularly hungry, she’ll sit for a second, and then she’ll lie down, and then she’ll rollover. And then she’ll speak, and then she’ll get up on her hind legs, running through all of the tricks that she knows, even though I never asked her to do anything besides sit.

Your dog may just be running through all of the things that they used to get a reward for, trying to get a reward now. 

8. Submissive Behavior

When a dog hits you with their paw, the context and way that they do it matters so much when trying to understand what your dog is trying to communicate with you.  If they are not asking for something specific, it is likely that your dog is hitting you with their paw to be submissive.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is afraid or that you have any sort of negativity in your relationship. Dogs are pack animals and live in your house with you, understanding that they are part of the pack.

Hopefully, you are the one who calls the shots and tells everyone else what to do. If your dog hits you with their paw, they may be doing so in an attempt to give you the respect you deserve and show deference to you.

A lot of people also will experience their dog hitting them with their paw if their dog is feeling or acting guilty. If the dog has done something like have an accident on the carpet or tear up one of your shoes, they may paw at you and do other strange behaviors, trying to appease you or say they’re sorry.

9. Dominant Behavior

Oddly enough, this behavior can also be a sign of dominance in your dog. Your dog may be hitting you with their paw not to show you respect but to give you a knock and to show you that they think that they are the ones in charge.

This is especially true if your dog is trying to put his paw on top of you. Being physically on top of another dog is a sign of dominance in a pack. Your dog hitting you and trying to show you that they are physically dominant over you is a telltale sign that they are not giving you the respect you deserve as their pet parent.

This may also be true if the hits are hard or if you end up with scratches. Your dog should know not to hit you in the face, so if they have started hitting you with their paw in the face or harder than normal, it’s likely that they’re being dominant.

This may just be a phase. Some dogs will do this when they are in their “teenage years,” from when they are about 6 months old until they are about 18 months old.

Dogs during this time, just like teenagers, are testing their limits with you and learning how to be comfortable in their bodies with their impulses and all of the rules that they are having to abide by.

It may be that they grow out of this behavior when they are no longer adolescents and are fully mature dogs.

10. Aggressive Behavior

Being dominant and being aggressive does not always happen at the same time. A dominant dog may have no interest in hurting you or taking the interaction any further. They may just be trying to move up a notch in the pack.

This may lead to aggression or the dog may just be aggressively defensive or territorial. Again, if you end up with scratches or if the behavior is coupled with growling, barking, snarling, or any other signs of aggression that are outside of the norm for you and your dog, they may be ready to take things to the next level.

Should I Stop My Dog From Hitting Me With Their Paws?

Yes, you should stop your dog from hitting you with their paw or at least teach them to control the behavior. It can easily lead to scratching or more damaging forms of communication that not everyone will like. 

Still, the answer to this question depends a lot on the particular situation in which your dog hits you. 

If your dog only hits you with their paws when they need to go outside, then this may be a great communication tool to help you get them outside before they have an accident.

But if they hit you every time you try to put your shoes on, that will probably get annoying for you pretty quickly.

In addition, if you have small children or someone who is not so sure-footed in the house, getting poked isn’t just annoying, it’s potentially dangerous.

If you had a friend who would give you a poke on your arm or shoulder every once in a while, fine. If they did it every time they saw you, every time they wanted to eat something, every single time, then it’s no longer a nice gesture.

You and your dog have worked out your communications with each other, so they should not take advantage of how much you want to help them by hitting you with their paw whenever they want something.

And if you ignore them when they paw at your, they may decide to escalate things by not just hitting you with their paw but giving you a scratch. Or hitting you and barking. Or trying to crawl on top of you.

If they learn that this is a useful way of getting what they want, then they may develop other behaviors similar to hitting you with their paw as well. And, frankly, most of what they will come up with by themselves is not something that you want. Who wants to get scratched on the shin before giving their dog a treat? 

However, not every dog will naturally abuse this form of communication. Some dogs may just do this behavior from time to time when they want something specific.

But even if that’s the case, you should still learn how to control the behavior so that you can stop it if they do it too much.

And also, you can redirect this behavior and turn it into a cute, fun trick that you and your dog can do together. 

How To Stop Your Dog From Hitting You With Their Paws

Now that you know why your dog is hitting you with their paw, it’s time to move on to the action phase of things.

It is important that you have identified the specific situation in which your dog hits you with their paw. If you don’t know, go back and review the section above where I listed the reasons that your dog could be hitting you. The answer is almost surely up there, you just need to watch your dog and the environment they are in when they hit you with their paw to unlock the secret.

Even if you do not altogether hate that your dog hits you with their paw, it is still important to run through some of the steps below to make sure that you have control over the behavior how you two communicate to ensure that it doesn’t spiral into worse behaviors. 

Clip Their Nails

You will thank me for this piece of advice later. Make sure you clip your dog’s nails first before you start to do anything else.

You are going to have to continue working with your dog’s paws in order to teach them not to hit you with them. You want to make sure that no one gets scratched while you are doing training time, so having a well-manicured dog is a great first step.

I use and recommend this Dremel tool on Amazon. It’s fast and safe, which is great because it’s both of our least favorite grooming chores.

Teach Shake or High-Five

If your dog is prone to hitting you with their paw, it may seem counter-intuitive to teach them how to do a trick that requires them to hit you with their paw.

However, giving a name to the behavior and asking them to do it in certain situations can help your dog understand that it is something specific and not just a means of asking to go outside.

Once your dog has a word to associate with the behavior, and a situation in which they are asked to do that behavior, they will be less likely to randomly do it and just hit you with their paws when you don’t say shake or high five.

Here’s a super helpful video that teaches you how to teach your dog 3 different paw-related tricks:

Teach Them Another Behavior

Your dog is hitting you with their paw in order to ask you for something or communicate something to you.

It is unlikely that you are going to be able to prevent your dog from asking you for things, nor should you. This is, after all, a relationship, and you should want to be able to ask you for things that they want or need.

Therefore, you should give them another behavior to do besides hitting you with their paw when they want….whatever it is that they want.

If your dog hits you with their paw when they need to go outside, you don’t want to teach them not to let you know when they want to go outside, but you might want them to do something besides punch you.

So instead, teach your dog how to do something else. Since they are hitting you with their paw, you should think of something that is an easy transition for them to mentally make so that they can start doing the other Behavior when they need to go outside.

A good trick you can do is to keep a bell in your pocket. When your dog it’s you with their paw to go outside or ask for whatever it is you have figured out they are hitting you for, instead of immediately letting them go out, bring out the bell.

Get your dog to ring the bell before you open the door and let them out. This should be pretty easy since they are already pawing at you.

Doing this over and over again will associate the sound of the bell with the going outside part of things that your dog needs.

Eventually, you can hang the bell by the door. Then, instead of hitting you, your dog can go and bell to alert you.

These dog training bells are perfect. Super easy for dogs to use and they come in a two-pack, so you can keep one on you and leave one by the door so your dog can figure things out even faster.

Over time, you may be able to get rid of the bell and your dog will just sit by the door when they need to go outside since that’s where the bell used to be. 

Make Your Dog Use Other Behaviors To Get What They Want

This is a crucial step that a lot of parents struggle with. You are trying to change their behavior. It can be fun and easy to carry a bell in your pocket and to give your dog the rewards that it wants. But it is much harder to deny them what they are asking for when they are asking for it.

But that is where the learning happens.

Your dog needs to figure out that hitting you with their paws is no longer the way to get what they want. 

They are probably going to keep hitting you with their paw for a long time until they figure out another way of getting what they need. It will be stressful for them, but in that stress, they will start to figure out what they need to do.

So it is important that you do not give in to their hitting you by rewarding them with the treat like you used to. The point is to change their behavior, so from now on, hitting you with their paws is not how they get what they want. 

Reward Positive Behaviors

This is a little bit like giving them another behavior, but it is instead a bit more abstract and works in the long-term to change overall behavior, not just specific action-oriented behaviors.

If your dog used to hit you with their paw when they wanted a treat, and you have been diligently working with them to stop hitting you, you should just give them treats when they are doing things that you like.

For example, if your dog is quietly, peacefully laying down in the hallway, give them a treat then.

If you are dog walks up to you and sits nicely, give them a treat then, too.

Basically, any time that you see that your dog has done or is doing a behavior that you would prefer that they do, reward them. This will encourage them to, on their own, come up with behaviors and make decisions that are more in line with what you want.

They will learn that dogs who are calm and lay quietly or dogs who sit like good boys get treats, and dogs who punch their owners in the face and the like do not.

Remove The Opportunity

This is a particularly important step if your dog hits you with their paws in certain situations. 

Like I just discussed in this section above, it is important not to give your dog the rewards that they want when they hit you with their paw.  This is very straightforward when it’s something like a treat. Just don’t give them a treat and they won’t get what they want.

However, this becomes more complicated if your dog hits you every time you are trying to leave the house or every time you use that funny voice with them.

While you are teaching your dog not to hit you with their paw, it may be that you need to remove the situation entirely so that they can learn other behaviors and not backslide their training.

For example, if your dog paws at you when you are getting ready to leave the house, you may need to lock them up in their crate or put them in another room while you get yourself ready, when they would otherwise be hitting you with their paw.

Or if they always hit you when you are sitting at the dinner table or when you are trying to play with them in a funny voice, you may need to lock them up during dinner time or just stop using that funny voice.

Now that you are training them not to do this behavior any opportunity that they get to do it is a step in the wrong direction. 

Encourage No-Touching Interactions

This may sound harsh but it is an important step to ensure that your dog does not develop anxieties or end up simply replacing hitting you with their paw with another negative behavior.

Once you start weaning your dog off of hitting you with their paw, you may find that they are more likely to bump into you, lean on you, lick your hand, or otherwise try to find ways to nudge and cuddle with you.

Again, you may not find this to be bad behavior, but it is important to control how your dog gets affection from you.

Dogs who need too much physical contact with their owners are more likely to develop separation anxiety and have other bad behavior issues like being possessive of one person in the house or territorial of the property.

Of course make sure you pet, love, and cuddle with your dog, but do not let your dog become too dependent on physical contact with you.

Just make sure that you give them opportunities to touch and cuddle with you in situations that you have invited them to. The main problem with the dog hitting you with their paw is that it is likely to encourage bad behaviors over time, so making sure that it happens on your terms and not theirs is a great way to curb the behavior and still make sure you and your dog get to be close with each other.

Closing Thoughts

A playful poke from your Chihuahua’s paw me seem cute and just downright funny. But a punch in the face from a Staffordshire Terrier is a behavior that you need to get control over ASAP.

Your dog is hitting you with their paw in order to communicate…… something. It could be a simple desire for a treat or snack or it may be that they are scared or worried, it could be anything.

Armed with the list above, you, their beloved pet parent, should be able to pinpoint why your dog is hitting you with their paw.

Once you are armed with that knowledge, it is important for you to control this behavior so that it does not evolve into other problems. 

Being on the same page about what your dog is doing and why they are doing it, and what you should do next, is an important step towards establishing and maintaining consistent language between the two of you.

Correcting the behavior and redirecting the impulse is not altogether that difficult, but it will take consistency and a desire to make improvements to how you and your dog communicate, and your dog hitting you with their paw is probably not the best language to communicate with.