Why does my dog wrap his paws around my arm?

I find when my dog reaches out to me directly by placing a paw on me or wrapping his paws around my arm or leg, it is a most endearing gesture. He immediately gets my face in his and I look right into his eyes. Obviously, he has achieved his goal.

Still, it leads me to wonder, “Why does my dog wrap his paws around my arm in the first place?”

These types of questions don’t really keep me up at night, but as a dog owner and dog lover, I am curious.

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Your dog hugging you with its paws is usually a sign of affection

If one wanted a specific answer for this behavior, the most obvious is for affection.

It’s like a little puppy hug – your puppy is showing affection in a way it sees us humans show affection.

Depending on the circumstances, it may even become an automatic response to being near you.

We are again faced with the differences in our respective methods of communication.

A pup doesn’t realize they can overdo it.

As humans, we hug once when we see each other, and maybe again when we part. To a dog, one hug after another makes perfect sense.

Continuous hugging – that’s where it’s at!

Pawing you is a very direct message. Let’s look at the circumstances to help us identify more specifically why pawing occurs. Our main motivations to examine are:

  • Affection
  • Stress
  • Play
  • Competition
  • Hunger
  • Separation anxiety

If dogs can act unconsciously, so can their people.

Often, we can unwittingly encourage behavior that leaves us wondering why it happens. A dog pawing us can be one of those unwitting circumstances and is akin to the dog hugging us. However, I will include the caveat that dogs are profoundly intelligent and have an uncanny sense of how to reach us in the way that will have the intended impact.

Your dog has needs…it needs a hug

Given the variety of conditions that could prompt this behavior, it helps to take note of what is going on when this happens.

If you are one-on-one with your pooch with no one else or any other animals present, take note of the time of day.

Take note of what you are up to. What special circumstance could be causing the extra affection?

In our world of TV, phone, and computer screens, it seems our animals have figured out that they frequently need to remind us they are present.

Think of it as the poke on the shoulder when someone is trying to get your undivided attention.

After all, no one, including our precious pups, wants to be ignored.

I know in my case I have a regular time we go for walks. If I am otherwise engaged, for instance writing the latest blog submission, I can expect to find not only has my dog wrapped his paws around my leg, but he may very well go further and fetch his own leash and leave it at my feet as a subtle reminder.

My dog has an uncanny ability to tell time.

It could be dinner time, too.

This is another moment in the day that is filled with anticipation and pleasure.

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I am busy enough to let this most special moment of the day slip my mind. I am always grateful for the friendly reminder.

Now, I have doggie doors so I rarely get concerned that my dog needs to remind me it is time to go out for a potty break.

In other circumstances where a pet dog has no other way out but to reach out to his human, this would certainly be a good time to use his paws to get that message across.

Take note, also, of the other behaviors associated with this paw touching.

If the mouth is open and the tongue is out, tail is wagging, this could very well be a plea to engage in play.

Dogs love to play and in case any dog owners have not noticed, they particularly love to play with you.

Not only is wrapping the its paws around you part of the bonding that takes place, but so is the fun with which you both engage as a result.

It really is a moment to acknowledge the special relationship you both share. That is, of course, assuming it is all fun and games.

There could be other reasons that you might take heed of when it comes to other animals being present. While wrapping the paws may not be aggressive, the act of doing so may have something to do with competition.

The Hierarchy of Attention

Since we rescue dogs here at JollyMutt, we are often in the company of multiple dogs of varying sizes from no higher than six inches above the ground (Baron, the Dachshund) to as much as three feet (most of the others). Within that mix, all dogs want to have your attention.

There is always a bit of an attention grab at play amount the pooches.

We make sure to have direct contact with each one as often as we can and as they allow. I watch how the tiniest pooch makes his way to what I refer to as his sulking bed if he doesn’t get enough attention.

When play time with the large dogs end, the tiny one returns for his private moment with me. He reaches for me with paws and rests them on me. I reach down and lift him into my lap. What I am aware of is how they each want to have their moment with me.

As soon as we have shared some exchange of whatever length, they are all good to resort to their own interests (usually a chew toy of some sort) and will leave us be. I am satisfied that I have appealed to their need to connect. They are satisfied to go on about their business of being dogs leaving me to be able to do what human things I need to do.

If instead, I avoid any of them, they will persist in trying to get my attention for affection. Why wouldn’t I want to acknowledge each of them when there is such a bounty of happiness and joy right at my feet? As a dog owner, it’s in my best interest to help the dogs feel loveed and at ease.

Take Note of the Body Language for Clues

Body language is a big tip off here. The signs of a relaxed dog can almost guarantee you that this is a call for affection. However, when the dog shows signs of anxiety with pacing or crying, you might consider this is due to the possibility of separation anxiety.

You may also take note of when the anxious expression occurs, such as every time you are making leaving motions.

There are things you can do to provide a safe space for your pet that finds it hard to be apart from you. Establishing a safe sleeping space is one. Making sure there are the kinds of toys or items to keep your dog’s attention as you leave are another.

Examine your own actions.

Is it possible you are doing something that helps the dog associate a sense of reward with this dog paw-wrapping behavior?

Perhaps it is a matter of limiting the possible reasons why there is anxiety by ensuring your pet gets enough exercise and has a chance to pee as needed before leaving for any extended period. Simple deductive reasoning, right?

Sometimes your dog’s behavior is easy to figure out – sometimes not.

With sufficient observation and learning to translate your dog’s behaviors, you can reach an understanding that provides the bridge to reach each other where you exist.

When all is said and done, I believe that is all our dogs are trying to achieve with us anyway.

Penny the German Shepherd, our latest rescue

Penny is a hugger and she has been since the first day we brought her home.

My wife found her covered with tar and swampy mess near the Tractor Supply where we buy our dog food.

She willingly jumped into the back of the SUV, and she’s been with us, and hugging us, ever since.

Lovely dog.

She will get you in a tight grip though, legs wrapped around your arms or legs, and won’t let go.

We seldom know what our rescue dog’s lives were like before we found them, but in Penny’s case, I get the feeling there wasn’t a lot of love or attention. It fees like she’s grabbing ahold of us because she can, and we respond with a nice belly rub, some cuddle time, or perhaps some treats.

In Penny’s case, this is a particular dog behavior I chalk up to past neglect or perhaps even abuse.

She never lets out even the faintest growl, although there is a bit of affectionate mouthing, it cannot be thought of like a dog bite.

And her tail wagging is non-stop.

She is a pure bundle of doggy love and there’s not a malicious bone in her body.

She hugs us because she wants our attention. It’s not bad behavior and it’s not dominant dog behavior. She just wants a hug. Pretty sure that’s it. And we’re OK with that.

Conclusion: Why does my dog wrap his paws around my arm

We prefer to consider this particular behavior nothing but pure affection. It’s a canine hug. Your pet is hugging you and what could be more special than that?

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