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How to stop your dog from pawing you all the time.

When we pet our dogs it’s usually because we’re feeling affectionate towards them, or perhaps because they did something which is so damn cute or good mannered that we look to reward the behavior. 

Maybe we pet them because we feel it’s a source of comfort for them, as it often is for us. All seemingly good reasons yet this is the way that petting can develop into a bad habit. Our emotions play a large role in how we screw up our dogs.

Like most problems, this starts off innocent enough. We give Poochie an affectionate and hearty belly rub or a calmer, soothing rub on his chest as he sits so politely in front of us. Poochie quickly develops a strong liking to the sensation of being petted and, because dogs are smart, he quickly figures out how to get more of what he likes.

In his mind he may be thinking “Hey, if I sit calmly in front of mom or dad I get a nice rub.” So he sits in front of you hoping to get his rub, when it doesn’t come fast enough for him he begins to paw you. That’s when he’ll look at you and throw one of his paws up towards you landing it on your leg or hand or any other body part within reach in an effort to get your attention. If that doesn’t elicit the desired response he’ll do it again, and again, and again, delivering a succession of paw slaps. Paw, paw, paw, paw. Finally, you realize what he wants and give him his belly rub.

Bang! Big mistake. Cause that’s when you’re screwed.

One of the ways dogs learn is through association and it won’t take him long to connect the dots. Over time he’ll have learned the drill. Deliver a paw and I get a rub. Great deal!

Except that going forward he may no longer sit politely in front of you. Now he may follow you around pawing at your leg. He’s becoming more insistent and demanding.

Or he’ll position himself in front of you so that if you just bend over slightly he’ll slap you with the paw expecting his rub. He’s anticipating your moves and hoping it leads to something good for him. 

During these times you may consider his actions to be adorable, and so the petting continues. Let’s remember that each time you pet him you’re rewarding and strengthening the behavior. Over time if your dog is smart enough and needy enough simple eye contact from you may be the only signal or opening he needs to deliver a paw slap. You think you’re giving a simple rub with no strings attached but he’s making you his sucker. He’s training you!

By this time you may be petting and rubbing him so frequently that you might not be giving it a second thought. You’re on automatic. He paws, you rub. Doggy heaven. And that’s it. That’s all it takes. Congratulations. You’ve trained your dog to expect a belly rub every time he throws a paw out in your direction.

Oh? What’s that you say? You don’t rub him each and every time? Doesn’t matter.

He’s a gambler. He knows that if he does it consistently enough at some point you’re bound to give in and deliver that rub. It’s why people gamble, why it’s so addictive, and why slot machines are so popular. It’s called random reinforcement. And it means you conditioned him to try and never give up because, like gamblers, he understands that on one of his attempts you’re going to breakdown and rub him. It’s like you have “sucker” written on your forehead. 

But wait, there’s more!

Now it gets worse since he’ll soon go from requesting to demanding. He’ll be pawing you fast and often. And maybe now when you look at him he’ll gaze at you with a look on his face and an attitude that says, “Hey, this belly ain’t gonna rub itself you know.”

By the way, the paw slapping knows no limits. It’s anytime, anywhere. Oh, you’re sick? Rub me. Need to cook dinner? Rub me. Watching your favorite show? Rub me. Had a hard and trying day? I feel for you, but rub me now.

I’m an expert at training dogs to make me their bitch. 

My boy Macho is a paw slapping, belly rubbed addict. Sometimes I’m scared to make eye contact because I know what he’s after. He’ll come up on the couch as I watch TV and I’ll feel his musky dog breath and unflinching beady eyes on me as he inches closer. Yeah, I’ll ignore him. And he’ll deliver a paw to my shoulder and leave it there until I acknowledge his presence and give into his demanding ways. Sounds vulgar? I usually feel violated after I give in and rub him because I know I shouldn’t have. I’m a trainer and should know better.

Here’s one example of how demanding he can be. I like to exercise by doing sit ups and push ups but it’s a bad idea when you have a paw slapper in the house. The moment I get down on the floor at eye level he’ll casually stroll over and deliver a paw to the head. He won’t even bother to sit, he’ll just paw slap me. I’ve received paw slaps to my back, neck, butt, legs, and face while doing sit ups. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tasted dog paw.

Macho figures since I’m so low to the ground and so close in proximity to his chest and belly that this would be a good time for a belly rub. And this is all because I inadvertently trained him to expect rubs whenever and wherever he asked for them.

This is about setting limits and establishing rules, something every dog parent should be doing (and I’ll get to it myself as soon as I’m done writing this).

Here are my friendly tips and advice to tame your paw slapping addict…

* If you’re going to give in and pet him anyway at least ask for something in return. Make your dog sit or lay down if you’re going to pet him or her.

* Teach your dog a cue such as “enough” or “no more” which will demonstrate to her that petting time is over. So pet, give cue, and end the petting by walking away. COMPLETELY IGNORE AFTERWARDS.

* If your dog is too insistent, walk away and ignore him and do not give in no matter how much he paws at you. While it can take some time and patience the behavior will eventually die down. Old habits are hard to die so this can take some time and there’s a possibility your dog will have some serious withdrawals before that happens.

* If you’re going to pet your dog don’t make it one great love fest by crashing on the couch and petting her for an entire episode of Breaking Bad. You’re just continuing to reinforce her and making it harder on yourself. A little bit goes a long way.


This Post Has 38 Comments
  1. Holy cow! This post had me in tears, I was laughing so hard!! I never even knew paw slapping was a common thing. I started googling obsessive behavior with my dog, because every time I start petting him or if he is sitting on my lap he has been getting increasingly aggressive and tonight growled and snipped at my 4 year old son. Thank you for laying out the problem for me….clearly, it’s me and boundaries with Jimmy ( my 7 year old bichon.) Thank you for the great tips on how to correct this behavior – even as I type this, I have tried the “enough” strategy three times! And lastly, thank you for make it an absolutely hilarious read to validate that I am not the only person with a dog that has a paw slapping addiction!

    1. My baby is a puppy still who paw slaps me for everything not just for rubs. He claws me in the process. He is OCD with the clawing habit, and I keep hoping it’s just a puppy thing. But it’s so annoying and truthfully it really hurts. I hope that he grows out of it. But I will use these tips to try and break him of it. Thanks for the comments.

  2. Thank you so much this really helped. I have a cocker spaniel who does the exact same thing and this has really decreased her need of atttention.

    Thanks 🙂

  3. Your dogs are absolutely BEAUTIFUL! I love the second photo of her in your “About Me” – what a pretty girl!

  4. My big girl loves to lay on me and paw at me until i pet her. And she can see my phone my handcwith out lawing at me to stop and pet. I thought it was only her !

    1. It’s certainly not only her. Many dogs quickly learn this skill. And we teach them to do it forever! Don’t give in to the behavior. Stick to your guns consistently and you’ll see the behavior slowly die down.

  5. Hi there,I read your blog named “How to stop your dog from pawing you all the time. – Professional Dog Training serving the Capital Region of Upstate New York” on a regular basis.Your writing style is awesome, keep it up! And you can look our website about love spells.

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  7. Greetings from England. Typed in Google about my Newfoundland dog constantly pawing me and driving me almost insane. Never imagined I would get an answer but you did!. Thank you so much for telling me what the problem was – like others, I thought my dog was the only one.

  8. Hi there Armando

    Thank you for this, We recently adopted a four year old Terrier “not positive on exact breed” he’s a really good dog, smart, he listens and learns very fast however he was pawing like crazy for the first bit “That habit is dying down slowly”. Now he just paws at my shih tzu which so far has not been easy to solve since the shih tzu just gives in and plays with him instantly or looks at me in despair. The thing is I don’t like to see claws going at eyes and it happens constantly throughout the day… Any ideas on this one?

    1. This could be (and likely is) the same process at work. And it’s going to be near impossible to stop unless your dog stops on his own accord, or you get your Shih Tzu to cooperate and help you in your effort. Since the Shih Tzu is providing the reinforcement (giving in and playing along) your Terrier is receiving an instant reward for his pawing. As long as neither is getting hurt and the Shih Tzu appears to enjoy the interaction I would simply allow it to continue.

  9. Thank you for the tips. My 12 year old Mason started pawing after our other pet passed away and we gave him extra attention. Now he is demanding with the paw. This helps a lot.

  10. Oh wow, I’m always asking myself why my Newfie girl is so needy. She needs constant attention and always wants to be pet. It can hurt being slapped with her big paws! She has even turned to barking at me if she isn’t getting my attention. As I type this on my phone she is staring at me barking. She’s gotten worse throughout the years)or rather I have gotten worse)!!!! She’s almost 8 now, is there any hope I can do better and improve our situation?

    1. Absolutely there’s hope. But it’s important to realize that you’ve allowed the behavior to be practiced for a very long time. This means that it’s part of her normal repertoire of behavior and teaching her a different way of acting towards you is going to take some effort on your part. It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

  11. This is some really good information about dog training. I am planning on getting a puppy this summer. So, it is good to know that petting him too much could lead to him pawing at me all the time. That is a good thing for me to be aware of when I that puppy.

  12. Super helpful! My almost 1 year old furbaby will paw all day long for some belly rubs. Thanks for the tips! Do you have any advice on how to train your dog on greeting people?? When we have company (or take him somewhere) he is constantly wanting to jump on people and get super hyper. I don’t mind him getting excited that we have company over, I just don’t want him jumping on everyone. He does it to me and my boyfriend and we ignore him and he slowly calms down but when he’s around other people he just completely tunes me out and won’t listen and won’t stop jumping! He has even knocked me down before! Any advice would be appreciated!!

    1. This is a learned behavior. You have two modes of dealing with it, either you manage it or you train it, or you do both. You’re actually on the right track. The efforts that you’re making with him when he attempts this with yourself and your boyfriend are no different then what you’re going to do with any other person. Put a leash on him, keep him at a distance, and only allow him to greet other people when he first gives you calmness. Otherwise, you’re reinforcing his behavior by allowing him to practice it. You may want to reenlist the help of those he’s looking to greet.

  13. My husband, the dog’s favorite human, died a couple months ago. Recently the dog has begun pawing at me every time I sit down. Connection?

    1. No, no connection. Except that you’re now his primary human and he’s learned to push your button when seeking attention.

  14. THANK YOU!

    Paw slaps? More like CLAWING! I’ve been driven up the wall with the constant clawing! He’s just shy of one year old, and is not a small dog. I’m also deaf, so that complicates things a bit since I can’t hear this oversized doofus bark. I don’t mind gentle taps, but damn that clawing! I wish I could teach him to be gentler in letting me know he needs/wants something. Bah. I’ll be following your advice (even if you can’t follow your own)!

  15. I am with a Transport rescue group in the Dallas, TX area. We have all kinds of dogs we rescue from all kinds of situations. My current foster is a black lab mix that is HUGE and Poppy practically paw slaps all the time. I know it means he wants something because when they come from a shelter they are starving for most everything. But he had to have been in the shelter almost from birth because he was there for 3 years and he is 3 years old. I don’t know if he knows what he wants entirely or he just knows that something has been missing. When I sit on the floor with him and cuddle and pet he is excited and it seems like he wants to climb in my skin he is pressed so close. I have the scars to prove he has big claws. We tell him ‘off’ and ‘stop’ and have gone so far as to yell NO which is always my last resort as a trainer (for the last 40 years). We only have these pets about 2-4 weeks before they are transported to Minneapolis where they find new furever homes, so there isn’t much time to train them to do any specific things. We may just be able to get them started. I hope your suggestions will help Sparky learn to keep his paws and legs to himself.

    1. It sounds like a needy dog in search of attention. I don’t believe he’s looking for anything specifically. The pressing against you and pawing are signs of a dog that wants to be engaged with all the time. I see nothing wrong with telling a dog “NO” and giving some kind of consequence for unwanted behaviors. If done consistently it can go a long way towards eliminating the problem.

  16. OMG! Your post described my 8 year-old Shih Tzu perfectly. Who knew this was so common?! Leeza paws me (often in the form of whacks) whenever she wants anything – although interestingly, not when she wants to schnuggle. As you mentioned, the pawing has increased over time and is pretty annoying. I’m consistent in delivering “Enough” every time I get a paw, without giving in to whatever she’s asking for (treats are a big one!). I’ve noticed recently it’s showing signs of working but boy, is it taking a long time!

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