Dogs talk to their bodies. It can go so quickly that we overlook subtle nuances and then we wonder why they behave in a certain way. To better understand our puppies, we need to learn to pay more attention to their body language. Dog paw lifts are a term that is often ignored except by hunters of course, as in the picture below of a bird dog. Here your dog lifts one paw and positions his ears forward alertly, staring straight at the prey, stretching his tail and holding his body in place to create a message of high drive and excitement, not fear.
1. The fearful dog paw lift
It is the paw lifts of non-hunting dogs that can be a sign of fear, stress, and / or anxiety. I translate this body language in my Dog Decoder smartphone app using illustrations by Lili Chin from Doggie Drawings. There are 60 different poses and scenarios. Each pose has three parts; The pose, info, and details about the pose and the app’s star, Diamond:
In the illustration above, a dog shows fear in a number of ways, including a paw lift. Dogs often raise a paw when they’re scared. Therefore, it is important to look at their entire body – including the ears, tail, eyes, and paw – when reading your puppy. It is also important to speed up your reading. Dogs talk to their bodies for a mile per minute and instantly change signals. Don’t be discouraged if you overlook subtle signs first – the more you pay attention, the better you can understand your dog.
In fact, I have a mantra that all of my clients use when they are with their dogs. In training, just hanging out, playing fetch, driving in the car … ask yourself: “What does my dog need now?” This will help them become more aware of what their pup is saying. Try it yourself!
2. Sometimes a dog lifts a paw in anticipation
Raising paws can also be an expression of anticipation, as shown above. With that in mind, you can see Diamond has high hopes that the turkey is for him. Ears and eyes alert, head and snoop up and ready, tail out and one paw raised to signal anticipation.
3. The fearful crook of the paw
Dogs can also poke a paw to instill fear. When a dog sticks a paw while lying down, it is usually a sign of relaxation, but not always as shown in the picture above. Diamond hides under the table and doesn’t want to interact. Notice that his left front paw is tucked away and he is staring indirectly at the boy. Diamond has also pulled his body in and away from the boy and has grown small and tight – all of these are signs that he is scared and might bite. If the boy does not withdraw or the parents do not intervene to translate these “stay away” signals, he could be in serious danger.
Bottom line: keep an eye on your dog’s paws
When a dog lifts or tucks a paw, it is often one of the first signs of stress. If this goes unnoticed, at best it can lead to frustration when an undesirable behavior occurs – at worst it can lead to a bite.
Our dogs rely on us to learn their language. As you acquire this skill, you will find that your dog is not “stubborn” or “bad”. Instead, you will understand that he is anxious, excited, or anxious. With this newfound knowledge, you will be better equipped to help your dog.
For more information, download the Dog Decoder smartphone app from iTunes and Google Play. For more information, see Sarah Kalnaj’s DVD The Language of Dogs and the book Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and Preventing or Changing Unwanted Behaviors by John Ciribassi, Debra Horwitz, and Steve Dale.
Thumbnail: Photography by Dvorakova Veronika | Shutterstock.
Continue reading: 6 Things to Think About When You Have a Scared Dog