Basic education

Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 15, 2024
Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw?

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Dogs lifting their front paw is a common trick that is taught in obedience training. For most dogs, it is a behavior which can be easily assimilated and is often one of the first lessons they learn. When a dog lifts their front paw regularly without being given the command, it might mean they want to communicate something else with us. Rarely is this a problem. It is usually related to their instinct or experience, something which can vary between breeds and individual dogs. To understand why a dog keeps lifting their front paw, it is important we look at the context of this behavior.

At AnimalWised, we ask why does my dog lift a front paw? We look at all the possible reasons for this behavior so we can better understand our dog. While it is usually not something to be worried about, we also need to ensure there isn't something physically or emotionally wrong which can lead to this behavior.

  1. Canine body language
  2. In is a behavior of their breed
  3. Hunting behavior
  4. They are curious about other smells
  5. Invitation to play
  6. Fear, submission or discomfort
  7. Punishment
  8. They want some love
  9. Canine training and skills
  10. They have an injury
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Canine body language

As with human beings, dogs have a series of signals, body postures and vocalizations which are used to try to communicate between each other and other animals. These are used to express desires and emotions, either related to instinctual behavior or in specific situations. While we may spend all day with our dogs, it is easier than we think to misinterpret their language. One common mistake is to interpret what they are trying to say through the prism of human communication.

Confusing canine and human behavior generates distortion of what the dog is trying to express, but also reinforces misunderstanding. While this may not be a big problem in individual cases, if miscommunication continues over a long period of time it can led to stress and aggression in the dog. This is because they feel like they are not being listened to. They might also be having some of their basic care needs ignored. The result can forever damage the bond we share with our pets.

If you see that your dog is changing their behavior or becoming frustrated easily, it is possible you have not stopped to analyze their behavior. We need to look at the gestures our dogs make and really consider what they are trying to communicate. This is the reason many guardians wonder why a dog lifts their front paw while sitting, usually because it is easier to do than when standing.

Raising a front paw is one of the most common gestures dogs use to try to speak to us. Here are the possible reasons a dog may be lifting their front leg toward you.

1. In is a behavior of their breed

While all dog breeds may try to lift their front paw to communicate with us, some do it more than others. Boxer dogs in particular are known for the use of their front legs to express themselves in various situations. They don't only use one paw, but often use both to try to draw attention to something. This could be trying to alert us to prey or if there is something they want, they may point to it to get our attention. Another example is the English Pointer. This breed's name comes from its ability to use their front leg to point in the direction of prey once they pick up on their scent.

Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw? - 1. In is a behavior of their breed

2. Hunting behavior

While dogs like the English Pointer can be trained specifically to work with human hunters to find specific prey, it is an adaptation of a natural canine behavior. When a dog lifts its front leg, it is part of the hunting sequence. This is why it is more common to see dogs such as Beagles, Bracco Italianos or Bloodhounds engaging raising their front paws in this way.

The hunting sequence is a so-called because it goes through stages. These stages include tracking, stalking, chasing, capturing and killing their prey. For the dog to track their prey, they have to first pick up their scent. When this happens, they will point out their nose, straighten their back, stretch out their tail and lift their front leg. They will usually be standing and not sitting when they raise their paw in this way as it is a state of action.

Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw? - 2. Hunting behavior

3. They are curious about other smells

While dogs may raise their front legs when they pick up on the trail of prey, there are other smells which will stimulate them. A dog's olfactory sense is very acute, much more than we humans. A dog might be seen raising a paw because they smell something which piques their instincts. They might smell a piece of distant pizza or even pick up on the urine smell of a female dog in heat. If the latter is the case, you may even see them get down to the ground and lick it to find out more information. Also, predators or rival dogs might give them pause. They may lift their leg to be in a state of preparedness.

Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw? - 3. They are curious about other smells

4. Invitation to play

Sometimes, we might see a dog raising a paw as a means to invite us to play. This is usually a precursor to another common posture dogs adapt to initiate play. This is when they place both their front paws on the ground, lower their head down and raise their tail. If your dog adopts this position, then it is almost certain they are inviting you to play with them. It is not limited to humans, but they will do it with other dogs and other animals.

If a dog is not so sure they want to play, but they are considering it as an option they may only raise one front leg and tilt their head. This is a way for the dog to express their curiosity about you. It is even possible that their favorite toy is nearby and they are wanting you to pick it up and play with it. If you are holding it in your hand, they may lift their leg and place their paw on you to tell you they want it.

Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw? - 4. Invitation to play

5. Fear, submission or discomfort

When two dogs are related or they are in the same family (whether adopted or not), they will establish an order. it is a complicated system, but they will try to establish dominance with each other. Often they will play games to establish this chain of command. When dominance is asserted, the submissive dog might lie on their back and raise a front paw. This will be a sign that the game is over, but may also try to convey they are uncomfortable or even frightened. While this is normal behavior, if the other dog does not respond accordingly, it could be a sign of aggression which they need to be educated away from.

Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw? - 5. Fear, submission or discomfort

6. Punishment

Another situation where we may see a dog lift their front leg is when they are being punished. it is important to note that this is not a position of submission as happens with another dog. Dominance in this way is only intraspecies specific, meaning it only happens within the same species.

When a human is punishing them, they may be raising a paw because they are frightened. They may cower in a corner and shake. Similarly, they may roll over on their back, put their tail between their legs or even remain immobile. These are clear signs the dog is afraid and we should step back. However, we should not get to the point where this happens in the first place. Instead, we should use positive reinforcement to improve our dog's behavior.

Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw? - 6. Punishment

7. They want some love

When a dog paws at you, it is because they want your attention. They may raise their leg and place a paw on your knee. This will be accompanied by looking directly at you to try to get you to interact with them. This gesture is commonly associated with a desire to be petted and receive some love. They may even rub their muzzle and nose into you for the same reason or give small bites to your hand. These will not be aggressive. The intensity with which they paw at you will signify how intense they want some attention.

It is very common that you will be petting a dog and as soon as you lift your hand away, they place their front leg on you to get you to keep going. They generally learn to do this behavior over time as your relationship develops. We reinforce it by providing more caresses.

Dogs may often lift their paw while sitting when they want affection. This is because they are showing you that they can behave and that they deserve a little love.

Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw? - 7. They want some love

8. Canine training and skills

If you have taught your dog to lift their front leg, then they will likely carry out this action on a regular basis. They may do it on command if you have properly trained them. However, since the dog training technique or method should involve giving them a treat to encourage the behavior, many dogs will do it even when they are not asked. This is because they simply want a treat or some love. It is important in training your dog to only reward when appropriate.

Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw? - 8. Canine training and skills

9. They have an injury

If your dog has an injury o their front leg such as a thorn in their paw, muscle or ligament damage or a broken bone, they will lift their leg to protect it. This keeps them from setting it on the ground which can be very painful. They may have other symptoms such as whining or bleeding. If this is the case, get them off their feet and take them to the vet immediately.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw?, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.

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Carrie A Hatfield
I have a 3 year old Chihuahua i got her at the Humane Society she has been fixed but I have never seen a female dog do this only male dogs, she will hump your leg or these two toys she has,why is she doing that it's a female. Sincerely Carrie
Jeff clark
In our chihuahuas it's always meant I'm hurt,or less ingeniously I want you to think.I'm hurt because I want something. They learned it originally from our male cat who had a bad habit of sticking his paw in our female cars mouths in fights. So he was forever doing the I have a wounded foot sign,and the dogs just sort of adopted it,and it's passed down generation to generation in their lexicon of ways to communicate with us humans. Ie I'm hurt,or I want something. When it's used disingenuously it's really kind of cute.
Administrador AnimalWised
Thanks for sharing Jeff!
What to do when 2of my dogs fight my other dog they fight pretty good it's scary I hate it what do I do. Help
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Karen,

We have an article here which might be helpful:
Staccato is a Dalmatian, and she learned to shake w her dominant paw (right) as a puppy. When she was almost 3, she started to lift her paw and put it on ur arm when anyone was petting her. If I didn’t know better, thru having 5 DaLs in my life since I was a baby, I’d think she was trying to stop me from petting her- her front leg and paw are so heavy and restrictive. This helps so much to understand what she actually means! Thank you
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi McKenzie,

You're very welcome, helping people to better understand our relationships to animals is why we're here!
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Why Does My Dog Lift a Front Paw?