My favorite dog-human interaction is when my dog noses his little head under my hand after I stop petting him, as if to say, “No, you cannot stop.” Oh, it is just so sweet.
But my second-favorite dog-human interaction is when my dog abruptly puts his paw on my arm or thigh, as if to communicate something urgent. Typically the urgent thing is that he needs to use the restroom outside, but could that urgent thing sometimes be … love?
“Dogs use their paws to communicate,” Rebecca Forrest, a service-dog trainer, wrote in a recent post for the Dog Clinic. What they’re communicating can vary, and needs to be interpreted through situational cues and other body language. Are they yawning, with their ears plastered to their head? They could be experiencing anxiety. Is it dinnertime? They could be hungry. Have you been ignoring the fact that you need to take them for a walk because you just need to finish this one thing? Maybe they’re telling you, “Oh my God, can you please just take me for a walk now, this ‘one thing’ is taking FOREVER!!!!”
Or, they could be telling you they love you. If the paw is placed on you during a petting session, in an otherwise calm atmosphere, Forrest says, your dog could be “further extending contact and reciprocating affection back.” Aw.
It is very sad that our dogs cannot talk to us using humanlike dog voices, speaking our language, telling us what movie they want to watch tonight. But if we pay attention they do speak to us. I only hope dog science one day figures out the dog version of, “I think that outfit is fine, yeah.”