Dogs talk with their bodies. It can happen so fast that we miss subtle nuances, and then we wonder why theybehave a certain way. To understand our pupsbetter,we must learn to pay better attention to their body language. Dog paw lifts are one expression that often go ignored, except by hunters, of course, such as in theimage below of a bird dog.Here, your dog liftsa paw andpositions his ears forward in alert, directly stares at prey, put his tail out and poises his body to create a message of high drive and excitement, not anxiety.

You are watching: Why do dogs lift their front paw

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English Setter puppy in training, lifting a paw. Photography by Shutterstock.

1.The anxious dog paw lift

It’s the paw lifts by non-hunting dogs that can be a sign of anxiety, stress, and/or fear. I translate thisbody language in my Dog Decoder smartphone app usingillustrations byLili Chin of Doggie Drawings. There are 60 different poses and scenarios. Each posefeatures three parts; The Pose, The Info and The Details about the pose and the app’s star, Diamond:

The Pose


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Illustration from the Dog Decoder smartphone app, illustrated by Lili Chin.

The Info

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Illustration from the Dog Decoder smartphone app, illustrated by Lili Chin.

The Details

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Illustration from the Dog Decoder smartphone app, illustrated by Lili Chin.

In the aboveillustration, a dog is showing fear in multipleways, including a paw lift.Dogs will often lift a paw when anxious, so it’s important to look at all of the body — including ears, tail, eyes, and paw — when readingyour pup. It’s also important to speed read. Dogs talk a mile a minute with their body, changing signals in an instant. Don’t be discouraged if you miss subtle signs at first — the more you pay attention, the better you will beat understandingyour dog.

In fact, I have a mantra all ofmy clients use whenever they are with their dogs. In training, just hanging out, playing fetch, riding in the car… they ask themselves,“What does my dog need now?” This helps thembecome more aware of what theirpup is saying. Try it yourself!

2. Sometimes, a dog lifts a paw in anticipation

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Illustration from the Dog Decoder smartphone app, illustrated by Lili Chin.

Paw lifts also can be an expression of anticipation, as shown above. In thiscontext, you see that Diamondhas high hopes that theturkey is for him. Ears and eyes alert,head and sniffer up and ready, tail out, and a paw lifted combine to signal anticipation.

3.Thefearful paw tuck

Illustration from the Dog Decoder smartphone app, illustrated by Lili Chin.

Dogs also may tuck a paw to convey fear. Typically, when a dog tucks a paw while lying down, it’s a sign of relaxation, but not always as shown in the image above. Diamond is hiding under the table, not wanting to interact. Notice that hisleft front paw is tucked and heis indirectly staring at the boy. Diamond also haspulled his body in and away from the boy, becomingsmall and tight — these are all signs that he is scared and could bite. If the boy doesn’t retreat or the parents don’t step into translate these “stay away” signals, hecould be in serious danger.

Bottom line: Keep an eye on your dog’s paws

Often,when a dog lifts a paw or tucks it, it’s one of the first signs of stress, and if it goes unnoticed could lead to, at best, frustrationfor you if an undesired behavior follows — at worst, it could lead to a bite.

Our dogs relyon us to learn their language, and by gainingthis skill, you’ll find that your dog is not being “stubborn” or “bad.” Instead, you will understand that he isanxious, excited, or afraid. With this newfound knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to help your dog.

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For more insight,download theDog Decodersmartphoneappvia iTunes and Google play.You can also learn more from Sarah Kalnajs’s DVDThe Language of Dogsas well as from the bookDecoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Onesby John Ciribassi, Debra Horwitz, and Steve Dale.