Written by Ariele Sieling
There’s nothing quite like being woken up in the night by a paw to the face. Or be sitting at your desk, only to have a massive paw land on your leg (or worse yet, your computer keyboard). Or the repetitive “more” paw when you stop petting your Great Pyrenees.
Octavius, our own big old doggo, is notorious for the paw. He does it when he wants to be scratched. He does it when he wants a treat. He does it when he wants a walk. He does it when he’s worried about something. He does it when he knows he’s been good. He does it when he knows he’s been bad. He does it when it’s thundering outside. Sometimes, he just wants to hold my hand.
Pretty much, he does it when he wants attention, which is all the time.
Sometimes, this behavior can be sweet or funny. It can make you want to engage with your dog or make you feel more affectionate. It can also help you know when your dog needs something.
But sometimes, it can be negative. What if that paw is covered with mud? What if you’re wearing nice clothes? Or what if the dog is so insistent on giving you the paw, that it is risking injury like bruising or scratching? I worry about this when we are around my grandmother or my mom.
One of our AGPR adopters had to buy a new laptop because her Pyr gave her an unannounced Pyr paw, which snapped her laptop screen back and broke the electronic connection.
What to do about the Pyr Paw?
The first thing to do is to determine why the pyr is giving you the paw in the first place.
Since dogs can’t communicate with language, they have to rely on body language instead, and the Pyr paw is just one example of this. So how do you know what the dog is asking for?
Two ways: context and the rest of their body language.
Looking at the context of the situation might give you exactly the information you need. Did your dog get their breakfast? Is their water bowl full? Do they normally get a treat at the same time every day but you forgot on this day?
Are there strangers in the house? Is there a new animal in the house? Have they been napping for a long time? Are there strange noises outside? Can you hear fireworks, gunshots, or thunder?
Sometimes, all you have to do is look around in order to figure out what the dog is asking for.
Other times, their body language can be the key. When Octavius is sitting down or lying next to us, he will sometimes give us the paw to request continued petting. But when there is a thunderstorm rolling in, Octavius will give us the Pyr paw while standing up. He will also be breathing heavily and drooling a lot, indicating a high level of anxiety. We know this means, “I am very worried!”
Sometimes, when we are practicing tricks, he will give us the paw without prompting. Normally, his tail will be wagging and he will appear very alert. This indicates to us that he is engaged and happy. The paw is his way of keeping our attention on him.
We find the paw a helpful way for him to communicate with us.
Not everyone likes the Pyr paw, however. You may prefer to discourage the paw, to prevent your dog from causing damage to your clothes or scratching your skin.
Begin by not acknowledging the dog when they are giving you the paw. Do not make eye contact and move out of the way so they cannot reach you. You may want to redirect their attention by telling them to “sit” or lay down” or use the words “no paw”. Once they stop giving you the paw, be sure to reward them with attention and/or treats and encouragement. The key here is to be consistent with your own responses. Never encourage the paw and always respond the same way.
It is also important to make sure that your dog is receiving enough mental and physical activity. Being bored or restless may cause the behavior to happen more frequently. Take them for walks regularly, let them spend time in their fenced-in yard, spend time with your attention focused on them, encourage them to do tricks and practice commands frequently, and make sure that they have toys available, if they’re the type of dog that enjoys toys.
Whether you find it cute, annoying, helpful, or frustrating, the Pyr paw is a classic character trait of a Great Pyrenees, so it is something that you should be aware of and prepared for when adopting.
Ariele Sieling is a Baltimore-based science fiction writer who is the proud owner of her own Great Pyrenees dog. She, her husband, and Doggo enjoy their time walking in the park, getting treatos, napping in the sun, borking at birds, and schniff-schnoffing the two cats. You can follow them on Instagram @pyreneesgoodboi.
To learn more about Ariele, visit www.arielesieling.com.