Dogs communicate in many different ways. One unique behavior that dogs exhibit is tapping or pawing their human companions. If your dog has ever raised his paw and touched you gently without scratching, he was tapping you. This doggie gesture has several possible meanings that are helpful for owners to understand.
What Does It Mean When a Dog Taps You?
A dog tap is a light touch with the front paw. It’s typically not an aggressive behavior but rather a way for the dog to get your attention. Possible reasons for tapping include:
- Requesting attention or affection
- Indicating hunger or thirst
- Asking to go outside
- Asking for help with something
- Showing affection
- Alerting you to something
- Nudging you to throw a toy
- Asking for petting or belly rubs
Essentially, it’s your dog’s way of saying “Hey, pay attention to me!” Dogs tap people for the same reasons they paw at objects or other animals. It’s a means of communication and a way to get needs met.
Why Do Dogs Tap for Attention?
One of the most common reasons dogs tap is to get their owner’s attention. It’s a polite and gentle way of saying, “Please look at me or interact with me!” Dogs thrive on human attention and interaction. If your dog is tapping you, he’s probably asking for some playtime, cuddles, or pets. He may also be bored and looking for some stimulus or engagement.
It’s important not to ignore your dog’s taps for attention. While it’s a normal dog behavior, rewarding it by giving your dog attention when tapped can reinforce the behavior. It’s best to provide your pooch with plenty of enrichment, exercise, and quality time with you so he doesn’t feel the need to tap for everyday attention.
Tapping to Indicate a Need
Dogs may also tap their owners when they have a specific need to communicate. If your dog is tapping repeatedly, pay attention. Common needs dogs tap to convey include:
- Hunger: A tap at mealtime or around his food bowl may indicate your dog is ready to eat.
- Thirst: If the water bowl is empty, your dog may tap you and lead you to it.
- Needing to go potty: A tap by the door can signal your dog needs to go outside.
- Boredom: If understimulated, a dog may tap to ask for playtime or activity.
- Loneliness: Dogs are social animals. Taps may reflect a desire for companionship.
- Fatigue: Dogs tap when ready for bed or a nap.
Pay attention to any patterns around when your dog taps. Meeting needs like hunger, thirst and exercise should reduce any repetitive tapping.
Asking Politely for Something
Dogs are social animals who often look to their owners for resources like food, access to outdoors, toys, and assistance. When they want something, they quickly learn that tapping is an effective way to say, “Please give me ___!” It’s one of the most polite, gentle ways a dog can make a request.
Some examples of dogs tapping to politely ask for something include:
- Asking to be let outside
- Asking for food
- Asking for water
- Asking for a toy or treat
- Asking for help getting comfortable or receiving assistance
Pay close attention to when your dog taps and what need he may be conveying. Whenever possible, try to give your dog what he is asking for when tapped so he associates the behavior with having needs met.
Tapping for Affection
Most dogs love affection from their owners! A friendly tap or two can communicate that your dog wants some loving attention from you. He may be asking for:
- Petting and stroking
- Belly rubs
- Being picked up for a hug
- Snuggling beside you
Dogs taps when they want to say “I love you!” It’s a sweet gesture that usually means he just wants some quality time and interaction with his favorite human.
Tapping to Alert You
Your dog’s tap may also be his way of telling you something important. He may be trying to alert you or draw your attention to something in his environment. Examples include:
- A strange noise outside
- An unknown person approaching
- Another animal outside
- A strange smell
- His empty food or water bowl
- A toy he wants you to throw
- The doorbell ringing
- Your phone alarm going off
Your dog is letting you know something is happening that he thinks you should know about! This is one way dogs demonstrate their natural watchfulness and loyalty to their owners.
How Owners Should Respond to a Dog’s Tap
When your dog taps you, how should you respond?
- Give your dog attention when he taps, unless he is doing it excessively or demandingly.
- Figure out what he is trying to communicate. Does he need to go out? Is his water bowl empty?
- Meet his needs whenever you can. This reinforces the tapping behavior.
- Pet, praise or play with a tapping dog asking for affection.
- Redirect excessive tapping by giving an obedience command like “Sit.”
With patience, you can usually determine why your dog is tapping you. While it’s a normal behavior, ignore persistent tapping for everyday attention-seeking. Reward polite taps by providing for your dog’s needs.
Why Do Some Dogs Tap More Than Others?
Certain dogs seem more prone to tapping their owners than others. High-energy, very social breeds often tap more frequently. Factors that can make a dog more likely to tap include:
- Breed: Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs and other highly social, active breeds are prone to tapping.
- Age: Young dogs and puppies may tap more for attention.
- Anxiety: Dogs with separation anxiety may tap their owners frequently.
- Boredom: Lack of activity and understimulation can cause tapping behaviors.
- Neediness: Some dogs just have very affectionate, velcro natures.
Pay attention to when and why your individual dog taps you. Figuring out his motivations will help you address any underlying needs.
Is Dog Tapping Normal?
It’s perfectly normal and common for dogs to tap their owners. It’s a form of canine communication and not considered problematic on its own. As long as your dog is tapping respectfully and not aggressively pawing, it’s not a cause for concern.
That said, frequent tapping could develop into an annoying behavior if reinforced too often. It’s best to give your dog adequate outlets and to redirect demanding, repetitive tapping.
Signs that a dog’s tapping behavior is abnormal include:
- Tapping constantly or excessively
- Tapping urgently or intensely
- Tapping leading to skin damage
- Aggressive pawing that knocks you over
- Excessive attention-seeking behaviors
- Separation anxiety exhibited
If your dog’s tapping behavior seems extreme or problematic, contact an animal behaviorist or Certified Dog Trainer for help.
How to Reduce Excessive Dog Tapping
To cut down on frequent dog tapping:
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and playtime.
- Work on obedience training and teach the “Settle” command.
- Ignore mild tapping for attention.
- Redirect your dog when tapping by giving a command or providing a toy.
- Avoid reinforcing demanding behaviors.
- Crate train your dog so he learns to relax when alone.
- Consider canine anxiety medications if tapping stems from separation anxiety.
- Use positive reinforcement to teach alternate behaviors.
While infrequent, polite tapping shouldn’t be discouraged, you can reduce excessive tapping by meeting your dog’s needs and keeping him entertained.
When to Seek Help with Dog Tapping
Seek professional advice if your dog’s tapping behavior becomes:
- Constant or obsessive
- Disruptive to your home or work life
- Leading to injury of you or your dog
- Indicative of separation anxiety
- Aggressive in nature
- Demanding or entitled in nature
- Paired with barking, whining or other problem behaviors
- Caused by an underlying medical issue
A force-free trainer or veterinary behaviorist can assess your dog’s problematic tapping and give guidance on reducing it. Most importantly, seek help if your dog’s welfare is at risk.
Fun Ways to Reward Polite Dog Tapping
While you don’t want to reinforce obnoxious tapping, it can be enjoyable to reward your dog’s polite request for attention. Consider rewarding good taps by:
- Giving affection and saying “good tap!”
- Initiating play with a fun toy.
- Going for a walk.
- Giving your dog a tasty treat.
- Brushing or petting your dog.
- Doing a short training or trick session.
- Snuggling on the couch together.
- Massaging or scratching your dog in his favorite spot.
Having consistent ways to positively reinforce your dog’s good behavior can strengthen your bond. Make sure to reward only calm, appropriate tapping and never aggressive pawing.
Teaching Your Dog to Tap on Cue
Some owners enjoy teaching their dogs to tap on verbal cue. To teach this trick:
- Say “tap” and tap your hand on a surface near your dog.
- When your dog investigates with his nose, mark the behavior with a clicker or “yes!”
- Reward with a treat.
- Repeat until your dog starts lifting his paw when you tap and say “tap.”
- Add the hand signal of tapping your hand near your dog’s paw.
- Phase out the tap sound and reward your dog for just lifting his paw on cue.
- Practice the verbal “tap” cue until your dog responds consistently.
With time and positive reinforcement, you can teach your dog to politely tap on command! This can provide an appropriate outlet for your dog’s tapping urges.
The Difference Between Tapping and Scratching
How can you tell if your dog is tapping you versus scratching you? Tapping entails a gentle raise and lower of the paw that does not scratch or break your skin. Scratching involves clawing that leaves red marks or even draws blood. Other differences include:
|Clawing at skin
|Gets your attention
|May cause injury
|Can be painful
|Could reflect aggression
|Uses front paw
|Uses front or back paws
While tapping shouldn’t hurt, scratching causes some discomfort. Address any frequent scratching behaviors right away before they become a habit.
Common Questions About Dogs Who Tap
Why does my dog repeatedly tap me with his paw?
Frequent tapping often signals a dog is seeking attention and interaction. He may tap when bored, anxious, hungry or needing to relieve himself. It’s best not to reinforce excessive tapping by giving your dog what he wants.
Why does my dog tap me in the morning?
Dogs often tap their owners in the morning to communicate needs like letting them outside to relieve themselves, feeding them breakfast, or providing companionship after time apart overnight.
Why does my dog tap me when I’m eating?
Dogs naturally tap at mealtimes as they are hopeful you’ll share your food. While this behavior should be discouraged, make sure your dog has appropriate chew toys to occupy him when you eat.
How can I get my dog to stop tapping on the window?
This behavior likely signals your dog wants to go outside, is alerting you to something, or is demanding attention. Reduce window tapping by keeping window views boring, using a Scat Mat deterrent, and rewarding silence.
Why does my dog tap me before bed?
Bedtime taps are often a dog’s way of asking for a last trip outside or saying goodnight. Enjoy this “tuck-me-in” tap but don’t give extensive attention which can stimulate your dog and delay sleep.
The Takeaway on Dog Tapping
It’s perfectly normal for dogs to gently tap their human companions. Tapping is one way dogs communicate needs, request attention, and express affection. While polite, appropriate taps shouldn’t be discouraged, it’s important not to reinforce demanding tapping for everyday attention.
If your dog is tapping excessively, he may need more stimulation and activity. With patience and by meeting your dog’s needs, most tapping behaviors can be managed. However, seek professional help if your dog’s tapping becomes aggressive or obsessive in nature.
Usually, occasional dog tapping can be enjoyed as simply one way your loyal companion says “Hey, I’m here and I need something!” When viewed as the start of a fun interaction or relationship-building with your dog, a friendly tap can be a very good thing.