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Why does my dog wrap his paws around my arm?

Many dogs will wrap their paws around their owners’ arms from time to time, and there are several reasons why they do this. If the behavior is occasional then it probably doesn’t worry you too much. However, if your dog does it constantly then you might be wondering what you can do to prevent it. In this article, we look at some of the reasons why your dog might wrap his paws around your arm in the first place and the steps you can take to improve the situation.

Reasons

There are several reasons why your dog might wrap his paws around your arm – we will look at some of the most common ones.

Your dog wants to play

Your dog may be wrapping his paws around you to try and engage in a game. Some dogs will jump up excitedly, grabbing you to try and get you to interact and join in with them. While you might not mind this boisterousness, it is worth considering that not all visitors to your home will like it.

It is worth working on your dog’s manners if he is being too exuberant. Try standing still with your arms crossed over your chest and ignoring him until he has calmed down. Only praise and reward him when all four feet are on the ground.

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Your dog is trying to hump you

This is slightly more embarrassing behavior for many pet parents. Some dogs may grip firmly around one of your limbs, whether that’s an arm or a leg, in order to start humping you. They will grip quite tightly and start thrusting with their pelvis.

Humping can be due to sexual frustration in some cases so neutering may help, but it can also be seen in young animals that are just goofing around and experimenting. Over excitement or attention-seeking are other possible reasons for humping. Both male and female dogs might hump, so it is not a problem specific to one sex.

Your dog is in pain

Your dog might grab your arm to let you know there is a problem. It can be hard for dogs to communicate exactly what is going on so they may find other obscure ways of trying to tell you.

If your dog is unwell or in pain then you might see other symptoms too such as inappetence, lethargy, whimpering, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. You should take your dog to your veterinarian if he’s showing signs of ill health.

Your dog is hungry

Some dogs may wrap their paws around your arm as a way of begging for table scraps. If this behavior is rewarded with a snack or two then it is likely they will continue to do it. Most dogs will beg for something tasty, but this is much more likely if they aren’t receiving enough food of their own.

Always make sure your dog is being fed an appropriate amount by double-checking the packet guidelines of his diet, and measuring out the food appropriately. Make sure that his body condition score is where it should be. An underfed dog could lose weight and start to look lean. Check with your veterinarian if you aren’t sure about your dog’s weight.

Separation anxiety

A dog that suffers from separation anxiety can be very clingy as they live in fear that you are going to leave them. Wrapping their paws around your leg could be their way of trying to keep you close.

As well as not wanting to leave your side, your dog may show other signs of anxiety too. These animals become very stressed when left alone, even for short periods. Pacing, becoming destructive, vocalizing, and inappropriate behavior could all be seen when you go out. Contact a qualified behaviorist for help with this issue as your dog should be able to feel comfortable in his own company.

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Stress/fear

Your dog might grip onto you with his paws if he is feeling stressed or scared. This is commonly seen around things like fireworks or thunderstorms, particularly with severely noise phobic animals. Your dog may want you to protect him, and so gets as close to you as possible.

You may notice other signs when your dog is frightened, such as excessive panting, drooling, tense body language, and fearful eyes. If your dog suffers from noise phobias it would be worth contacting a qualified behaviorist to discuss a desensitization program for your pet. Many phobias will only get worse over time so it is best to act sooner rather than later.

Your dog wants attention

Your dog may want your attention, particularly if he’s been feeling a bit ignored recently. Longer work hours, new pets in the house, visitors staying, or a new baby could all make your dog feel a bit put out. Wrapping his paws around your arm could be his way of saying “hey look at me!”. It’s pretty hard to ignore!

Dogs that are feeling a bit neglected will be looking for attention of any sort, positive or negative. So, shouting at your dog may be almost as rewarding as stroking and praising him. Instead, use a command word like “bed” or “leave” and praise him when he does the right thing.

Make sure your dog receives plenty of attention whenever you can provide it, through exercise, play, and grooming. Consider employing a dog walker or asking friends and family to help out for a bit if you are struggling.

Your dog wants a lift

Your dog might be giving you a strong hint that he wants to be lifted! He might want to get a better view of the world or it may be that he just wants to be cuddled. Either way, this sort of behavior is more commonly seen in small breed dogs.

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Your dog wants to comfort you

Dogs are very switched on and can usually tell when their parents are sad or unwell. Your dog might wrap his paws around your arm as a way of comforting you. It is his version of a cuddle. Most parents appreciate this action from their pet if they are feeling a bit down.

By snuggling up to one another, oxytocin (the feel-good cuddle hormone) is released, which makes us feel better. It’s always worth having a snuggle with your dog to put you in a better mood.

How to get your dog to stop

If the behavior is becoming problematic then you may need some practical ways to try and help tackle it.

Consider when the behavior began

It is worth trying to remember when the behavior might have started so that you can work out what the underlying cause might be. If your dog started doing it after a particularly noisy thunderstorm then it is likely they do it from fear. If the behavior began when you got a new pet or baby then they may be attention-seeking or feeling stressed.

This sort of information may be particularly useful if you come to work through problems with a pet behaviorist.

Reduce separation anxiety

It is important to work on improving your dog’s separation anxiety if you think this might be a key factor in his behavior. The help of a qualified animal behaviorist may be needed if your dog is showing severe symptoms of this disorder. Training your puppy to be left for very short periods at a time while he is young is a valuable thing to do and could help prevent issues in the future.

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Give your dog a toy or chew treat

Distracting your dog can be a useful way to lessen the behavior. However, be careful that you aren’t inadvertently rewarding it by giving him a treat every time he starts wrapping his paws around you. Instead, try and anticipate the behavior.

If there’s a known trigger or a certain time of the day that he is most likely to grab your arm, then providing him with a distraction like a toy or a treat could help him to forget about doing it. This could be useful if your dog gets anxious about you leaving home or due to fireworks and thunderstorms.

Avoid encouraging the behavior

Try not to accidentally reward the behavior. By stroking your dog when he wraps his paws around your arm, or by laughing, he may see this as an invitation to continue. Even shouting is a form of attention.

Instead, use a command word like “leave” or “bed” and reward him when he does as he’s told. If he persists then calmly try to extract yourself and leave the room until he has settled down.

Conclusion

There could be several reasons why your dog wraps his paws around your arm. Trying to work out the underlying cause of the behavior can help you to tackle it. Always seek advice from a qualified pet behaviorist or a veterinarian if you are struggling at home or have any worries about your dog. Many of these problems are easier to tackle sooner rather than later, so if you are in doubt, talk to your vet.

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