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Why Do Dogs Lift One Paw? 5 Common Reasons

Written by: Dogster Team

Last Updated on January 23, 2024 by Dogster Team

Border collie lifting one paw up in the air

Why Do Dogs Lift One Paw? 5 Common Reasons

Dogs may not share our language, but that doesn’t keep them from being effective communicators. Understanding the nuance of their minor body positions and movements gives you better insight into your dog’s mindset and how to respond to them.

Even something seemingly insignificant, like a lifted paw, can tell us how a dog feels based on the context. Check out these common reasons why dogs lift one paw so you can better communicate with your pet.

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The 5 Reasons Why Do Dogs Lift One Paw

1. Uncertainty or Stress

The primary reason your dog will lift one paw is uncertainty or fear. Paw lifting is a typical displacement behavior showing conflict between two drives, such as the urge to engage with a stranger in the room while also wanting to avoid them.

Your dog likely feels acute stress from being in a novel situation and doesn’t know how to proceed. A startling loud noise may have spooked your dog, or a nearby unfamiliar person or dog could make them anxious.

You will typically see additional signs your dog is unsettled, such as crouching, a tucked tail, pulled-back ears, yawning, mouth licking, and trembling.

dog paws puppy paws
Image Credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

2. Appeasement

Related to the dog’s uncertain feeling, lifting the paw can be a sign of appeasement. If your dog senses potential conflict with a person or other dog, they’ll raise their paw to submit and avoid an altercation.

The lifted paw typically accompanies other behaviors like licking the dog’s muzzle, blinking or averting the eyes, or rolling onto their back.

3. Chronic Stress

Paw lifting may indicate chronic stress if you see it occurring frequently in various situations, including non-stressful situations. Other common indicators include a lowered posture and increased self-grooming, vocalizing, and nosing.

Chronic stress often stems from poor welfare and may arise due to separation, poor socialization, abusive training techniques, and significant changes in the household or routine.

Siberian Husky with raised paw
Image Credit: Ellina Balioz, Shutterstock

4. Anticipation

Dogs may lift one paw to show anticipation. It could be something making them worried or something exciting that’s giving them a positive feeling, like a treat or affection.

They’re still uncertain but not fearful, acting as if they’re ready to accept a reward even though they’re not sure what it is or when it will come. The ears won’t be back but remain forward and alert, the tail will be out, and the head will be up and waiting for a response.

5. Hunting Instinct

Sometimes, a dog’s lifted paw has nothing to do with uncertainty and instead occurs as part of their instinct. Paw lifting is one of several movements for pointers as they stop and indicate the direction of nearby game for their hunting partner.

The behavior is more instinctive in hunting dogs like English Setters, Brittanys, and GSPs, but almost any dog can show the behavior. If you notice your dog do this while sniffing around outside, it means they’ve locked onto an intriguing scent worth exploring.

Dog using his nose to smell the grass
Image Credit: Pawtraits, Shutterstock

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Lifting one paw can have multiple meanings, but it’s rarely a behavior to ignore. In most cases, a raised front paw shows your dog feels conflicted, and you could make a difference in putting them at ease.

Pay attention to the signs surrounding your dog’s raised paw to see whether they’re stressed, unsure, or excited so you can make the best move to make them feel happy and secure.

Featured Image Credit: dezy, Shutterstock

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