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Why Do Dogs Tuck Their Paws? 9 Common Reasons

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By Nicole Cosgrove

chow chow puppy lying on the grass

Paw tucking is a common canine behavior where a dog lifts its paws from the ground when walking or standing. While this behavior may seem cute to most dog enthusiasts, it may also be an indication of discomfort. Other than that, there are several reasons why they do so.

As a dog owner, you should always pay close attention to how your dog communicates with its paws since their movements are not random by design. This article will explore some reasons behind a dog’s paw-tucking behavior. Read on to learn more.

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The 9 Reasons for Dogs Tucking Their Paws

1. Showing a Contentment and Happiness

Puppies tend to show their contentment and happiness by tucking their paws.1 This is one of the most comfortable positions that a dog can assume. While in this position, your dog’s weight will not rest squarely on its bones; thus, it feels more enjoyable and relaxed to lie in the position.

Moreover, it is a widely documented fact that dogs may adopt comfortable positions, such as paw tucking when around familiar faces, which adds to their overall contentment and security.

puppy lying on the grass with tucked paws
Image Credit: Piqsels

2. A Sign of Submission or Nervousness

When most dogs are nervous or feel threatened by a dominant dog or even other animals, they might tuck away their paws to appear less of a threat in the situation. Other typical signs of submission and nervousness in dogs include avoiding eye contact and even yawning indeterminately.

Therefore, your dog will likely use “polite paws” to appear less threatening when faced with uncertain situations.

If your dog keeps tucking its paws to appear less threatening, distract him with doggie treats and toys, or walk him in the opposite direction as you figure out why he might want to hide. If the behavior persists, you might need to visit your local vet for evaluation.

3. Temperature Regulation

Your dog is likely to tuck its paws to regulate its body temperature to keep itself cool or warm,2 depending on the extremities of the situation. Paw tucking for temperature regulation is more common in smaller breeds and in dogs that feature a shorter coat because they are more likely to experience the cold more acutely.

Therefore, if you notice your dog lounging with its paws nestled underneath it, it’s probably trying to stay warm/cool, comfortable, and cozy.

siberian husky lying on wooden floor
Image Credit: Piqsels

4. To Protect Themselves From Snow or Rain

Another common reason why dogs might be tucking their paws is to protect themselves from snow or rain. Just like humans, dogs are not particularly fond of getting wet. Their paws are especially very sensitive to weather elements. So, by curling up their paws beneath their bodies, they are simply trying to keep safe, especially in inclement weather.

5. When Distancing Themselves From Something

Dogs are also likely to nestle their paws beneath their bodies, moving away from something. This could be when it is trying to protect its paws when passing through a wet or dirty area in a hurry. By tucking its paws, the dog creates a barrier between its feet and the ground, minimizing the amount of water and dirt that might get into its paws.

Another possible reason would be to create as much distance as they can between themselves and other animals and people. This also allows them to appear less noticeable and avoid confrontations.

dog lying with tucked paw
Image Credit: Aleksei Marinchenko, Shutterstock

6. It Is a Developed Behavior

Sometimes, pet owners may develop pet-like behavior from spending too much time with their pets without even realizing it. These behaviors may include licking, lying by your feet, and even polite paws. A dog might attempt to imitate the behavior, especially if they know it can lead to positive outcomes such as getting a yummy treat.

So, if you adopt a puppy, the previous owner might have trained it to tuck its paws, and the dog will continue with the same behavior hoping the new owner will get the hint that they want a treat.

7. Alarmed Position

Most dogs are always alert and active when faced with potential threats. By assuming the tucked paw position, they might be preparing themselves to rise and sprint if the threat is imminent. So, if your dog suddenly curls its paw underneath his body, he is probably preparing to pounce in a fight or flight reaction.

black labrador lying on the floor
Image Credit: Piqsels

8. The Dog May Be Knuckling

This is among the most serious reasons why your dog may be tucking in its paws, especially the front one. Knuckling is a condition where a dog tucks its paws downwards due to disease, injury, or even when experiencing some sort of discomfort on their paws.

Therefore, if your dog is knuckling, it’s probably experiencing pain brought on by conditions such as arthritis, degenerative myelopathy, cervical disc disease, or even neurological abnormalities. Thankfully, paw knuckling in dogs is treatable, depending on the specific underlying cause.

If you notice that your dog is scraping, dragging, or walking on the tip of their paws, you should take it to your local vet immediately. The vet will work with you to determine the root cause of the knuckling behavior and recommend a viable treatment plan. This might include the use of an anti-knuckling device, which can be worn by your dog during rehab or training sessions at home.

9. Typical Behavior in Some Dog Breeds

Pet experts say that paw-tucking behavior is more pronounced in some dog breeds. Border Collies, Labradors, and Poodles are some of the breeds commonly associated with paw curling. Bulldogs are also predisposed to paw tucking due to their massive body.

However, breeds with significantly short legs, like Dachshunds, do not easily tuck their paws because their body’s construction makes it quite difficult.

duchshund dog lying on the ground
Image Credit: Piqsels

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How Do You Prevent a Dog From Tucking Its Paws

If you are worried about your dog’s paw-tucking behavior, first make a point of understanding the main reason behind the behavior before trying to address the issue directly.

That said, there are a few things you can do to minimize it:

  • Always keep your dog’s nails trimmed to minimize discomfort while walking. Alternatively, you can train your pooch to file down his own nails using a scratchboard.
  • In case your dog is tucking because of extremely cold weather conditions, consider buying booties or pads to protect his feet from rough ground or cold.
  • If the tucking behavior is due to a more serious underlying condition like arthritis, consider giving your canine companion some joint supplements specifically made for dogs to improve their mobility and ease their pain.
dogs getting nails trimmed
Image Credit: Duet PandG, Shutterstock

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Dogs will tuck their paws beneath themselves for various reasons, and it can be quite difficult to narrow down the root cause of the paw-tucking behavior. But don’t fret. As the owner, your instincts should be able to guide you when getting your dog more comfortable and know when to seek help from a professional.

Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

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