Why Do Dogs Cross Their Paws?

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Alright, it’s confession time. How many of you have taken photos of your dog with crossed paws before? Have you ever stopped mid-photo to wonder why exactly your pup might be acting this way? Sure, it’s a super cute behavior and well-deserving of its adorable nickname of polite paws, but believe it or not, there is a scientific reason behind everything. Though little research exists to support the theories surrounding these expressive and elegant feet formations, it is easy to look at what we already know about dogs and form sensible opinions on the matter. So, for all you curious dog parents out there, let’s go more into detail on why dogs cross their paws.

Method of communication

Dogs obviously can’t speak, so they must solely rely on body language to convey their thoughts and feelings. That being said, it only makes sense that crossing their paws could have a deeper meaning than we realize. It’s important to closely observe every aspect of your dog’s body when trying to determine his emotions.

Crossed paws could actually mean multiple different things depending on the context of the situation, including:

A happy baby: Many dog behaviorists have been cited as saying polite paws could be a sign of happiness. More so than just appearing to be in a relaxed or sleepy state, crossing his paws puts your dog at a bit of a disadvantage. By having his feet entangled, his ability to spring into action decreases substantially.

Through that logic, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that crossed paws are a show of contentment and peace.

A nervous baby: Again, it is essential that you pay attention to everything happening to and around your dog in order to better understand his behavior. For example, if your dog is in the vicinity of an unfamiliar, somewhat aggressive dog, and he lay down with crossed paws, would you still consider him to be at ease?

When your dog seems to be letting his guard down in circumstances where he would normally be tense, he could be trying to appear more submissive and less threatening to keep the danger as far away as possible.

Learned behavior

Whether or not you’re aware of the effect that you have on your dog, how you act has a definitive impact on your precious pooch. This includes:

Positive reinforcement: We’ve already covered the fact that your first instinct when seeing polite paws is to whip out your camera to capture the Insta-moment, but how do you follow up? Do you give your dog a treat? Do you shower him in an overwhelming amount of attention and affection? If so, you may be inadvertently teaching your dog a brand new trick!


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I’m sure you remember the training days you spent with your dog. The countless, exhausting hours that went into a simple command like “sit” or “shake.” You likely reinforced each successful behavior with a treat, right? Well, by positively reacting to your dog’s polite paws, you may be replicating that same kind of training, which also means that you might start catching your dog folding his paws constantly just to obtain that sweet reward.

Imitation: Certain dogs have shown a greater tendency to cross their paws than others. While this may have more to do with their body type than anything else, it could also reflect on their intelligence. The most commonly reported polite paw fiends are the labrador, the border collie, and the poodle. These dogs are all well-known for their high level of intellect.

So, similar to how dogs react to positive reinforcement, your dog may try replicating some of your behaviors because he feels like it’s the correct thing to do. Not too long ago, scientists conducted a study that proved our dogs will imitate some of our actions on instinct alone. Since we humans have a tendency of crossing our legs, who’s to say that doesn’t also apply to polite paws?

Maybe, next time you catch your dog in the polite paws act, check to see how you are sitting. He might be copying you without you even noticing.

Proper posture

You know when you’re resting your weight directly on your elbows, and you begin to feel a bit of pressure and pain from maintaining that position too long? Our dogs go through a very similar experience. The only difference between our furry companions and us is the fact that resting on their elbows is quite literally their only option if they want to stay alert while lying down.

To break down the entire act, by rotating his shoulders, your dog will be able to alleviate the majority of the pain that comes from resting so much weight on his bones. In turn, the elbows will end up rotating outward, and his paws will naturally meet in the middle.

As previously mentioned, some dog breeds have not exhibited the polite paws behavior at all, and that can likely be attributed to their body conformation. Notably, dachshunds and bulldogs tend to be left out of the darling paw crossing habit, which can easily be traced back to their short paws and rotund bodies, respectively.

So, from this perspective, polite paws are truly just a reflection of what feels best for your dog (or cat). Like us, their end goal in everything is to maximize comfort. Thankfully, in the case of polite paws, your dog is most likely doing just fine.

About the author

Li-ran Bukovza

Li-ran believes that our dogs can teach us more than we could ever teach them. He's fascinated by the dog-human bond and loves researching and writing about new pet trends. With the help of Richie (his trusty Maltese sidekick), he hopes to help as many people as possible understand the beautiful, complex world of canine companionship.