Why Do Dogs Cover Their Face with Their Paws When You Pet Them?

Dogs are known for their endearing and sometimes peculiar behaviors. One such behavior that many dog owners have observed is their tendency to cover their faces with their paws when being petted. 

This action often raises questions and sparks curiosity in pet owners. Why do dogs exhibit this behavior? Is it a sign of discomfort, submission, or something else entirely? 

In this article, we will delve into the possible reasons behind why dogs cover their faces with their paws when you pet them, shedding light on their behavior from both evolutionary and emotional perspectives.

A Natural Instinct

Dogs, despite their domestication, still possess certain behaviors rooted in their wild ancestors. One plausible explanation for why dogs cover their faces with their paws is related to an instinctive behavior derived from their wolf ancestors. 

In the wild, wolves often use their paws to cover their muzzles, primarily during vulnerable situations or when they feel threatened. 

This action helps them protect their sensitive facial areas from potential harm and displays a self-protective behavior.

Sensory Overload

Another reason dogs might cover their faces when being petted is to manage sensory overload. Dogs have incredibly heightened senses, including hearing, smell, and touch. 

When they are being petted, especially in areas that are particularly sensitive or pleasurable, the stimulation can sometimes become overwhelming for them. 

By covering their faces with their paws, they may be attempting to regulate the amount of sensory input they are receiving, providing a brief respite from the stimulation.

See also  How Far Can a Dog Hear Your Voice? What to Expect

Seeking Comfort and Security

Dogs are social animals and often seek comfort and security from their human companions. 

Covering their faces with their paws could be an expression of their desire for reassurance and protection. Dogs view their owners as trusted individuals who provide a sense of safety. 

When they feel overwhelmed or anxious, placing their paws over their face may provide a psychological and physical barrier, offering them a sense of security during moments of vulnerability.

Submission and Politeness

In some cases, dogs might cover their faces with their paws as a submissive gesture. Dogs exhibit various body language cues to communicate their submission and respect for higher-ranking individuals, including humans. 

By covering their faces, they might be demonstrating deference and acknowledging their owner’s dominance or higher social status. 

This behavior can be seen as an attempt to show politeness and avoid direct eye contact, which is often perceived as confrontational or challenging.

A Learned Behavior

In certain instances, dogs may develop the habit of covering their faces with their paws as a result of reinforcement or conditioning. 

If, in the past, a dog received attention or rewards for covering their face during petting sessions, they may repeat the behavior to seek similar positive outcomes. 

Dogs are remarkably perceptive and quickly learn which behaviors elicit a desired response from their owners. Therefore, if covering their face leads to increased attention, cuddling, or treats, they are likely to continue doing so.


While dogs covering their faces with their paws when being petted may appear peculiar, it can be attributed to a combination of instinctive, sensory, emotional, and learned factors. 

See also  What causes a dog to drop dead? Crucial Facts

From an evolutionary standpoint, it may stem from their ancestral instincts of self-protection. 

Sensory overload and the need for comfort and security also play a role, as dogs attempt to regulate the amount of stimulation they receive. Additionally, the behavior can be seen as a submissive gesture or a learned response to seek attention and rewards. 

Understanding the reasons behind this behavior helps dog owners better interpret and respond to their furry companions’ needs, ensuring a stronger bond and overall well-being.