While there’s no scientific name for this phenomenon, all dog owners are familiar with a specific behavior known as “polite paws.” It’s when a dog (or cat) elegantly crosses their paws like a little lady or gentleman. Besides making for a seriously Instagram-worthy moment, two animal behaviorists tell Inverse there’s science behind fancy paws.
Since dogs are very expressive with their body language, “polite paws” could be one way dogs are trying to convey their emotions to humans.
“Dogs do use their paws to communicate, but in this instance, crossing forepaws while at rest probably has more to do with comfort and body conformation,” certified animal behavior consultant Amy Shojai tells Inverse. “Crossing paws may skew ‘elbows’ outward in a more comfortable resting pose, for example. But for short-legged dogs like Dachshunds or wide-bodied canines like Bulldogs, their conformation (body shape) may make that difficult.”
Animal behaviorist Frania Shelley-Grielen agrees that the posture could indicate the dog is feeling comfortable and content. After all, humans cross their legs when they’re comfortable too, right?
“The simplest reason might be it’s more comfortable when lying down, as rotating the elbows out takes weight off the shoulder (humans can try this by bending elbows and pushing them out to the sides and pay attention to how our hands move toward each other),” Shelley-Grielen says. “A posture of relaxation can indicate contentment or fatigue.”
Of course, cats have been known to partake in polite paws from time to time. It’s unclear what drives them to do this seemingly wholesome thing, which is always a red flag when discussing cats. When cats are comfortable, what are they plotting?
Sure, polite paws look cute and nonsensical in the best way possible. But we should also try to pick up on body language cues from our pets more often. A cat or dog with folded paws seems to be pretty relaxed, which is good. But it’s important to always be monitoring animals’ body language to make sure they’re not hurt or sick.
Lesson learned: a well-mannered pup is a happy pup.