You shower your dog with all kinds of affection—but are you ever unsure whether your dog really loves you back? This simple act may be your answer.

Owning a dog comes with all kinds of surprising benefits—studies show that dog walking correlates to increased happiness (both the dog’s and the owner’s) and that dogs rush to help their humans in times of distress. But perhaps the greatest benefit of all is the loving relationship you build with your pet. And now, we have even more reason to believe that this love is mutual.

Most dog owners have likely experienced your dog pawing at your legs. While you may brush off this act as a mere annoyance, it’s actually your pup’s way of trying to communicate with you. And it can mean something really sweet.

If your dog puts his paw on you, it can be his way of saying “I love you.”

We pet our pups to show our love and affection. Turns out they do the same. “By putting his paw on you whilst you are stroking him, he is further extending contact and reciprocating affection back,” writes Rebecca Forrest, an assistance dog trainer, for The Dog Clinic.

While this act can be interpreted as an expression of love, your dog pawing at you can also be attributed to numerous other feelings. Your dog could be insecure and seeking your attention, a sign that you should show Fido a little extra love. It could also be your dog saying he’s hungry. How do you tell what your dog is really trying to say? It all depends on context.

“Look at the rest of your dog’s body language,” Forrest advises. If you’re just cozied up on the couch or rubbing his tummy, chances are he’s just showing love in return. But if your pup is showing signs of anxiety, “such as lip smacking, yawning, and flat ears,” it could mean he's feeling insecure and is looking for affection. Forrest advises that if continual pawing is related to food, it’s best not to respond. “If you allow your dog to decide when he gets fed, he could become overweight which will impact his health,” Forrest writes.

Next time your dog puts his paw on you to say “I love you,” give him a good head scratch and show him some love back.

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