A favorite among puppy owners, shaking hands is an adorable trick to teach your dog. But how should you teach your dog to shake paws?
Pet owners can easily teach this trick to their pups by using positive reinforcement. The best part is, this behavior is not only cute, but it’s mentally stimulating as well.
Why is this good? Well, the more tricks your dog knows and practices, the healthier your dog’s brain will be. So teaching your dog new tricks provides your dog with lots of mental stimulation. This, in turn, makes them a happier, healthier dog!
Using Positive Reinforcement
If you perform an action, and something good happens, you are likely to repeat that action. This is the bread and butter of using positive reinforcement to shape behavior.
As a dog makes progress towards a behavior, we reward them for that progress. This encourages a dog to try new things, with the anticipation that something will “work” to get them the treat. Rewarding small steps towards a final goal is called making successive approximations.
We will use successive approximations to reach our final goal of your dog shaking paws with you.
Your Ace in the Hole – The Bridging Stimulus
Your secret weapon will be a lesser-known training tool, called a bridge. The bridge is a signal to the dog that they have done the correct behavior and food is on the way. It essentially tells your dog “Yes! That’s exactly what I wanted!” but in fewer words.
To teach your dog what a bridge means, simply use your bridge and give a treat. After a few repetitions, your dog should begin responding to the sound of the bridge.
Choosing a Bridge
Bridging stimuli come in many different forms. You can choose a verbal bridge or one that you speak. Alternatively, you could choose a clicker, which obviously makes a clicking sound. You could even choose a hand signal, such as a finger point. Each has its upsides and downsides.
While a hand signal is useful for animals with poor hearing, it is difficult to employ if the animal isn’t looking at you. A clicker is extremely effective, but impractical when on the go as it takes up one of your useable hands.
A verbal bridge, for example, the word “OK”, can be perfect for practical indoor and outdoor use. Unfortunately, it may be less effective than a clicker. For our example, while training indoors during specific training sessions, we will use a clicker.
The Plus Side of Mental Stimulation
Before delving into the meat of training your dog to shake paws, it is important to touch briefly on the importance on mental stimulation. Despite domestication, dogs are still bred to work. Their original bloodlines were chosen based on their ability to complete a specific task. Your dog’s ancestors may have been guarding a property, protecting livestock, herding sheep, or hunting vermin.
The implications of a working dog living a non-working life can be troublesome for your dog. There are certain behaviors that dogs simply need to express. Some dogs have a strong impulse to run, or retrieve, or bite, or hunt, and this can translate to boredom with the simple life. To keep your dog happy, they need to be given proper physical and mental stimulation.
Training as Mental Stimulation
There are multiple methods to mentally stimulate your dog. Puzzle toys can work your dog’s brain and help them express foraging behavior. Play can help your dog get some physical energy out, while also making them think.
Training will give your dog the ultimate problem-solving exercise. Learning new things is incredibly stimulating for dogs, and can be just as beneficial as physical exertion.
How to Teach Your Dog to “Shake”
We now have a full understanding of how beneficial it is to work together with our dogs in training. We also understand the concepts we will be using during our sessions. Finally, let’s discuss the mechanics of training your new behavior with your dog.
First, choose a space for training. You should have enough room for your dog to move about freely, and the room should be free of distractions. Move any other pets into another area to keep them from interrupting training.
The Easy Way
Begin with the simplest possible solution. Before we go through the process of using a food lure and phasing out treats, try the easy route.
- Ask your dog to sit. If your dog doesn’t know sit, you should probably be teaching them that first! (You can lure your dog into a sit instead.)
- Present an open hand to your dog. The more enthusiastic you are, the more likely it is your dog will respond. It is best to train without an audience if you are easily embarrassed for this reason.
- Allow your dog a few seconds of contemplation before removing your hand.
- If your dog does not give paw, you may repeat a few more times before moving on to “The Hard Way”.
- If your dog does give paw, click your clicker, and reinforce. You may use multiple small treats in quick succession to encourage your dog.
- Repeat this process a few more times, before adding a verbal cue.
- Ask your dog for “Paw” or “Shake” and present your open hand. When your dog gives their paw, click your clicker, and reinforce.
The Hard Way
So your dog isn’t a natural at shaking paws? Fear not! You also have the option of luring your dog into shaking paws.
- Ask your dog to sit. If your dog doesn’t know sit, you should probably be teaching them that first! You may however lure your dog into a sit instead.
- Place a treat in your closed fist. If your dog doesn’t have a basset hound’s sense of smell, make sure they see you place the treat in your hand.
- Place your hand just below your dog’s face, in the same location you would ask for “Paw” or “Shake”.
- Your dog will likely sniff, lick, and possibly nibble at your hand. Wait until your dog attempts to paw at your hand instead. Once your dog uses their paw, click your clicker, and reinforce.
- Repeat this step until your dog is consistently pawing at your hand.
- Now we will remove the treat from our closed fist. Place your fist, without a treat inside, in the same position as step #4.
- Wait until your dog paws at your hand, click your clicker, and reinforce.
- Repeat this step until your dog is consistently pawing at your empty closed fist. If your dog struggles, move back to step #3 for a few more repetitions.
- Next, present your dog with your hand open, palm facing up. When your dog shakes paws, click your clicker, and reinforce. Make sure to give them adequate time to think about what you want from them.
- Finally, add your verbal cue. Ask your dog for “Paw” or “Shake” and place your open palm in front of them. When they give paw, click your clicker, and reinforce.
The Ultimate Challenge
Looking for a little additional training challenge? Attempt to teach your dog to give their paw with only a verbal cue. As in, ask your dog to shake paws, without giving your dog your hand to shake. This will challenge your dog to truly understand your verbal command, without the added cue of the hand signal.
- Once your dog has a strong understanding of the entire paw shaking behavior, begin asking without a hand signal.
- Ask your dog for “Paw” or “Shake” and wait.
- Judge by your dog’s individual attention span and patience. Give your dog an adequate amount of time to think about what you want before giving the hand signal.
- Repeat until your dog moves their paw before you give the hand signal. At any paw movement, click your clicker, and reinforce.
- Continue this process until your dog actively paws at the air when given the command “Paw” or “Shake”.
Whether you are teaching your dog to shake paws the easy way, the hard way, or taking the ultimate challenge, all dogs learn at different paces. Be patient with your dog, and allow them to make progress at their natural speed.
Training sessions should be kept short and sweet to avoid getting yourself, or your dog, frustrated. If your training sessions end with you happy, and your dog getting treats, your are doing them correctly.
Keep working at your goal in brief training sessions throughout your day, and your dog will be shaking hands in no time!