Owning a pet can be an incredible experience. Wouldn’t it be fun to teach your puppy or dog a new trick?
Although learning new tricks can be time-consuming for some dogs, this guide will help explain a basic and very cute trick: shaking your dog’s paw.
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How Do I Get My Dog To Shake?
Before we get started with teaching your dog to shake, they first need to be able to sit on cue. They’ll need to be sitting for the rest of the trick. And, having some training already under your belt means that you’ll have a dog that knows to listen to you.
For the following steps, you can use clicker training or other training methods. We’ll talk through it using clicker training as the method.
Be sure to give your dog lots of positive reinforcement so that training can be a happy experience for them, and they’ll know when they’re doing something right.
Establish the Clicker Connection
If you have not used clicker training before, here’s the gist of it: you associate the sound of a hand clicker with (immediate) treats. You’ll want to use some low-fat treats since you’ll be giving out a lot of them.
Before you can use the clicker to train specific tricks, you first need to build up that association. That means clicking the clicker, then immediately giving a treat. Click it again, give another treat. Do this many times until your dog has made the connection and expects to get a treat each time they hear the click.
Next, tell them to “sit” and as soon as they do so, click the clicker and give them a treat. Do this a few more times. The point is to move their expectation from “the clicker clicks and I get a treat” to “I need to figure out what to do in order to make the clicker click, so that I get a treat.”
When you’re introducing this concept for the first time, and when you’re teaching new tricks, you can give them a treat for each click. Only reduce the rewards for doing tricks after the tricks are well-established.
Roadmap to Learning How to Shake
The overall pattern of learning will look like this:
- Establish click-treat connection
- Establish trick-click-treat connection
- Start to develop paw movement
- “Full” shake behavior
- Introduce the verbal cue
- Practice verbal cue
Let’s get started!
Developing Paw Movement
With the clicker-treat connection fully made, and with your dog sitting, you first need to get them to do something with their paw.
We’re not trying to get a normal “shake” motion at this point. We just want them to move their paw, and immediately click and give them a treat. This will help them develop the connection in their mind of “when I move my paw, I get a treat.”
There are a few ways to do this. With your dog sitting, you could:
- Tickle the underneath of their paw lightly so they lift it up. When they do so, click and give them a treat.
- Hold a treat in your hand and raise it above their head as they’re sitting. Lift the treat so they sit up or lean in such a way that one of their paw lifts (then, click and give a treat).
- Hold a treat in your closed hand and place it in front of the dog. If they inquisitively paw at your hand, click and give them a treat.
Don’t grab their paw. You want to do something that encourages them to lift their paw on their own.
Whichever method(s) work for you, keep doing it a few times so they start to make the connection between paw movement and a treat.
Now For The Shake
With that connection made, let’s try a full shake.
Have your dog sit, and place your hand out, flat with your palm facing up. Wait to see what your dog does. It may take them a few moments, but having just learned that pawing will get them a treat, they will likely try to place their paw near your hand.
When they do so, click the clicker and give them a treat. Repeat this process several more times, clicking and rewarding for full shake behavior.
Since the connection is getting stronger each time, you can be more selective as time goes on. So reward the awkward shakes in the beginning, but you can try to improve their behavior each time by waiting to click until they place their paw fully on your hand, for example.
The important part is to make incremental improvements, though.
Once your dog has the full shake behavior figured out, it’s time to add a verbal cue. Generally speaking, you only want to add in the verbal command once you have solidified what behavior you want to trigger with the command.
So, if your dog isn’t shaking correctly yet (and is instead pawing wildly at you, or jumping up, or whatever else), don’t do this step yet. Otherwise you’ll just be making a stronger association between the unwanted behavior and the word “shake”.
But if your dog is shaking correctly, repeat the behavior but say “shake” each time. By now, we’ve got a firm grasp on:
- Placing your hand out and having your dog shake it
- Hear the clicker
- Get a treat
We’re going to add “Shake” at the beginning, so the dog is hearing and seeing the cue, shaking your hand, hearing the clicker, and getting a treat.
You know the drill by now: repeat this process until the connection is clear and they are consistently reacting as you’d like them to.
Raise the Game (Verbal Cue Only)
Once your dog is a pro at shaking, you can try to remove the visual cue (placing your hand out) and using only the verbal cue of “Shake!”
Again, click and reward them each time they get it right. Give them time to figure out the connections–it may be a few moments before they place their paw out for you, since this is a change from what they’re used to. Let them try to make the connection on their own, and then immediately click and reward them once they figure it out.
There you have it! Hopefully by now your dog is a hand-shaking pro, and you feel proud of your furry friend’s new trick.
After the behavior is well-established, you can continue to practice the trick but slowly phase out treats. You’ll still want to praise them each time they get it right, whether or not you give them a treat.
New tricks are fun to teach dogs for a variety of reasons, including being a great bonding experience for you and your dog.