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Teach Your Dog to Shake Paws in Five Steps

Follow this step-by-step guide to have fun teaching Fido the human greeting, the shake cue!

Teach Your Dog to Shake Paws in Five Steps

Follow this step-by-step guide to have fun teaching Fido the human greeting, the shake cue!

By: Sara Ondrako, Certified Canine Behavior Professional

Training your furry friend strengthens your relationship, provides mental stimulation, and can be a lot of fun - especially when you teach cool dog tricks like how to shake paws. This simple yet endearing trick is a great way to impress friends and family while enhancing your relationship with your pup. Follow this step-by-step guide to have fun teaching Fido the human greeting, the shake cue!

Hand holding a fluffy grey dog's paw

Preparing for Your Training Session

Ensure your dog is comfortable with having their paws handled beforehand. Comfortability with handling is crucial to avoid stress related to an activity that's meant to be fun. 

Start by gently handling their paws during regular petting sessions while giving them morsels of their favorite dog treats. Gradually increase the time you spend touching their feet to help them become accustomed to the sensation. If your pup is hesitant about having their paws touched a lot, try giving them a calming supplement forty minutes before your sessions when they are likely to be more relaxed naturally. Take your time and keep sessions short; move at their pace and gradually increase time spent gently touching their paws and paw pads. 

In addition to handling comfortability, it helps to have a "yes" marker onboarded. A "yes" marker indicates that the dog has done the exact behavior you wanted and a reward (reinforcer) is coming. Building in a "yes" marker can happen verbally with the word itself, or many people prefer clicker training in which the click sound from the clicker is the marker for "yes" that indicates a tasty treat is coming. If your pup hears the sound of the click or verbal "yes" and is actively looking for that reward to follow, you are ready to use the marker in training. 

Owner trains his cream colored dog how to shake paws

Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Your Dog to Shake

Step One: Associate your hand and your paw

The sitting position is easiest for the dog to start in, especially for older dogs, since one of the paws they support themselves with will be used to shake.

Ask your dog the "sit" cue and reward for sitting. Then place a treat in your hand and close your hand around the treat. Place your closed fist on the ground in front of your dog's paw and allow them to naturally explore with their paw. When they touch their paw to your hand, give your click or "yes" marker and open your closed fist for accessibility to their reward for figuring it out.

Repeat a couple of times and then try it with an empty hand in front of their paw, with their reward coming from the opposite hand (not the hand being presented to your pup). Repeat this step several times until your dog reliably places their paw on your hand when you offer the closed fist next to their paw. Now try this with an open palm delivering the treat from your other hand swiftly while their paw still touches your palm. The hard part is done - now on to shaping it further!

Step Two: Moving On Up

Now, Open your closed hand and present it at chest level. With an understanding of step one, most dogs naturally react by lifting a paw to the hand at chest level. As soon as their paw touches your open palm, give the marker and quickly deliver their reward from your other hand. Repeat several times, giving the marker and providing the reward while their paw is still in your hand. 

Step Three: Name the Behavior

Now that your dog understands the behavior you are looking for, choose the verbal cue you'd like to associate with giving you their paw, such as "shake" or "paw." Each time you present your open palm to your dog, wait for your dog to begin placing their paw in your hand, and as that action is happening, give your new cue word "shake." Repeat this step several times so that your pup gets familiar with the word happening while the action is happening. 

Step Four: Condition the Cue

Now that you've named the action several times, your dog will most likely understand what behavior you are seeking if you give the cue before the behavior. At the same time, extend your hand to your dog and give the cue "shake." Give your pup positive reinforcement for completing the behavior on cue using their treat and verbal praise

Step Five: Shaking Paws

Give your cue word and when your dog offers their paw, shake gently up and down once, give your marker, then provide your reward while their paw is still in your hand. Repeat twice and then advance to follow the same steps again, gradually increasing the number of up and down shakes you perform before giving the marker and reward. Give your pup a little encouragement verbally with those "good boy" words to let them know that even though a new, longer motion is happening, they are still doing what you are asking for and to keep going. Most pet parents like to settle on a good three up and down shake, but it's up to you and your distinguished doggo!

Gradually reduce the frequency of training treats, but continue to reward them intermittently to maintain their enthusiasm. Keep your training sessions short when teaching a new skill, such as at five-minute intervals three times a day. This helps keep the game fun. 

Make it Stick: Building a Reliable Paw Shake

For your dog to understand and feel comfortable offering a paw shake to other people outside of where they learned, and even with distractions, you have to practice with other people, in different environments and under gradually increasing distractions. This is called generalizing so that your pup learns that no matter where you are or what is going on around you, the cue word always means the same thing. 

Practice the "shake" command in different locations, both indoors and outdoors, beginning with little to no distraction. Recruit people your dog is familiar with and comfortable with to help practice the cue. As your furry friend excels at the shake, you can increase distractions, such as asking for a shake in a noisier environment, like a playground, or when other dogs are playing nearby. This will help your dog understand that the trick is not limited to a specific context. 

Bonus Trick: How to Shake Hands With Your Dog Using Both Paws

Now that your pup can successfully shake, try kicking your training up a notch by advancing the skill to switch paws and shake with both on cue!

Start your training session by asking your dog to shake and rewarding that shake. Most dogs will consistently default to either the left or right paw. Next, place your open palm at their mid-arm level on the opposite side of their other leg - the leg they less frequently offer to shake with. If they provide the paw they are used to offering, despite it being on the other side, wait and allow them to try something different. 

When your pup uses the paw you are working towards the shake with, give your "yes" marker and immediately reward with a treat. Repeat this a few times and then move to chest level and repeat a few times. Next, go back and forth between the two paws offering your hand and rewarding when your pooch places the correct paw in your palm. 

Now you can name the individual paw - or - build in a simple "other paw" to indicate to shake with the opposite paw. To do this, pair your cue word, such as "shake left," with their left paw when you present your hand and "shake right" when you give your hand for the right paw. Once you've completed this, go back to step five to condition the complete shake back and forth with both paws. 

If you don't want to rename the shake to left and right, add "other paw" by asking your pup to shake, moving your hand to the other leg, and pairing your cue "other paw" with presenting your hand to shake. Repeat several times, and before you know it, your pup will know that when you ask for "other paw," you are requesting your dog shakes the opposite paw. 

What to Do if You Are Having Trouble With Your Dog Training

Remember that dogs are individuals that learn at their own pace. Practice patience as you try to connect with a language barrier between you, and be generous with your positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement goes a long way in making the training experience enjoyable for both of you.

If your pup has trouble with step one, place a treat in your closed fist by their paw. If they investigate with their nose, keep your hand still and wait for them to continue trying to get to the treat. The second your pup tries with a paw, mark it and open your hand to reveal the treat for your pup to enjoy. Repeat this several times. 

If your pup struggles with steps two through four, break it down a bit more so they can win at an easier level before advancing the skill. For example, if you raise your hand to chest level and they don't offer a paw to your hand though they did at paw level, bring your closed fist down to mid-front arm bones instead (the area between wrist and elbow on your puppy). 

If your pup is struggling with step five, decrease the distraction, increase your play breaks during training, and when all else fails, get the help of a certified positive reinforcement dog trainer to coach you through this skill and so many other valuable cues. 

Hand holding brown dog's paws

Hidden Benefits to Teaching Your Dog or New Puppy to Shake

Did you know that getting your pup comfortable, and not just comfortable but engaged in the shake, can help lower their stress levels for veterinary procedures? There are so many benefits to training with your canine companion beyond the fun side of your dog knowing so many cool tricks. 

Lie down, rolling over, balancing a treat on a dog's nose, and even teaching a high five have hidden benefits to making handling from strangers easier on your pup. They all can contribute to what's known as cooperative care training, where dogs are taught exercises that give them choice and agency. This control makes them more comfortable and trusting in various processes. With a shake, while there is more involved in teaching genuine cooperative care, dogs taught this easy trick can quickly pick up on cooperative care exercises, widely opening up their reception to nail trims, blood draws, and physical exams. 

Professional dog trainers don't just train a dog for obedience. They also coach dog owners to teach fun tricks, strengthen the human-animal bond, show off your amazing furry friend's skills, and even help them be more comfortable with grooming and medical procedures. Imagine the positive effects teaching new tricks can have on you both! Expand your skills and try some other easy tricks to teach your dog, such as how to sit pretty, kiss, and even offer a chin rest - another cooperative care exercise. You'd be amazed at how many other verbal cues your dog can learn besides the basic cues. 

Happy training!

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