Teaching your dog to offer their paw for a handshake is one of the easiest, and most rewarding experiences you can share with your furry friend. Shaking paws is an important command to teach your dog because it sets a strong foundation for many future commands, and assists in getting your dog comfortable with you handling their paws.
To begin training your dog to shake a paw, you'll need just a small list of things. You'll want to find a quiet, comfortable (no cold floors!) open space to work with your dog. As well, you'll need some uninterrupted time, five to ten minutes that you'll be able to dedicate to training your dog. Finally, grab some small treats (such as Buster's Tasty Treats) to use as rewards which assist with training. This training can be completed with your dog standing or sitting, though some may find it easier to teach a sitting dog. Please refer to our Sit Training here: https://www.busterstastytreats.ca/blog to teaching dog to sit*
For the first step, have your treats ready (put where the dog won't be distracted by them), and have your dog sit or stand in front of you, facing you. You'll want to start by training your dog one paw at a time. To make this easy, start by using only one hand per paw. In this example, we'll be using our RIGHT hand to get our dog's LEFT paw. With your dog's attention on you, make an exaggerated motion with your right hand - bring your arm out wide, then in so it's straight forward, and down to your dog's head and further to their shoulder down to their paw.
Give your dog a verbal command "Shake", or "Give paw", or "Shake a paw", any variation will work but you must keep it consistent (do not use "Shake" and then "Give paw", you dog will understand these as two completely different commands), use only one verbal command.
Once the verbal command is given, gently lift your dog's paw until you are holding it in a handshake. Your dog might fuss, and that's ok - some dogs especially don't like their paws being handled. Be patient, and be gentle - if your dog whines or yelps in pain you should have their paws checked by a veterinarian in case there are any underlying issues.
If your dog has successfully allowed you to hold their paw - congrats! Now is the time to reward your dog. Show your dog that you're happy with their actions (pets, "good boy/girl", lots of love) and give them a treat. Let them know that giving you the paw is exactly what you wanted.
Repeat this step for five to ten minutes, then take a break. You may come back to Step 1 later on in the day, or the next day. Repeat until your dog gives you their paw willingly, with little or no fuss..
Next up, repeat the same training with the other paw!
Some dogs will figure this out quickly, while others will need more time and reinforcement. Make sure to only reward your dog when you have either taken their paw, or they have given it. Do not reward any other behavior or response, or it may confuse your dog. Simple, repeated, clear commands and responses is what you're after.
Finally, you can transition towards using only a verbal command, and removing the treat reward. Start by substituting the treat with lots of praise, and only giving the treat every 2-3 times and even less as training proceeds. Reduce the range of motion with your hand and arm to a simple offering for a handshake, similar to how you would with a human. Emphasize the verbal command when you offer your hand and your dog will put it together. If they struggle with what you want, gently reach for their paw while repeating the command.
Congrats! Your dog now knows how to "Shake a Paw" on command! Now it's time for you both to have fun. Find time to practice this command outside of comfortable settings - during a walk, at a friends house, anywhere that isn't your training place. Show off to your friends!
Find ways for you and your dog to have fun together - even in training! Remember to be patient, gentle, and give lots of love to your dog!