Trick With a Purpose: Give Paw
Tricks aren’t just for fun; they can have numerous practical benefits. One of my favorite tricks is to “give paw.” It’s easy for many dogs to learn, and it provides a fun way to replace jumping on people, play biting your guests, and other exuberant behaviors. (I generally do not recommend this for shy dogs who are afraid to greet strangers, however.)
Why is “paw” so magical? Because a dog who is giving his paw can’t be jumping on them. There is no need to yell “no!” or have to peel your pooch off the neighbors’ leg anymore. Furthermore, by giving his paw, your dog is still getting what he wants: interaction with a guest or passer-by. It is a controlled behavior that naturally replaces the old, undesirable behavior, without the need for punishment. Win-win!
How to Teach “Paw”
While there are many ways to teach a dog to give his paw, I prefer the following method, as it encourages your dog to think for himself.
- Ask your dog to sit. Assuming he already has a solid “sit,” don’t treat yet.
- Put a stinky treat in your hand, palm facing up, and make a loose fist to protect the treat. Extend your fist to your dog, at about his elbow level or lower.
- At first, your dog will probably lick at your hand several times. Ignore the slobber and just stay still. Eventually he will pick up a paw in an effort to pry your hand open. When his paw lifts, mark with “yes” or click. Immediately open up your fist and let him eat the treat.
- Repeat this until your dog clearly gets the idea. That is, when you present your fist, he reaches his paw up to touch it. No slobber, just paw touches.
- Add the cue “paw” right before you present your fist. Practice several more times.
- Now remove the treat from your fist. Present an empty fist this time as you say “paw.” When your dog paws at it, give him a jackpot of a few treats from your other hand. “What a cool surprise,” he thinks! Repeat several times.
- Gradually, open up your cue hand a little bit more each time. Over the course of several reps, your hand will go from a fist to an open palm. Now it really looks like you’re shaking hands!
Use Paw for Good Manners
Once your pup has mastered “paw” with you, start asking him to do it for friends and family, starting with the calmest people in your circle. For extra bouncy dogs, you can cue the “paw” while your friend holds out his palm, and then you’re the one to mark and reward your dog. This method gives you consistency, using the same tone of voice and treats that your dog is already familiar with.
As time goes on, friends can do the sequence entirely themselves, and you can fade out the treats. (“Paw” is self-rewarding, after all.) Once your dog learns how well this trick works to get him attention, he’ll happily sit to greet a new friend.
Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer at Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY, and author of the training book, "BKLN Manners." She draws upon her experience as an educator and dog trainer to apply positive training techniques to a challenging urban environment. Kate is a rescue advocate drawn to special-needs dogs and currently has two Chihuahua mixes, Batman and Beans.
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