Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Paw Behaviors

Some dogs, like Lamar, seem to take great joy in using their front paws. 
When I first laid eyes on Lamar in the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, he was sitting there in his cage offering one front paw after another at me. Small wonder that he became my foster dog, then my foster failure.

Many dogs will paw at you for food, attention, and just for fun; they pick up shake and high five and all sorts of cool front paw behaviors just like that. 

If your dog doesn't offer High Fives or Shakes all by himself, they are easy to teach. Have your dog sit in front of you. Hold a treat to one side of his nose, so he has to lean over a bit to sniff it. Encourage him to get the treat--many dogs will paw your hand to get it. As soon as he does, click and treat. If he doesn't give his paw automatically, you can touch it gently. If he lifts it even a little, click and treat. 

The other night, inspired in part by our book Dog Tricks: Fun and Games for your Clever Canine, we decided to do some real work on building paw behaviors. One we hadn't tried before: The Wave.

If your dog knows a High Five or Shake already, hold your hand out and prompt this skill as usual. Click and treat when he does, and do this several times. 

Then, hold your hand higher. Prompt "High Five" or "Shake," but delay the click/treat until the paw goes higher.
Repeat, but delay the click even longer so that the paw is lifting up high, then lowering and lifting again before you deliver the click and treat. Say your usual cue, then say it again, then end by saying "Wave" before you click and treat. 

Since Lamar and Fozzie love to offer front paws, we haven't had to start from scratch with teaching these tricks. Both are on their way to a stellar wave--though Fozzie lifts his paw so high that he falls forward before he can lift it again! (I need to work on finding the right height to hold my hand, so he can keep his balance). 

Paw behaviors are a great way to inject some fun into your training routine. Since a paw lift is a calming signal, they may even be a way to help your dog communicate that he is not a threat to other dogs--so you can cue a paw lift when you encounter another dog, to lessen the likelihood of tension. And, they are a perfectly healthy way to channel a certain obsession. How do you feel about paw behaviors?


  1. I just wanted to say how cute that header picture is!! What a sweetie of a dog!! All quiet and sleeping on the couch. :) I love his big paws too. The paws of a dog aren't as mentioned as being cute by some but I think they are!! Awwww....I adore animals!!

  2. Thank you James :) That's Fozzie, who really does defy all norms for cuteness. Not to mention his paws!

  3. Ahhh, Fozzie!! What a cute name for an adorable doggie.

  4. His name in the shelter was Bullet! I wanted to give him a name that was slightly more approachable and family-friendly :)

  5. Our Best Friend likes to sit on his haunches and put both front paws on our shoulders in a kind of hug. We tried to get the dog we babysit, Blackie, to do it; her haunches are smaller, and she kept falling over. :)

  6. That is very sweet! I would imagine that many tricks are dependent on a dog's physiology...I can't imagine either of my two big top-heavy dogs sitting up on their haunches!

  7. Very nice and helpful information has been given in this article. I like the way you explain the things. Keep posting. Thanks..
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