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Teaching Your Dog to "Shake"

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Teaching your dog a few simple tricks is fun and entertaining for both you and your pet. It's best if your dog knows and can perform the basic obedience commands of "sit," "stay" and "down" reliably before advancing to tricks. Most tricks are built on these commands and your dog should have learned how to pay attention to you during training sessions.

If your dog has any type of arthritis or degenerative joint disease, check with your veterinarian before proceeding. Even simple tricks can place stress on joints that are painful and sore.

The success of training your dog relies on rewarding correct behavior. Rewards differ from dog to dog; for some it may be food and for others praise. Some dogs will do whatever you want just to have a little playtime. Find the reward that best motivates your dog to learn. Work with your dog daily in 5 to 15 minute sessions. Keep it fun and end the session with a reward. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or tired, quit and try again later.

Teaching your dog to "shake" is easy; he'll learn fast and you can build from this success. To teach your dog, have a food treat ready. Give the command to "sit." Reward him with verbal praise but withhold the treat for the time being. When he has held the sit position for a few seconds, give the command "shake." It is better to use one word commands, so stick to "shake" instead of "give me your paw."

Gently pick up one of his front legs in the vicinity of his elbow and slide your hand downwards toward what would be his wrist. Most dogs dislike having their feet touched so don't try picking one up until he's used to the idea. Stop at the point at which you are lightly holding his wrist and give it a little shake. Don't let your dog move from the sit position when you pick up his leg. If he does, begin again. Reward your dog for any degree of success. Practice a few times until he lifts his paw on his own.

Continue to practice this exercise over and over again. Always use a happy singsong voice to praise him and use lots of other positive reinforcements. Eventually, your dog will understand what you are asking and will want to shake your hand so often, you may think he has political aspirations.

The way to success in teaching your dog tricks is patience, practice, praise, and persistence. Every step in the right direction should be rewarded as though he had just won the lottery. Tricks are fun – learning how to do them should be fun, too.

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