There are three things I have learned since getting Luna that I wish someone would have taught me in our early days. Place, touch, and wait. We've picked up each of them at different times and from several people. Now I consider them essential for a well-trained dog. I introduce them in puppy class and offer them as solutions to friends and coworkers. Because they are a foundation for Trick Dog I have a planned post for each of them, but wanted to start with wait.
Wait and stay are similar commands, yet vastly different. With stay you are asking your dog to remain in the exact place and position you have left them. Sit/stay, means to sit where you are until I come back. That doesn't mean down, and it doesn't mean moving forward to see how much ground you can steal before I turn around. This isn't baseball. Stay is serious business because it could save your dog’s life.
Stay also doesn't mean I am going to call you to me.
If you are an experienced dog owner, you may have just reread that sentence. Maybe you stared at it in disbelief. It comes off a little crazy, right? What do you mean, you can't call your dog to you from a stay? Remember, stay isn't voluntary or conditional. Stay means you remain exactly where you are until I come back. Which means if you are calling your dog to you you are breaking down the strength of the command.
Now, hopefully, you've accepted that the idea of not calling your dog from a stay isn’t crazy. Or at least are open minded enough to keep reading. Because this is where wait comes in.
Call it shake, paw, or pick your own command, teaching your dog to lift their paw for you is a trick staple. It's the one that strangers on the street will ask your dog, “Can you shake?” And wait for your dog’s non-verbal answer. Maybe it’s because we associate shaking hands as etiquette. But whatever the reason, shake is a crowd pleaser. It also leads to dozens of other tricks: wave, high five (or ten), to name the easier ones.
Ironically, shake is one of the few tricks that Luna didn’t seem to ‘get’ for the longest time. I assumed it would be easiest to pick up her paw for her, ‘shake’ it while repeating the command. I figured she would either recognize the word or the hand signal, but she always just looked at me confused. After a while I gave up and moved on to tricks she was more naturally inclined to do.
Turned out I was doing it wrong. Or at least wrong for her. Since then I have found that whenever possible you need to lure your dog into doing whatever it is you are asking of them. While I was attempting to teach her shake I was in fact doing the motion for her. In her mind we were doing the trick as designed, and I guess she’s right.
Ready to give it a try?
Paw is best taught on the ground with your dog in a sitting position in front of you. Take a tasty treat (the tastier the better) and let them watch you put it in a closed fist. Place your hand on the ground just in front of their paws. Your dog will probably sniff at the treat, they may lie down, or even lick your hand. As soon as their paw leaves the ground mark the behavior (such as using the word ‘yes’!), followed by the command (good paw), and then reward them with the treat.
Continue to praise and reward for raising the paw. Transition to holding your hand open, palm up, and shaking before raising your arm to a greater height. Your goal should be chest high for the dog.
Every dog learns this trick at a different pace. Once Luna understood I wanted her paw to touch my hand she was shaking after just a few sessions. Ella still paws at me half the time, and for Charlie it’s one of his favorite tricks.
Already have it mastered?
Try taking shake to a new level. Teach your dog to switch paws. Like humans they have a preference between right and left. Or move your hand away to teach wave, hand forward and towards them for high five.
When teaching additional tricks it is often helpful to use both the new and old command at first. For example, with wave I would call it ‘shake wave’ to encourage the paw lift.
Now for a real challenge explore your own tricks involving paw. Think buttons and switches - even musical instruments.
Have a unique way of using the paw command? Let us know in the comments below.
Lisa (and Luna)