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Teaching a dog how to shake hands

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Published Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, at 2:22 p.m.

Even the simplest pet trick can impress. The secret is presentation. Take shaking hands – or “giving paw” in canine parlance. It is one of the easiest dog tricks in the book, and one that can be gussied up to make your animal appear really smart. Here’s a quick lesson from Babette Haggerty, the noted dog trainer and co-author, with Barbara Call, of “The Best Dog Tricks on the Planet” (Page Street Publishing).

Degree of difficulty: Easy

How to start: Nature has provided you a leg up, so to speak. Dogs use their paws to communicate, Haggerty said, much like people use their hands. “They paw at their owner. Take me out. Scratch me. Love me. … If they know a treat is in the hand they’ll scratch at it to get it.”

Even my dog? Because the pawing instinct is so natural, any dog can be taught to shake. “Shy dogs, nervous dogs, dogs lacking in confidence might take a little longer,” she said. But the instinct is universal, and she has never seen a dog that can’t do it.

The bribe: OK, the “reward.” Food, even a tiny piece, is a great motivator. Haggerty uses freeze-dried liver. It has a smell and taste dogs love and it’s not greasy. It comes in small cubes, which she breaks into halves. Scrumpy need not know she is getting only half the treat.

“Back (the treat) up with praise,” she said. “A lot of times I want them to be able to do (a trick) if I don’t have a treat. A lot of time they’ll work for three words of praise. They work for the excitement.”

The lesson: Have your dog sit, facing you. (Haggerty points out that most dogs come with “the sit” as standard equipment; it seems to be the one trick all kennels, breeders, pet shops and shelters teach.) Put your hand out. Some dogs will naturally shake. If not, get the liver. Hold the treat in your hand, out of sight. Let little Scrumpy sniff your hand. If she doesn’t sniff or paw at it, lift her paw and say, “Shake,” or “Paw,” or “Gimme five.” Deliver the treat. She’ll catch on quickly. Repeat five to 10 times that first session, then two or three times a day for three to five days to keep the trick as part of the dog’s repertoire.

Dress it up: Once your dog has the trick mastered, work on presentation. Teach her to sit and give paw to any strangers who visit, sort of her introducing herself. (Especially handy over the holidays!) If you really want to geek it up, outfit Scrumpy in a bow tie and tiny top hat. You will both be the talk of the neighborhood.

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