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How To Teach Any Dog To Shake Hands

How To Teach Any Dog To Shake Hands

Shaking hands – the butt sniff of the human world.

We learn a lot from the strength, dampness and duration of a networking handshake – but dogs learn much more from sniffing poopers at the dog park.

Nonetheless, shaking hands is a sure sign of a smart, polite dog. People love it, and it’s so easy to teach. Once your dog knows how to “sit,” you’re ready to move on to this classic trick.

Train Any #Dog To Shake Hands

The Way Most People Train Their Dog To Shake Hands

The obvious approach: grab your dog’s paw, and say shake, then give your dog a treat.

I tried this when I was 10 years old and had my first dog – it never worked. (He eventually learned with the “non-pawsy” method below.)

When you take your dog’s paw in your hand, you’re actually completing the trick for her. 

She might not understand that she needs to lift her paw by herself. Every time you ask her to shake, she might be waiting for you to grab her paw – because that’s what she will have learned “shake hands” means.

Whenever you train your dog, it’s important that you use as little physical guidance as possible.

It’s easier for your dog to learn when she uses her own muscles to move into the right position.

You need to find a way to get your dog to lift her paw voluntarily, without touching her. Once she does, you’ll say, “yes!” or click your clicker, and then reward her with a small treat.

There’s two ways to get your dog to shake hands without taking her paw into your hand.

Teaching Shake To Pawsy Dogs

Some dogs are more “pawsy” than others.

This isn’t a scientific phenomenon (obviously) – just a word I made up in my own observations.

Matilda is a pawsy dog.

Even when she first came home as a 3-month-old puppy, she would lift a paw when I waved my hand near her. Some dogs seem to naturally use their paws to explore and react to the world around them.

So, for a pawsy dog like Matilda, you only have to put your hand out.

She’ll lift her paw, and may gently touch it to your hand. The moment her paw touches your hand, even oh-so-delicately, mark the behavior with your clicker or “yes!” – and then treat.

At first, she only needs to touch the palm of your hand. Do this a few times.

As she gets the hang of it, gently hold her paw as you give her a treat.

She may nose or nibble at your hand at first. She might feel a little uneasy about having her paw grabbed in the unfamiliar gesture of a pawshake.

You may need to keep the shakes short, encouraging her to keep her nose away from your shaking-hand with the treat.

Gradually increase the amount of time you hold her paw, and gently introduce that formal up-and-down shaking motion that every proper handshake deserves.

Teaching A Non-Pawsy Dog To Shake Hands

So, you now know about pawsy dogs – what about those non-pawsy dogs?

Cow is non-pawsy. When I extend my hand to her, she’s most likely to nudge it with her nose. She just doesn’t use her paws as much. I speculate that it could be because she’s more stout. Her paws are bigger and rougher, and made for digging and running, not prancing about like tiny Matilda.

How do you get that non-pawsy dog to lift her paw?

Easy. You just lure her to look over her shoulder.

A week of antibiotics and eye drops may result in this grumpy, half-hearted pawshake, as demonstrated by Cow.

A week of antibiotics and eye drops may result in this grumpy, half-hearted pawshake, as demonstrated by Cow.

As she looks over her left shoulder, she’ll need to lift her right paw for leverage.

When your dog is sitting in front of you, hold a treat over her shoulder, just next to her head. She’ll have to turn her head to eat it.

Hold another treat further past her shoulder, so she’ll have to stretch further to reach it.

Begin to only treat her when her paw lifts off the ground.

Place your other hand near her paw so she’ll touch it with her paw as she stretches.

Introduce the word, “shake,” saying it as her paw makes contact with your hand.

You won’t always have to hold a treat over her shoulder – gradually do this to a lesser and lesser degree as she associates “shake” with lifting her paw, not looking over her shoulder.

Just as you would in the previous method, gradually get her accustomed to having her paw held, then shaken like a proper lady (or gentleman.)

How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Learn To Shake?

Cow offers a happy pawshake.

A happier shake from a forgiving Cow who loves to learn.

It took me about 3 days to get Cow to lift her paw when I said, “Shake” and held out my hand.

Work for about 10 minutes at a time, even less if your dog shows signs of frustration, like looking away or not accepting treats. Multiple sessions each day can do wonders, and your dog won’t mind the extra attention.

Learning to shake hands should be fun for your dog. Training should always be fun. Treats aren’t the only motivator for your dog. She can also be motivated by the excitement of learning something new and hearing your happy voice. Always remember to bring your big bag of “YAYs” to every training session!

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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Mira Edorra

Monday 17th of September 2018

Ha ha ha, She may nose or nibble at your hand at first. She might feel a little uneasy about having her paw grabbed in the unfamiliar gesture of a paw shake. :) :)

Lisa Smith

Wednesday 6th of June 2018

Love this info! Our vet told us it could be hypothyroidism.

Our middle Shih Tzu, 10.5 years old, started shaking last fall, all of her senior bloodwork came back normal. She's lost a couple pounds (helpful for her arthritis), so our vets think she's just chilly, as senior pups tend to lose fat that kept them insulated when they were younger. We're not shaving her as close when she's groomed, and got her some cute sweaters.

Our youngest, 6-year old Shih Tzu was rescued from a puppy mill last May, she shivers from cold (sweaters for her too!) excitement, AND eating ice cream!


Thursday 6th of April 2017

A useful article on how to teach a dog. I've realized my mistake when teaching the dog to shake hands. I followed your way in a week. Amazingly, it works. Now, that my dog can shake hands whenever I say. Thank you very much for this article.

Dia All The Things I Do

Thursday 3rd of March 2016

I don't have a dog now but growing up my first dog Lady was so great about this. She would shake hands and we'd say "grin girl" and she'd show us her gums <3


Wednesday 2nd of March 2016

That is a great guide, I am wondering if I try it with my cat if it will work.

Lindsay Pevny

Tuesday 8th of March 2016

Cats can definitely be trained ~ I've never tried it myself, let me know what happens!

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