How to Train Your Dog to Stop Pawing

Medium
2-4 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

Max is a beautiful Golden Retriever, who is adored by his family and loves attention. When Max was young, he wanted to be petted all the time, have his ball thrown all the time, and just generally wanted attention--all the time! If family members did not pay attention to him, Max learned that he could put his paw on their leg, or paw at their hand, to get their attention. Because the kids in Max's family thought this was a cute and human-like gesture, they responded in the worst way possible: by giving attention to Max. Even though mom and dad tried to discourage Max from putting his paws on people, the kids, and guests responded positively to Max's pawing, so Max learned that if he just kept pawing to get attention, sometimes it would work. 

One day, a friend came over for coffee and brought her 3-year-old daughter. The little girl was sitting in the family room playing with some toys and mom was enjoying a coffee in the kitchen, when friendly Max went over and put his paw up on the child in an effort to get some petting, inadvertently scratching the girl's face. Max's owners felt terrible, the child was hurt and scared, and the friend... well, she hasn't been back for coffee since.

Defining Tasks

People use their hands to show affection, so it is easy to interpret a dog using their paws as cute and affectionate. But it is not! Dogs do not use their paws to show affection, it is actually a dominant behavior, and is an indication that your dog is not respecting your position in his pack. Dogs that use their paws to demand attention are not respecting your space. Besides not wanting to encourage your dog for being disrespectful, pawing should be discouraged as it can be dangerous. Young children or seniors with fragile skin or who have faces close to the ground can be easily injured by pawing behavior. The problem is, however, that if your dog has been rewarded in the past by getting attention for pawing, this will be a more difficult behavior to break. You will need to teach your dog that pawing does not get a pay off, ever, and that there are other more respectful behaviors your dog can engage in that will get rewarded.

Getting Started

One of the most important things to do to ensure success teaching your dog to stop pawing is to ensure everyone in the family, and friends and guests to your home, are on board.  If anyone rewards pawing behavior with attention in the home, they are setting up a variable reinforcement. That is, sometimes pawing is rewarded. This makes the behavior very difficult to extinguish, as the dog has learned that the behavior is worth doing, even if they do not get immediately rewarded, because sometimes it will work! This will require discipline and patience on everyone's part, to be consistent and not reward pawing. Using a clicker and treats to create alternative behaviors can be useful to redirect pawing behavior, and may be used in conjunction with efforts to extinguish unwanted behavior.

The Extinguish Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Provide random attention
Give your dog lots or attention randomly throughout the day when he is not pawing at you.
Step
2
Exercise
Provide lots of exercise so your dog is not bored or have excess energy, to reduce pawing behavior.
Step
3
Ignore
When your dog paws at you, do not respond, completely ignore your dog. Make sure everyone, including guests, is aware of this policy. Do not talk, touch, or even look at your dog when pawing.
Step
4
Do not punish
Do not punish or reprimand pawing behavior, as this is a form of attention.
Step
5
Reward not pawing
When your dog eventually gives up and leaves, wait a few minutes then call your dog back over for a treat and attention.
Recommend training method?

The Alternate Behavior Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Teach alternate behavior
Teach your dog a trick or behavior like 'sit', 'lie down', 'sit pretty', or 'roll over'.
Step
2
Ask for other behavior
When your dog approaches and looks like they are going to paw, anticipate your dog and provide an alternate command for the trick or behavior, such as 'sit' or 'roll over'.
Step
3
Reward with attention
Reward alternate behavior with a treat and praise.
Step
4
Ignore pawing
If your dog paws at you, ignore him or walk away.
Step
5
Reinforce other behavior
When your dog stops pawing you, give your dog an alternate command for a trick or behavior and reward the good behavior.
Step
6
Establish alternate attention getter
Repeat until your dog learns that performing an alternate behavior gets praise and affection, pawing does not.
Recommend training method?

The Teach 'Shake' Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Set up
Sit your dog down in front of you, have treats available.
Step
2
Command 'shake'
Put your closed hand out with a treat in it and give the command for 'shake'.
Step
3
Wait for pawing and reward
Your dog may nose at the closed hand. Keep the hand closed and repeat the 'shake' command. When your dog paws at your hand, open your hand, take the dog's paw, shake, and then provide the treat.
Step
4
Shape 'shake' behavior
Repeat, but hold the treat in the other hand, extend your hand, say "shake". When your dog puts his paw in your hand, shake and treat.
Step
5
Reward shake, ignore pawing
When your dog paws, or puts his paw on you when you don't say "shake", ignore and don’t treat. Your dog will learn that he only gets rewarded for pawing when he is commanded to shake.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Browning
Lab'Aire
1 year
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Browning
Lab'Aire
1 year

My lab has been pawing my husband and I since we first taught her how to shake. Problem is, NOW she doesn't stop! We have stopped asking her to shake, we have given her the cold shoulder with no attention When she uses her paw, not even a no. So we are at a loss. When we play, she HAS to use her paws roughly. She will scratch almost intentionally, like she's holding on. She is a very passive dog, as soon as she sees another dog, she rolls over. But when that dog accepts her, she will paw their face. (Which ultimately makes the other dog hate her). My husband and I just found out we are pregnant and we are worried she will paw the new baby! Please help!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
78 Dog owners recommended

Hi Logan, Since simply removing attention has not stopped the behavior I would do a couple of things. First, whenever Browning comes over to receive attention give her a command such as sit or down before petting her. The more you encourage a desirable behavior such as sitting or downing, the more likely Browning will be to do that instead of the pawing to receive a reward, especially since that is how the pawing began. Secondly, teach browning an "Out" command, to use when she is pawing. To teach her the Out: 1. Go stand in a narrow space, such as a narrow kitchen or hallway. Bring treats or a few favorite toys with you. 2. With Browning by your side, toss a treat or toy several feet away from you and her, while pointing with one hand towards the direction that you tossed the item and commanding "Out". Make sure she sees you toss the item. 3. After she has gotten the item, tell her OK! in a happy tone and invite her to come back towards you by acting happy and welcoming. 4. When she is by your side again, repeat the process until she begins to walk or run into the area that she anticipates the item will be tossed BEFORE you toss the item, but after you have pointed and commanded Out. When she does this, toss the item to her after she is there instead of ahead of her. 5. Repeat this until she will go away from you, to where you point, when told Out regularly. 6. If she does not "Out" after she has shown that she understands the command or if she tries to come back towards you before being told "OK", walk towards her, blocking her way, until she backs away enough to reach the area where she was originally told to go to during the "Out" command. If she tries to dart past you then block her way and stand firm until she gives up. If when you back away after having walked her to her location, she tries to follow you, stop and step towards her again until she moves back to where she should be. You may have to repeat this several times to help her learn to stay back. Doing the walking towards her and blocking her will help communicate through your body language that she is supposed to stay back. 7. The Out command means go away, towards the direction you point. Once the dog reaches that location the dog does not have to stay right there, they can completely leave the room or area even more if they choose, but they cannot come back to where they were told to leave from until told OK. Once Browning knows the Out command then when she paws at you you can use the out command to clearly communicate to her to go away, doing this will also remove the attention, which should make her want to do the pawing less. It is important to also have her sit or down or do another behavior that you approve of when she comes over to you though. Combining the Out and the sit type behavior will give her two choices. She can paw and have to leave or she can sit and receive attention.

I love this! Thank you so much. We will start this training TODAY!

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