How to Train Your Dog to Stop Pawing

How to Train Your Dog to Stop Pawing
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon2-4 Weeks
Behavior training category iconBehavior

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Extinguish Method

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1

Provide random attention

Give your dog lots or attention randomly throughout the day when he is not pawing at you.

2

Exercise

Provide lots of exercise so your dog is not bored or have excess energy, to reduce pawing behavior.

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.

4

Do not punish

Do not punish or reprimand pawing behavior, as this is a form of attention.

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.

The Alternate Behavior Method

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Teach alternate behavior

Teach your dog a trick or behavior like 'sit', 'lie down', 'sit pretty', or 'roll over'.

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'.

3

Reward with attention

Reward alternate behavior with a treat and praise.

4

Ignore pawing

If your dog paws at you, ignore him or walk away.

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.

6

Establish alternate attention getter

Repeat until your dog learns that performing an alternate behavior gets praise and affection, pawing does not.

The Teach 'Shake' Method

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Set up

Sit your dog down in front of you, have treats available.

2

Command 'shake'

Put your closed hand out with a treat in it and give the command for 'shake'.

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.

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.

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.

By Laurie Haggart

Published: 11/02/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Ahsoka

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Pit bull

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2 Years

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Question

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We rescued Ahsoka almost a week ago. We learned very quickly she likes to paw at you for attention or when she's excited. She swipes her paw at your face a lot of the time. What is the best way to prevent this? I want to begin to be consistent but not too harsh, since she is a rescue still making herself comfortable in our house.

June 21, 2022

Ahsoka's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Abby, I would teach Out and Place, and whenever pup paws at you, make pup leave the area (out) or go to place - removing the attention. I would also give pup another way to ask for attention, like tell pup Sit when they approach you and pet pup when they sit - so pup can learn to ask nicely for attention instead of pawing. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Pay attention to the sections in the out article on how to teach out and how to use out to deal with pushiness. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

June 22, 2022

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minnie

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Mixed

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9 Years

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Question

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pawing, jumping up, pulling on lead. Is a rescue dog from Romania with no training at all

Aug. 15, 2021

minnie's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Pamela, Jumping: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump For the pawing - Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite For the pawing and jumping - Out command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ For the pulling - Turns method for teaching Heel: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Aug. 16, 2021


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