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Picture the scene: Your adorable smush-faced pug has one bad habit (well, two if you include eating anything and everything he shouldn't). That bad habit is when you attempt to clip his nails he pulls away and even growls. It's got to the point where you can't even touch his feet, because of his bad reaction.
This is just one example of how some dogs hate having their paws touched. When you teach a dog to willingly give his paw, this can diffuse a whole lot of difficult and potentially stressful situations, such as nail clips or drying paws after a walk.
The idea is to replace unpleasant associations between paw contact and people, with the prospect of a tasty treat when he does something as easy as offer up a paw. With a food-motivated dog like a pug, this offer is too good to turn down and in no time at all, he'll be pestering you to take a paw on the off-chance of a reward.
Teaching a pug to give a paw is a trick, but it's also one with a serious undertone. Many dogs are 'paw shy' and intensely dislike having their feet touched. If you've ever struggled to get your dog's claws clipped then you've experienced for yourself just how difficult a paw-phobia can make even the simplest activity.
However, when your dog willing gives a paw on cue, he learns to associate that contact with good things likes treats and praise. While you'll need further training to get an anxious dog to accept having his toenails clipped, at least you are halfway there with the 'paw' command.
Another great practical use of giving a paw, is that visitors can ask the dog to greet them by giving a paw. While this doesn't sound much in itself, it actually distracts the dog from jumping up and therefore makes for better behavior when guests arrive.
Training a pug to give a paw is a super-sweet way of spending time one-to-one with your pet pal. This is also a great way of teaching him to listen to you and also helping him to bond. You need very little special equipment since the technique is in the timing and the encouragement to perform this neat trick.
You will need:
- A distraction-free place for those early lessons
- Small, bite-sized treats. Make sure they are small so that the dog doesn't spend more time chewing than learning.
- A bag or pouch to keep the treats handy
- A clicker, should you decide to use the clicker training method.
The Touch and Treat Method
Understand the idea
In this method you hold something the dog wants (a treat!) in your closed fist. You entice the pug to paw at the hand to get the treat and as soon as those toes touch your hand you give the cue "shake", praise him and give the treat. As he gets the hang of what's expected you can trigger him to touch your hand with a paw by saying "shake."
A treat in the hand
Pugs are highly food motivated so it's easy to find a treat that he wants a lot! Hold that treat (a slightly smelly one works well as he'll be able to sniff it and know you're hiding something) in your hand but with fingers curled around it. Let him sniff but not get the treat.
Move the hand slightly
Hold the treat low and move your hand slightly to one side so that the dog shifts his weight off one paw. This will make it more natural for him to lift that paw to tap at your hand. Encourage him to investigate your hand and eventually most dogs will try pawing at the hand to get at the treat.
Mark the tap
As soon as your pug touches your hand with the paw say "yes" in an excited voice and let him have the treat. This helps him understand that it was the paw against the hand that did the trick, so he'll try that again. Keep practicing, over and over again.
Add cue word
Pretty soon that greedy Pug will learn the connection between tapping your hand and getting a treat. When he looks to your hand expectantly when you move it towards him, start adding the cue word "shake", and then when he paws at the hand praise him and give the treat. With plenty of practice you can put touching your hand on cue and start to drop off giving the treats so that they become an occasional reward.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Do: Praise the Pug immediately
Be sure to say "yes" excitedly at the exact moment the dog touches your hand. If you delay and say it a few seconds later, the connection between action and reward is lost and the dog won't learn the trick.
Do: Work with a smelly treat
It might not appeal to you, but a nice smelly treat is going to engage your Pug's interest very quickly. That's a sure fire way to get him keen on learning in double quick time, so that he can get that tasty reward.
Do: Keep training fun
Remember, this is a trick you are teaching and it should always be fun. Praise the pug extravagantly when he gets things right, but there's no need to be tough if he doesn't get it. Simply bring the session to an end and try again another time.
Don't: Overtire the dog
Believe it or not, this takes a lot of mental effort for the dog. If he seems to lose interest or get distracted, or things simply aren't going that well, then it could be he's tired and it's best to stop. Try to end on a positive note, with a command he knows well such as 'sit' so that he's left feeling good about himself.
Do: Train little and often
Short training sessions spaced over the day work best. Think about training him during the ad breaks on TV so that he learns a new skill in time that might otherwise be lost.
The Clicker Training Method
Understand the idea
First you teach the dog that a click from the clicker means he's earned a reward. Then you use to clicker to mark the action you want, such as the dog lifting a paw from the ground. The dog will then start to raise his paw on demand in order to earn a treat. Then you touch your hand to the raised paw and click and reward. Eventually, you hold out your hand and wait for the dog to touch it, then click and reward.
Teach the link between click and reward
Drop a treat on the floor. As the Pug gobbles it up, press the clicker. Repeat. Keep dropping treats on the floor and click at the precise moment the pug eats it. Now try clicking and watch to see what the dog does. If his head goes down to the ground, you'll know he's made the link with a click meaning he gets a treat. You're also ready to move onto the next step.
Watch and wait
Keep the clicker and treat handy. Sit and watch the dog. You want to spot the moment he spontaneously lifts a paw off the ground. It may be helpful to do this as a time when he's more likely to lift a paw, such as when he's begging for his dinner. The precise moment he picks up the paw, click, praise and reward him. Keep practicing.
Add a cue word
After a while the clever pug will start holding a leg up in the hope he'll get a treat. When you notice this, add a cue word such as "paw" as the paw goes up, click and reward. Then start saying "paw" in advance, so as to tell him what it is you want.
Hold out your hand
The dog is now regularly lifting his paw on cue, at which point hold out your hand and gently touch it to the paw, as you say "paw." Click, treat and reward.
Wait for the dog to touch your hand
The final step is to hold your hand close to the paw, but wait for the dog to make final contact. Once he does, click, praise and reward because your dog has learned to give a paw.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 03/21/2018, edited: 01/08/2021