Celebrate National Train Your Dog Month With These Tricks: Week One

January is National Train Your Dog Month and there’s no better way to celebrate the bond between you and your canine companion than by introducing some fun into your daily routine. Tricks training is a great way to do that.

National Train Your Dog Month was established six years ago by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, to remind new owners that, like children, dogs need socialization and schooling to become well-behaved companions.

Tricks are easy to teach and they both build upon and reinforce skills you and your dog have mastered—or are still working on—in basic obedience work. They are also good exercises, stretching and working muscles that are not used in day-to-day activities like walking and running.

Another benefit is that a dog performing a trick is a surefire crowd pleaser, and dogs, like the rest of us, thrive on applause.

Set yourself a challenge of teaching your dog two tricks a week for the next four weeks. By February, your four-legged pal could be the star of your own little circus. Start with two easy tricks this week and make sure to check back at the beginning of every week for two more tricks.

Every dog—giant breeds and toys, from puppy to senior citizens, Bulldogs to Mastiffs—has what it takes to learn a trick or two. Some may not have the physique for all all the moves, but they every dog can learn and enjoy some of them.

These two basics—shake and peek-a-boo—are adorable and surprisingly easy to master!

How to Teach Your Dog to Shake Hands

Dog paw and human hand doing a handshake, outdoors

Key Points

  • “Shake” is a classic dog trick that’s fun for dogs and simple to teach.
  • The key is teaching “shake” gradually, waiting before introducing the verbal cue.
  • There’s no need to physically manipulate your pup by picking up their paw

“Shake” is a classic dog trick and for good reason. It’s cute, fun for dogs, and simple to teach. It will amuse and impress your friends and family and it is a very polite way for your dog to meet new people. The goal of teaching shake is for your dog to happily offer the behavior and show enthusiasm and understanding. There’s no need to physically manipulate your pup by picking up their paw and forcing them to “shake hands” with us.

Teaching Dogs Shake

When you start teaching shake, be sure to have a lot of high-value treats or rewards. Or, if you prefer, a clicker. The following steps will help you easily teach your dog how to shake hands:

1. Hold your hand out to your dog.

2. Your dog may do some experimenting to figure out what you want, like sniffing, licking, etc. The key is to wait it out, not saying anything. As soon as your dog paws at your hand, click/praise, open your hand, and give the treat.

3. Repeat the above step several times until your dog is consistently pawing at your hand.

4. Once your dog is consistently pawing your hand, start building the duration and increasing the difficulty. Have your dog hold their paw on your hand for slightly longer before you praise/click and treat.

  • Remember, you aren’t giving any verbal cues to your dog yet. You want to make sure that your dog completely understands the trick before adding in the formal cue. This will help avoid confusion or accidentally teaching your dog to paw at you instead of shaking your hand.

5. Start slowly with building duration when your dog paws at your hand. Wait until your dog’s paw rests on your hand before clicking/praising and treating. You want to make sure that your dog understands what you want is their paw on your hand, so the timing of treating and praising is important.

6. Ask your dog to hold their paw on your hand first for only for a second before clicking/praising and treating. Your dog will figure out that what gets the treat isn’t just scratching at you, but placing their paw on your hand.

7. When your dog is consistently placing their paw on your hand, start introducing a verbal cue of your choice. “Shake” is the most common cue, but you can use any word you wish. When you hold out your hand right before your dog’s paw makes contact, say “shake,” then praise/click and treat. You want your dog to make the association between the “shake” behavior and the verbal cue. Again, timing is important. You want to start introducing the verbal cue right before your dog offers the “shake” behavior, and when you are confident your dog is going to shake your hand.

8. When your dog is consistently successful at this level, you can flatten your hand sideways and hold it out to your dog, asking them to shake by using your verbal cue. When your dog’s paw meets your hand, click/praise and treat. If your dog doesn’t shake at that point, it just means they aren’t quite ready for this step.

9. When your dog is consistently able to place their paw on your outstretched hand, you can start to introduce some gentle movement up and down. Remember to praise and treat for this too. If at any point your dog becomes nervous or uncertain, just back up to the previous step where they were successful, work that a few times, and then slowly re-introduce the more challenging step.

Shaking With Each Paw

Dogs don’t generalize in the same way as people do. So, while we might think shaking hands with one hand is the same as the other, it’s going to be different for dogs. To teach your dog to shake with both their right and left paw, you may need to teach separately.

It’s helpful to teach your dog to shake with the paw closest to the hand that you hold out. So if you’re facing your dog and hold out your right hand, they will offer their left paw. If you hold out your left hand, they will offer their right paw to shake.

a girl is sitting outside in the grass, shaking hands with her German Shepherd dog, silhouetted against the sunsetting sky

To teach your dog to shake with both paws, use the above steps for both right and left paws, but only praise/click and treat when your dog offers to shake with the paw closest to your hand. If your dog starts by offering the “wrong” paw don’t correct or chastise them — remember they’re having to work out what you’re asking them to do. Wait quietly and when they offer you the paw you want, praise/click and give lots of treats.

Remember that teaching a trick in the comfort and quiet of your home isn’t the same as practicing that trick out in the world where there are more distractions. This means you’ll want to practice “shake” with your dog in different locations, with increasing levels of distraction and high rates of reward, to keep them successful.

Teach Your Dog to Play Peekaboo

With this dog trick, I assure, you will get a lot of oooh’s and ahhh’s!

Stand with your dog behind you or, if you have a very small dog, try kneeling rather than standing. Bend at the waist and hold your dog’s favorite treat between your knees.

Call her and show her the treat; when she is between your legs you can say, “PEEKABOO,” and give her the treat. Once she is doing it consistently, try holding the treat when she is between your legs and make her sit (you can either say it or signal) and then give her the treat, always saying “PEEKABOO.”

After a few times of repeating the action, just say “PEEKABOO” and wait for her to go between your legs, sit, look at you, and then give her the treat. Remember to always use a release word (such as “OK” or “all done”) when you want her to move away from between your legs.

We hope you are enjoying the tips and tricks for National Train Your Dog Month. Please check back next week for Week 2. If you would like to schedule a FREE Discovery Call to see how we can help you make your dog one of the best, please click here.