How to Teach A Dog to Shake: Steps & Principles To Follow

Shake hands with dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

A dog can be taught to do a lot of tricks, however there are a few dressage tips that you must be familiar with before you learn how to teach a dog to shake hands or its body on command.

The most basic training tips and tricks are meant to develop you into a great dog trainer who has the ability to properly behave and communicate with his or her dog with the purpose of teaching it various useful commands, as well as other ones that are meant to be fun for both the dog and yourself, the dog owner.

Steps to follow for teaching a dog to shake hands

A receptive dog and an enthusiastic owner make a great team that achieve goal after goal in no time. In case of shaking hands, a dog can be taught what to do in a short period of time, depending on the method chose by its owner and the number of repetitions. Dogs in general and especially puppies have a tremendous capacity to learn new things. If you start by teaching it commands such as, “sit”, teaching it this trick will be a lot easier. If you want to know the basic of dog obedience training, we have written an article about it, so check it out.

Puppy teaching to shake hands

Regardless of your methods, a puppy can become an excellent interlocutor that understands what you want it to do and please you by doing it.

  1. Make sure to bring a lot of treats for your dog. You should reward it every time it does something right. The treats should be your dog’s favorites. If you are clueless what it likes, buy different crackers for it or choose among the large variety of available dry food.
  2. While you take its paw in your hand and shake it softly, you should feed it some of the treats. In this way, it will associate shaking hands with getting treats.
  3. While you reward it, you can also verbally repeat the command “shake hands”. The mechanism of remembering the command is the same.
  4. As soon as it reacts and hands you its paw when you verbally command it too, you should add physical affection gestures besides giving it food. Pet your dog while saying “good boy” or other phrases alike.
  5. Repeat all these steps in a quiet environment, around 5 times per day, no longer than 15 minutes for one month or for as long as your dog needs to learn what to do.

These steps apply for the other 2 tricks, namely high five and waving. The point is to show your dog what you want it to do and then repeat, reward and praise every time it succeeds.

High five with a dog

Letting your dog smell the treats you brought for it prior to the actual training will enhance its interest towards the game that you have in mind for it. In case of high five, holding a cracker in the palm that you want it to touch would be an excellent idea because it would have to actually reach it before getting to eat the treat.

General principles of dog dressage

The following general principles are referred to what a dog owner should do in order to teach a dog something, not to a dog’s learning process or its possible interpretations of human behavior. The way you react according to what your dog does is really important and contributes to your relationship with your dog.

As soon as you are familiar with these principles, you will be able to teach your pooch whatever you will like, including to shake hands, give you five or wave at you or someone else.

Teach your dog to do a high five

These are simple commands that can be taught easily even by an inexperienced dog owner.

  1. Patience is the most important trait that you must have, without which nothing will work in training.
  2. Consistency is the second most important principle in dog training. Whether it is about imposing rules, teaching commands, applying corrections or giving rewards, all family members must be consistent in what they do in order to give a dog the opportunity to understand what they are trying to communicate. Consistency appears in almost everything you do with a dog since sometimes you might be too lazy or disinterested to tell your dog that what it does is not permitted.
    An example in this regard would be to let it sleep in your bed or beg for food when you eat. If you do this, then your dog will be confused and it will start testing when rules apply and when they do not. The same principle applies in case your dog looks for comfort in other members of the family after you apply a correction.
  3. In order to teach a dog do something that does not come naturally, like shaking hands, you have to base your strategy on repetition. A dog might need tens if not hundreds of repetitions in order to learn how to do a trick. It is up to you to have patience and be consistent when you ask it to do something.
  4. Sync goes hand in hand with the other 3 principles mentioned above. Rewards must be given at certain times in order to have the desired effect, as well as corrections. If you do not reward your dog immediately after it did something you asked, then it will not associate its action with getting a treat.
    If you ask your dog to shake hands with you and then you forget about its treat, it will start to ignore your command, knowing that nothing good will come out of doing that. As for correcting something your dog did wrong, it also has to be done immediately after. Otherwise, it will not understand what you are not pleased about.
  5. At least initially, your dog must succeed to do what you ask in order to gain confidence and have a reason to try something more difficult. It may give up trying to please you if it cannot understand and do something right from the beginning. The main idea of this principle is that you must ensure certain conditions for its success and you must choose simple commands, not make it wave before learning how to sit or other basic commands.
  6. Intensity intervenes when you change the rewards according to the difficulty level of what your dog needs to do. If you just pet your dog after it did something spectacular, then it will not know that you really appreciate the extra effort it put in and it probably will not do that again. Same goes in case of corrections.
  7. Try to work with what you have, namely to accept that your dog is unique and it may respond differently than other dogs. You should find methods that work for your dog regardless of how good are the methods that you have already tried. Some dogs will simply not respond to methods that work perfectly in case of other dogs.
    However, this does not mean that you need to give up. On the other hand, you must accept that some dogs will never be able to do some of the more complicated tricks no matter how hard you try. You might be comfortable with some methods that are useless for your dog and uncomfortable with others that actually work. In this case, you should use whatever helps your dog obtain results.
  8. Acting is also part of dog training. As a general rule, you should not initiate dressage sessions if you are angry or sad. Your dog will feel that something is wrong and it will most probably believe that it is doing something that causes you to feel bad. When your dog succeeds, you should act happy and pleased, while when it does a bad thing, you should act upset in order to make it understand the difference.
  9. Setting boundaries and teaching your dog what is and what is not allowed to do should be done after considering its needs. For example, very energetic dogs will stay put and do whatever you want them to do for a while, but then, they will feel an uncontrollable need to consume their energy and they might turn against you. This is why it is extremely important to know all about your dog’s needs and set rules accordingly.
    Also, a dog’s level of intelligence depends from breed to breed, so try to accept the idea that you might have to put a lot more effort and time into training certain dogs compared with others. You might see a video with a dog that learns to shake hands in a few sessions and you might want the same and constrain your dog for no reason.
  10. Balance is a very general principle that applies in many situations. However, it is one of the most subtle ones that intervene throughout dog training sessions. The main idea is to maintain a balance between a dog’s energy levels and its control levels. More specifically, if your behavior is too energetic, then your dog will not be able to handle you.
    Conversely, if your energy levels are too low, then your dog will get bored fast. Too much control may stop a dog from expressing itself, which can make it very unhappy and unresponsive. A dog must learn to express itself freely, but to also be able to calm down and to control itself even when it is extremely excited about something. Although this seems like something a dog must learn by itself, you can do a lot to help it and this should be one of your basic objectives.
  11. Planning might be decisive in a dog training session. You must consider your goal, motivation for your dog, place and time. However, you should also have a backup plan in case your initial one does not work. For example, if your dog is tired because of some reason, you can limit its training to repeating tricks learned during other times. In this way, it will do good, get treats and not waste time.
  12. A dog owner should be capable to capture his or her dog’s attention and maintain it for several minutes. Training cannot be done if the dog does not stay focused. If this is a problem, as a dog owner, you should first try to achieve focus from your dog and leave teaching it tricks for other times. Trying to train a dog that does not stay focused will be in vain.
  13. Control and more specifically stress control is applicable to dogs in case they have to handle negative situations. A dog must learn how to react in various situations like when it is scared. You can teach it to be more confident and to develop its ability to cope with different adversities.
    For example, small sized dogs get scared when someone picks them up in his or her arms. In this situation, those dogs should be picked up and put back down safely several times in order to realize that nothing bad is going to happen to them. After this, they might even wave at you.
  14. In this situation, maintenance refers to reminding a dog the learned behaviors. If a dog does not perform certain commands for a prolonged period of time, it tends to forget them. Therefore, regardless of their level of difficulty, all commands should be repeated at least once a month. This applies to common commands that a dog performs often in different contexts too.
  15. This aspect is about situations when a dog does something you do not want it to do and that require change. More specifically, you must redirect your dog’s attention by giving it something else to do. This principle is based on the balance principle and is particularly useful for puppies that tend to chew on different objects and cannot stop from doing that unless their attention is distracted with something else.
    You might wonder how this is helpful in training sessions. The answer is that you can choose to teach it a trick rather than let it consume its energy on damaging objects.
  16. There are 3 tonalities used in dressage sessions, namely for command, encouragement and correction. A dog must learn to perform a command when it first hears it. You should not have to say it twice. Of course, corrections should be applied when your dog is not responsive. It must know that there are consequences when it does not listen.
  17. There are situations when it is better to be predictable for your dog. For example, it should know that you will not trick it into doing something you were not initially asking for. However, in order to keep your dog interested, you should also be unpredictable especially when playing. Surprise your dog with multiple treats sometimes to gain its interest. Pick different toys and different playgrounds from time to time.
  18. Being a trainer for your dog requires a good sense of observation. Among others, you should carefully observe your dog and find out when it is about to get bored. You should stop training it before it gets bored and loses interest because you will have to probably go over the same command in the future and your dog will look bored on purpose just to skip practice if it figures out that works. Also, this is a matter of efficiency as well.

Now that you know the basic principles of dog training, you should succeed when trying to teach it tricks like shaking hands, waving and maybe give you five. Each trick can be achieved by following certain steps that are not included in these principles, but which would be useless without a prior know how.

High five with dog

Working with a dog is more complicated than with a kid because it does not have the ability to communicate verbally. However, communication can be achieved in numerous other ways depending on how fast you bond with your dog and how deep the bond becomes in time. Why not read our piece on basic dog commands to give you more insight and understanding?

Dressage conclusions for dog owners

Whether you want your dog to know as many paw tricks as possible or you have other tricks in mind for it, you should keep in mind all the principles mentioned above and always have delicious treats for it to eat.

Remember that your enthusiasm is important when it comes to training your dog and your state of mind can influence it in positive or negative ways. Also, no matter how much you would like to teach it something, if it cannot concentrate or it has too much energy to listen, then you should postpone the training. Here are some information on dog breeds that are very easy to train, it’s a must-read!

Top ten tips on dog training

Your dog might have other needs that it is trying to tell you about by not cooperating like it used to do previous times. Be patient, consistent and balanced to achieve your goals with your dog! For more tricks that you can teach your dog, see our article on the topic for more information.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.