Dog behavior, when is a paw shake more than a paw shake

If your dog is always offering his paw to shake it may not mean what you think.

“Look my dog shakes paws!” I have heard many a dog owner ecstatically proclaim this to me. They are happy that their dog does this cool trick. I often ask them, “Did you teach this to your dog or does he do it on his own?” The answer is almost always the latter; the dog started doing it of his own volition. This isn’t always cause for excitement.

Dog behavior can be a tricky thing. Something that we see as harmless and fun can have an entirely different meaning for your dog altogether. Take for example the dog behavior of shaking paws; is this a fun trick or a symptom of a deeper problem?

Have you ever sat and really observed dog behavior as two dogs interact? A typical, friendly interaction between two dogs will result in one dog taking an alpha position while the other dog acts in a subordinate position. How does the subordinate act? He will get lower than the other dog by ducking down or perhaps turning onto his back and exposing his belly. He will move out of the way of the more dominant dog. He will allow the alpha dog to have the toys he wants and will eat only after the dominant dog.

And what about the dominant dog, how does he act? He acts with superiority. He has a strut and a swagger. He takes the toys he wants, uses growls and teeth displaying to communicate his dominance, AND he will take his paw and place it on the other dog as a show of dominance. That’s right, his use of his paw is his way of saying, “I’m the boss, don’t mess with me.”

So does that mean that when your dog places his paw on you that he is acting dominant? Is he telling you, “I’m the boss, go get me my food.” The answer is… quite possibly. His use of the paw is possibly his way of either telling you that he thinks you are his subordinate or it is his way of making a power play and hopefully moving himself up on the hierarchal ladder. Note that I said possibly. As with many facets of dog behavior there is no absolute in this situation. Some dogs will display this behavior without any thoughts of dominance. More often than not, though, your dog is speaking to you about his desires with his paw.

So what do you do if your dog does this? There is a two-fold fix to this problem.

First, you need to make it uncomfortable for your dog to perform this dog behavior. As he goes to ‘shake’ paws simply grab his paw and squeeze it. Don’t hurt him, just put enough pressure on his paw so that it is uncomfortable and he wants to pull his paw away. Do this enough times and soon he will realize that he shouldn’t put his paw on you.

Second, as I mentioned earlier, if he is performing this behavior it is probably indicative of a breakdown in the relationship between you and your dog. You need to regain the dominant seat in the house. The best way to do this is through proper dog obedience training. When you obedience train your dog he is now in a position where he is the subordinate. You tell him your will, ‘sit’, ‘lie-down’, or ‘heel’ and he submits to your will by performing these behaviors. You are now the top dog again.

I am not saying that you should never train your dog to shake paws; I am just saying that this dog behavior on its own could lead to bigger problems. Good luck and good training.