Hold Off Teaching Your Puppy to "Shake"

 

You have your new puppy and are excited to start training your puppy. After all, they are so smart and training is fun! So what should you teach your puppy first? Typically, everyone teaches sit first. Then, people like to teach "shake" and sometimes other tricks. But as a dog trainer, I would advise to hold off on some of the tricks while your puppy is young.

 


No, I am not a scrooge. I love teaching tricks as much as anyone else and believe me, I find them to be more enjoyable and sometimes a little tempting to want to do just tricks with the dog instead of focusing on more important skills. Puppies love to learn and absorb information like little sponges. While they are this malleable, this is the best opportunity to focus on skills your puppy actually will need. And it doesn't need to be boring; if you make the training fun, it will be fun for you and your puppy. Focus more time on sit, down, the puppy paying attention to you, coming to you, crate training, walking on a leash, socialization, drop it, impulse control, and being handled. You can even throw in fun hand targeting (with the puppy's snout) and object targeting. If you focus on the foundation skills first, then you won't have to worry about correcting inappropriate behaviors later on, which will save more time for you to work on the fun stuff. 

 

Another reason to wait on tricks is because dogs have trouble with learning to discriminate between cues. Dogs are very good at picking out patterns, though. So what can happen is they focus on the pattern and not the actual cues you are giving them, which means they don't actually know the cue. For example, most people ask the dog to "sit" and immediately ask to "shake". So what happens is the dog figures out the pattern and the moment you ask the dog to "sit", the dog immediately sits and puts a paw up to shake. Then the owner typically will say "shake", which the dog is already doing, so your "shake" cue is now irrelevant because the dog does not discriminate between "sit" and "shake". "Rollover" is also the same issue. For those that do teach their puppies to lay down, they immediately teach the rollover trick, which then yields the same problem. The dog learns that "down" actually means lay down and rollover. Not quite what you were asking for. To some, this may not be a big deal, but when your cues are not discriminated from each other the dog doesn't know exactly what you are asking him/her to do. This will result in a dog that never really does exactly what you ask because you have not taught them to do so, so when they don't obey your cues, it is not their fault, it is yours. The other thing to consider, and why I pick on "shake" specifically, is do you want your dog pawing at you all of the time? When I pet a dog, I personally find it very annoying when I pet them and because their owners taught them "shake" right out of the gate, the dog starts pawing at my arm. I don't want dirty paws on me and I don't want my arm scratched. Now I know that not everyone shares the same concerns, but I do know I am not alone in this. And do you want your dog pawing at children when they pet them and when older people with fragile skin pet them? I can also tell you that when trying to teach your puppy "four on the floor" for petting instead of jumping up, whether they are standing or sitting nicely for petting the whole time, if they have been taught "shake" first, which has become a highly reinforcing behavior, the "four on the floor" game can be much harder. So again, how important is "shake" in your repertoire of behaviors?

 

Now, all of this being said, "shake" is fun to teach your puppy. My own dog knows "shake", but she also knows how to discriminate that cue from others I ask of her. I didn't teach her "shake" until she was around 5 months old because she knew how to discriminate her "sit", "down", "crate", "place", and "attention" cues. I also have a dog who does not paw at me when I pet her now because I waited. Dogs do learn quick and "shake" is pretty easy to teach so if you just hold off for a little while and focus on the more important foundations for your puppy, you can reward both of you for the hard work by learning fun tricks. Puppy training doesn't need to be boring. You can spice up the training so it is fun for both of you. Technically, it is all tricks; you just need to change your perspective. 

 


If you are in the Fayetteville, Arkansas area, enroll in our Puppy Elite class. We teach foundation skills and a couple of "tricks" that are tough for dogs to mix up with other behaviors and that are also important foundation skills to know, all while making sure your dog is having fun learning them. If you don't live nearby, check out our online Puppy Elite class. Our online class has videos, lecture materials, and handouts so you can get the exact same experience as our Puppy Elite class, but from the convenience of your own home and with the ability to work at your own pace. 

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