Do you have a worrying pooch? Many dogs worry easily, and there’s plenty of ways to approach this issue. One of my absolute favourites is Paws Up! – a relatively simple exercise. In short, it’s about teaching the dog to put her paws on novel objects you encounter when out and about. My experience is that when a dog has performed an easy and rewarding exercise near or on a novel object that has worried them, there’s far less chance of her worrying about this object in the future. The exercise also inspires the dog to initiate an investigation of novel objects, as opposed to avoiding them.
There are different ways to teach this exercise, and I will run through the two most common methods below, in a moment.
But first, we need to take a look at what you need to know before you start on this exercise. The first thing you need to be mindful of is putting this behaviour on cue. This is purely for safety reasons: you need to have control over which objects your dog does Paws Up! on, simply because it’s not safe to put paws on everything. You can achieve that control with a cue. My cue for this exercise is “paws”. Mostly because I was deeply uninspired, but also because I already use “up” for something else. Of course, you can use any word you feel like. It’s about what fits you, and your training.
The next thing you need to be mindful of is an extension of the section above. When you do this exercise, you need to be sure that nothing can go wrong with your dog. If your dog gets hurt during this exercise, even if it’s nothing serious, then the exercise will be useless for you in the future. So think a moment before you ask her to put her paws up. I tend to use stationary objects, such as rocks, tree stumps, and similar objects during the teaching process. When your dog is getting good at it, you can be more flexible in your choices, but if it’s wheeled items you choose, please lock the wheels in advance or call in a friend to help. The last thing you need to consider is good manners. If your dog worries about the gardener’s truck, then ask first! The sentence “hey, my dog worries about your truck. Can she put her paws on it?” can take you far.
Teaching the Exercise
Find an object your dog can put her paws on. It can be an upturned bucket, a small stool, a cookie tin, or similar. Sit on the floor and call your dog over. When your dog approaches the object, you mark and reward. You’re rewarding directly into her mouth.
Toss a treat behind your dog to reset her and repeat the exercise. As your dog begins to feel safe approaching the object, you can increase criteria, and wait to mark until the dog moves closer than before, or otherwise interacts with the object. If your dog puts a paw on, you celebrate it with a jackpot of several treats before resetting.
Keep shaping the behaviour until your dog willingly puts both paws on the object when you call her over. Now you can put a cue on it. You do this by saying the chosen cue word as the dog is just about to put her paws on the object. Repeat this process 20-30 times or until your dog can do the behaviour when prompted.
The other way to teach this behaviour is with simple luring. Put a treat to your dog’s nose and lure her onto the object. When she follows your lure, mark and reward. Lure in small increments and reward every time your dog gets closer to the object. You add the cue in the same way as described in method 1. If your dog is already sharp in the art of luring, this is the fastest way to teach Paws Up! I do prefer method 1 because I like it when the dogs get to think for themselves and try their way into the new behaviour.
When your dog has the cue down, you can begin to generalise the exercise to other objects. Some dogs benefit from us pointing to the object when giving the cue. Now you’re ready to take the show on the road.
Paws Up! – in daily life
In order to use this exercise in daily life, your dog needs to be solid enough to put her paws up on cue without hesitation. If your dog has reached that level, you can start asking for the behaviour when you’re out and about. If your dog shows clear signs of fear at approaching an object, you need to choose other easier objects that she’s used to being around. I usually start out with rocks, steps, or benches in my area – things your dog would normally sniff when you’re out on a walk. Keep in mind that your dog is the one choosing if she’s ready to put her paws up on things. If she refuses, that’s all right. Find another object and come back to the scary one later.
I generally do not reward this behaviour when out and about and the dog does it unprompted. This has its roots in the safety concern I addressed in the beginning of this article. For these reasons, it’s necessary that you only reward your dog for doing the behaviour when prompted. This is to reduce the risk of her putting her paws up on dangerous things. You can prevent this by being proactive: if your dog approaches an object and you suspect she’ll put her paws on it, you can either prompt before she initiates, or you can call her away before and reward her for returning to you. It’s not important which solution you choose, but if the object is safe, I generally just cue it. Now you know what Paws Up! is about and you’re ready to go out into the world and put those paws up!
Enjoy your walk!