Individual Paw Targeting: Better Communication for Fitness

by Jasey Day, CCFT – Bobbie Lyons K9FITteam Member

Owner: Day Fit Dogs in North Carolina

When you advance to using balance equipment and more complex movements of canine fitness, having solid a foundation helps you and your dog master new movements. One of those key fundamentals is individual paw targeting (IPT) – meaning your dog lifts each of his four paws individually on cue. You can further advance this foot movement to mean to lift and “stick” the foot onto a target – such as your hand, a flat target, or an inflatable – for duration.

Isn’t this just a variation of the basic party trick “shake”? Yes! It is fancy and has advantages for canine fitness. IPT enables you to better communicate the desired positions to your dog and will boost your dog faster into the higher levels of strength and proprioception (awareness of where each limb is). Further, better communication reduces stress and confusion in training for both you and your dog.
Paw Perks (or Benefits)
IPT benefits you as you:

  • Pursue advanced fitness exercises. IPT sets you up to do more advanced movements because you will be able to ask your dog to move a single paw. Having a tool to help your dog understand what you want and to succeed in challenging exercises is the best reason to teach IPT. Picture these instances:
    • You want your dog to stop in an ipsilateral stand (same side feet up) on a giant bone or step bench and he stopped with just one paw on the object. You can ask for the other same side paw to move into the ipsi-stand to give your dog a hint of the desired position!
    • You desire your dog to move front limbs backwards into a C-stand by moving his front limbs toward paw pods that are slightly in front of his rear paws. Use IPT to ask your dog to move just one front limb paw back at a time.
    • You strive to benefit from and master off-set push-ups. Did you see Bobbie Lyon’s free July 2019 exercise? Bobbie uses IPT to communicate with Drama to get him to laterally pivot his front paws so that his front paws are each on a different inflatable – this is the pre-pushup position.
    • You want your dog to have stronger wrist strength and you are teaching him to reach out and grab (and hold) a paw pod.
  • Enhance balance, strength, and weight-shifting. Teaching your dog to shake with all four paws creates abdominal strength, enhances balance, and makes your pup aware of how to move just one leg at a time. You can ask your dog to give you two paws (one front and one hind) and hold those paws gently and with correct form to further challenge him – either on the flat or on inflatables.

Although it may be tempting to use your hand to pick up one of your dog’s paws if you desire a three-legged stand on or off the equipment, your dog activates more muscles and is further challenged if he is able to lift his limb himself to place it in your hand!

Finally, your dog already has some “built-in” body and limb preferences. (So do you!) It’s easier for him to turn left than to turn right or he prefers to shake with his front left paw instead of his front right paw. Teaching your dog to use his non-dominant side will help strengthen that side and will help ensure you do not create further asymmetry across the body. In other words, if he is right-pawed, and you only teach him to shake with his right paw as a party trick, then you are catering to that weakness. Instead, help him learn how to use his less-preferred side.

  • Perform warm ups and cool downsUse IPT to have your dog give you his paws for warming up the toes and for cooling down with safe stretching of the limbs and shoulders. IPT is also an awesome addition to your warm-up routine as your dog must think and engage muscles to individually lift each paw. Do IPT while you wait in line for your turn competing in agility, dock diving, or any sport to keep your dog’s focus on you – IPT requires minimal space and will keep his body moving as you wait!
  • Do physical exams. Make your life easier by having your dog physically “hand” you each foot so that you may check between those toes for ticks, worn paw pads, or other needs. Of course, only ask for an IPT if your dog will think the outcome is positive. If your dog dislikes nail trimming, do not use your IPT for trimming.
  • Work with all ages of dogs. IPT is safe to do on the flat with your puppies. Seniors naturally lose proprioception as they age – adding IPT to your daily routine will help keep his brain and limbs connected. Depending on the senior, oldsters may do this on the flat or on more challenging surfaces. For more stimulation, do IPT on sensimats or a textured surface!
  • Travel. IPT is a great way to mentally and physically exercise your dog in small amounts of space with little or no equipment. Bring paw pods, mini bones, or flat targets to work on paw and targeting drills.

How to Teach itTo learn more about how to teach foot targeting using shaping, consider taking the Bobbie Lyons Canine Campus online class. Using offered behavior and shaping – gradual approximations or baby steps – works great for many dog-handler teams. If your students desire a different method or if your dog does not offer a lot of behavior, you may teach IPT using physical touch or molding. Read on to learn more about using gentle physical manipulation – you are going to annoy your dog slightly so he chooses to lift his paw.

Choose a verbal cue that you can remember and that does not leave you tongue-twisted. Some use “1” and “2” for the front paws and “3” and “4” for the back paws (dog’s right and left, respectively). Bobbie Lyons uses “shake,” “paw,” “lift,” and “rise.” Note that lift is for back right as it is the human’s left and rise is often for the back left as it’s the human’s right!

Grab some dog treats or kibble. Say “yes” – or the marker signal of your choosing, such as “yep” or a click – to mark each time your dog earns a treat and follow that word with treating your hound. Start facing your dog with your dog in a relaxed position, such as a sit or stand. Your dog is not in a “stay” position – he is looking at you because you have food and he wants his joyful training session!

  1. Reach toward one of his front paws with an empty hand. If you have treats in this hand, your dog may sniff your hand inquisitively and then move his paw before you reach it. (If your dog actually lifts his paw up on his own when you reach toward the paw, say “yes” and give him a treat!)
  2. Tap the underside of his wrist or the top of his paw multiple times. The force of your tapping will not be enough to physically lift the dog’s paw, but it is annoying to your dog. When your dog chooses to lift his paw an inch, say “yes” and treat. Repeat several times until your dog is readily lifting the paw. Again, you are not forcefully moving the dog’s paw off the ground – you’re just acting somewhat obnoxiously so your dog lifts the paw himself.
  3. Once your dog is regularly lifting the paw without you molding prompt (you reach to tap and he lift the paw), begin saying your cue word (“1” or “2”) for the front paw as your dog lifts the paw. Eventually, your dog will realize that he earns a treat and he will lift his paw after you say the cue word!
  4. After mastering the front paws, proceed to rear paw training. Begin with your dog standing and facing you. You do the tappity-tap toward yourself on his hind foot. When he lifts his back foot, you’ll say “yes” and treat and so on. Often the rear paws take longer to teach than the front paws. You’ll find that once he masters “3,” it will only be a matter of a few training sessions until he masters “4”!

For those of you who love extra credit, you can transition the shake command for the front paws into a “high-five” or a “wave.” Both further challenge your dog’s balance, especially when performed on inflatables. Gradually change the angle of your hand from fingers pointed down to fingers pointed up with your palm still facing the dog. For “high five,” say “yes” the moment your dog touches your hand with his paw and treat. Later progress to doing a wave by asking for a high five and then moving your hand away as your dog paw swats toward your hand. Over time, gradually move your hand away and move yourself into a standing position to turn it into a “wave.”

~ Jasey Day, CCFT – Bobbie Lyons K9FITteam Member

Owner: Day Fit Dogs in North Carolina