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Teach Paws Up & Build Strength and Balance in Your Dog

Paws Up is a super valuable tool to teach your dog. Not only is it fun, it builds strength and it comes in handy on a daily basis.

We believe in strength training for ourselves and for our dogs. We think doing simple exercises on a regular basis can go a long way towards keeping our dogs' bodies strong, agile and healthy. Dogs are just like humans, they lose strength as they age. Walking daily is good exercise and important for cardiovascular health but it is not always enough to maintain strength. 

Strength work does not have to be time consuming and demanding. It can be fun, simple and a way to deepen your relationship with your dog. Take a simple exercise like Shake a Paw. We teach this to puppies because we think it is cute. As it turns out, it is also a great for teaching a dog to stand on three legs, to transfer their weight from side to side and develop shoulder and hip strength. Who knew a fun little movement could do so much?

In addition to strength benefits, Shake a Paw or Paws Up can be useful on a daily basis. In the winter, we have to put boots on Jasper prior to walking in the snow. We ask for a paw every time we put a boot on. He has to transfer his weight and lift his paw and balance while we put his boots on. This is also true if we are putting paw wax on his paws. Coming home from a walk, Jasper is often a muddy mess (most walks, sigh). He has to jump into the tub to get rinsed off. In order to clean his feet, I ask for a paw and then I am able to spray his paws clean. I do the same thing when drying him off after a bath. I ask for a paw and he hands it to me so I can dry him off. Because he knows the cue and is able to shift his bodyweight to stand on three legs, it is easy to work with him to get boots on him or get him cleaned up. 

The key to this particular movement is that it enables me to work with Jasper and not against him. I do not have to fight him to do basic daily tasks. It works in grooming as well. When it is time to trim his paws I ask for a paw. He does not actually like having his paws groomed but as he knows what I am asking for, he gives me a paw. It doesn't mean he doesn't pull away and wish he was 1000 miles away, but he is easier to work with. I feel that where we can find opportunities to work with our dogs instead of against them, we are more likely to have positive outcomes. 

How to Teach Shake a Paw

To teach your dog Shake start with them in a sit. Then gently place your hand behind their wrist. Ask for a Paw (use any verbal cue you prefer) and place a gentle amount of pressure behind their wrist. Do not try to "lift" their paw for them, but give them an indication you want them to move their paw. If they do lift their paw, reward them verbally and with a treat. Repeat the movement with both legs. You may notice they do one side more readily than the other. This is okay and quite normal. Dogs can have sides just like humans do. If they have difficulty moving one side though, you may want to observe the shoulder to see if there is restricted range of motion. This is something you may want to have looked at by a qualified professional. 

How to Teach Paws Up

Once your dog can Shake a Paw in a seated position and is quite confident, you can add to the movement by practicing Paws Up which is done in a standing position. Have your dog in a stand and ask for a paw using the same cue you used in Shake a Paw. You can place your hand behind their paw and place a gentle amount of pressure to let the dog know you want them to lift a paw. Do not try to lift the paw off the ground for the dog as this can lead to falls and injury. You will know when the dog is ready to lift its paw off the ground because it will shift its weight away from the paw just before the paw lifts off the ground. Be gentle with your dog as they learn this exercise. Take it slow and do not force the movement. Keep the movement light and fun because then your dog will want to participate. 

As you have trained Shake a Paw with the front legs, focus on the front legs for Paws Up as well. Work on getting your dog to lift both front legs with confidence. Always watch for movement imbalances. Maybe they find it harder to lift one leg. You could try to do a little more on that side to develop dexterity and strength on the weaker side. 


As your dog gets more comfortable with front paws up, add in the movement with the back paws. As always, do not try to lift the dog's paws up for them. Place your hand on the back of the paw and ask for a paw. Wait for the dog to transfer their weight to their other legs. Place a gentle amount of pressure and they will lift their leg. In the video, it may look like I am lifting Jasper's paw but I am not. I am touching his leg and when he lifts his paw he pushes against my hand. This makes it look like I am lifting him but it is not the case.


Paws Up and Shake a Paw are easy movements to practice with your dog. They can be done daily with a healthy dog and can contribute to their overall health and well being. Being able to transfer their body weight side to side and to balance on three legs is a skill all dogs innately have. Working on purposefully developing the skill builds a stronger dog that is more agile and possibly less prone to injury.

Disclaimer: All movement challenges should be done safely and without risk to the dog or human. The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice, or delay in seeking it, because of something you have read on this website. Never rely on information on this website in place of seeking professional medical advice.

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