In the world of cutesy tricks, this is definitely a 10, Picture this: Trixie is holding a down stay with her paws out stretched in front of her, and on cue, she crosses one paw over the other; then, the audience melts.
That is just a start of what you can do with this simple, little trick. We will talk about raising the bar and developing a very cute routine with this later.
The main requirement for this trick is Trixie knows a solid “down stay.” However, if he or she is weak on this or you have not taken the time to train him or her, grab your clicker and some high value treats and go back to the Obedience Training Section of this site. Then you should read and digest how to train the word “down.” Once Trixie knows the word “down” and responds to it and then it’s time to come back here.
Also, we used a clicker, so if you don’t know about clicker training, go to my feature article on my home page, entitled “Operant Conditioning” aka Clicker Training and learn the theory and practice of this terrific training method, both you and Trixie will be glad you did.
Okay, from here on out, I am now going to assume that you know clicker training and Trixie knows “down.”
There are many variations used to teach this trick, but the basic root of all of them is based on the Paw Touch. If Trixie already knows what “touch” means, this is going to be as easy as falling off a log. (to coin a phrase)
Step #1 – Method #1 Basically the touch command is simply getting Trixie to touch her paw to something you designate. Briefly, to get that behavior simply high, a High Value Treat under something like a round disk or square of cardboard (for a charming little routine, put a sticky note on the cardboard, you will see why later). Now, Trixie is not a fool, she knows the treat is there, all she has to do is move it away with her paw, but when she tries to move or scratch the object away at the very moment she hits the target with her paw – BANG. That was the sound of the clicker, which of course means a treat is on its way. Watch your timing on this so you do not want her getting up; be quick with that click and treat.
Once this move is learned, start giving her the treat from the other hand.
For a more detailed explication of the Paw Touch, please see my separate article entitled “Paw Touch” under both the Trick Dog Section and the Agility Section of this site.
One caution: at this stage in training, only click/treat when Trixie touches the object with her right paw, totally ignore any of her attempts to switch to the south paw. (You can and should teach her both paws, later)
Step #1 – Method #2 is just a spin off the above touch command. Ask Trixie to “give me your paw” (how to train “give me your Paw is also explained in this trick dog training section of this site) If she doesn’t respond or know to the give me your paw; cue and quietly reach over and take the intended paw into your hand, and then click/treat. It really should not take to long before you can just offer your hand for a touch, then work on switching to a target.
One of two options could happen after you take her paw 1) ideally, she stays in her down position while accepting her treat. 2) She gets nervous with her paw being held, so she jumps up
If holding her paw is too traumatic for her, try putting the treat in the palm of your hand. In close proximity to her paws, she should logically move that paw to touch the reward held in your clenched fist with the understanding that you will liberate the yummy morsel. Of course, the very moment her paw touches your hand; you liberate the treat for her enjoyment. Please do not forget this is clicker training, so use that clicker for each successful contact with your hand. Once this is reliable, start giving the treat from the other hand.
Now that she is reliably touching your hand/target, via either method, it is time to start heading that hand/target to the other (cross side) of the stationary paw. Now we work on getting the target completely cross sides until the only way she has to touch the target is to lift up the paw and actually cross her stationary paw. Should she get confused, just move your hand in small steps, at a turtles pace, in inches, (fractions of inches if needed) until you get it all the way over, to where her paws are crossed. Once she is fluent at crossing her paw to paw/touch the target, you need to be ready for the next step.
This time when you present the target for her the touch, just as she is going for the target, quickly draw your hand/target back at the very last instant, With the correct timing that paw should land on the ground exactly where it had been touching the hand/target, remember, as soon as that paw hits dirt, click and treat. Remember as with any training, if Trixie gets confused at any point, go back to where she was solid and progress slowly from that point.
There you have it; this is How to Train the Cross Your Paws Trick. The last step is to duplicate the above actions with the other paw, now you have trained the dog that they can cross left over right and right over left.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that “I have it down cold with the right paw crossing the left, the left crossing the right will be “easy peasy”. I promise you it will not be “easy peasy.” It will still take work, sometimes more work than the original move.
The variations of presentation with this trick are limited only to your imagination. It can just be a simple command like “cross your paws” or you can use a comedy line like, “ sit like a lady” or how about… While your back is turned away from Trixie, you ask her, “ Are you telling the truth, did you have your paws crossed?”
Here is a bonus trick, if you plan on going on the road with Trixie, you will need something more sophisticated for Show Biz; how about this, Trixie is on a down and you are standing in front of her and you cross one foot over the other and she simultaneously mirrors your actions by crossing one of her paws over the other in time with your moves and then you switch feet and again parallels your actions.
Here is how to teach that charming little bonus, to mirror your steps. If you recall, I mentioned above, using a post-it note on a piece of cardboard as a target.
To get the mirrored movement, you start by putting that same post-it note on the front of each of your shoes.
Put Trixie on the down stay then park yourself on a little stool or chair, sitting a couple of feet or directly in front of her. Now reach out with your left foot; at this stage in the training of this trick, she should almost instinctively move her right paw over her left and touch the post-it note, click and treat for a job well done. Now switch and reach out with your right foot…again, if she had enough exposure to this, she should mechanically move that left paw over the right and paw touch the piece of paper.
When and only when that touch is solid, we can now move to the final step. You reach out and present your foot as before, but just as the paw is about to touch the paper, you raise your heal, point your toe, and then pull it away at the very last second. (We explained this same scheme earlier). The reason for pointing your toe as you pull back with your foot is even if you were slow on removing your foot, the worst that could happen is Trixie’s paw would just slide off the paper and land where it should. Please do not forget clicks and treats for each successful touch.
From here, it should be no problem to just fade out the post-it notes, if you have an issue, go back a step.
Lastly, another delightful routine for this behavior is the famous freestyle dance step. Trixie is standing next to you, facing the same direction, and to the rhythm of the music, you cross your legs while she in unison crosses her paws with you.
Another variation of the freestyle theme is you are lying on the floor; Trixie is on her down stay next to you, again facing the same direction, you cross your arms and she crosses her paws, you reverse your arm position, and Trixie reverses hers.
The basic training for either of the side-by-side routines is pretty much the same as already explained above. The only addition is that once you have trained the behavior and are confident that she is well grounded in its execution, you simply assign a verbal cue to each foot.
If you are having trouble with training this trick, here is a different approach.
If you are training a Saint Bernard or a dog of its comparable size, this method may not be your first choice.
Trixie is holding a down; you move to the front of her and kneel facing her. Now with treat in hand, she should be watching that treat like the guy with the watch that says you are getting sleepy. See if you can move her to the side as she continues to focus on the moving the treat. Now give all of your attention to just one side and keep your eye on her paw. She should shift her position as you move the tasty treat to one side; that gentle shift should throw her off balance enough that to keep her balance, she would move the chosen paw to catch herself from falling over. You can if you deem it a absolute necessity, very lightly, help here in the very beginning, please don’t continue with the help for very long at all or you will never get her to do it on her own.
You need to be aware, awake, and focused to do this because as soon as that paw moves, even ever so slightly, in the proper direction your timing better be good enough to click/treat that split second movement. You will start with click/treat any movement in the right direction and slowly raise your criteria to a full-fledged cross over.
I feel the need to again talk about your timing; make sure your click and treat is timed instantly after the crossover. Remember, you get what you click, not what you want. Therefore, if your timing is bad and you click after the paw starts to move back to its original position or you click to early; you are reinforcing the wrong thing and will never get the behavior.
HAVE FUN, THIS IS A FUN TRICK TO TRAIN, AND PEOPLE JUST LOVE IT.