By Melissa Viera
Whether I am in the waiting room at the vet's office, ring-side at a dog show, or training for a sport I can find uses for hand targeting. A nose-to-hand target is one of the core foundation behaviors in training dogs. Every dog should learn this simple behavior, and every pet owner can benefit from having an understanding of how to use this behavior in daily life with dogs.
Before you begin using the hand target you will have to teach your dog what this behavior is all about. First decide what your hand target is going to look like. Mine is a closed fist to start, but I also teach dogs to "touch" on a verbal cue with my hand in any position. Keep in mind that when you train the "touch" on a verbal cue it is very important to only reward your dog for doing the touch when asked, so you do not create a dog that pokes you for attention.
First hold your hand out and wait for your dog to naturally go over to investigate. Mark the instant their nose reaches your hand (click or use a marker word). Follow the marker with a reward. When you begin training this, do it when your dog is already interested in you rather than competing with the environment, or something else that is getting your dog's attention. You can practice with distractions later on, but teach it when your dog is focused.
If your dog does not go to your hand on their own you can hold a treat in your hand to get them started, but you will want to fade the lure fast, so they do not learn to only target if they know you have a treat.
Do not push your hand into your dog. They should be moving to you. If they do not come to your hand and touch move away and try again.
For young puppies or dogs who are very mouthy their will have to be some rules in place. Dogs should never be nipping, mouthing, or even licking (which can lead to the other two) when they do the hand target. If your dog is very excited about this game you can mark and reward before they make contact with your hand. Now you are teaching them to follow your hand without the pushiness. Practicing impulse control separately will also be beneficial for these dogs.
When your dog gets good at the game you can add your cue. Say "touch" and present your hand.
After teaching the hand target you can begin to practice it in different situations. Use it between exercises when you are practicing obedience to break things up for your dog. Use it randomly during playtime with your dog, and begin practicing around different types of distractions, and in different environments. You don't have to treat your dog every time they do a hand touch. Use lots of different rewards like a game of tug, fetch, or praise. Be random with your rewards. If your dog's favorite thing is food, then you should be treating many of the successful hand touches, but get them motivated about working for other rewards too.
As mentioned the hand target is a core behavior. There are many uses for this behavior including these examples:
- Calling your dog to you with "touch"
- Bringing your dog into heel position by having them follow your hand
- Keeping your dog focused on you rather than other dogs at the vet's, groomers. or other busy places.
- Teaching tricks (they follow a target in the training phase of many tricks)
- Distracting your dog during blood draws, nail trims, and other procedures.
- Playing with your dog (targeting is a fun game)
- In classes for keeping your dog focused, motivated and having fun.