Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle

6 Quick Steps to Teach “Targeting”

Once you teach your dog to “Target,” you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.  The behavior here is that your dog touches her nose to a human’s hand, but this also works with a an actual target of some sort, like the Clik Stik pictured here.

I use targeting to move my dog around in space (from one side of the bed to the other, off of the couch, etc.). You can also teach them to heel nicely beside you or even to come to you. It’s great for teaching nervous dogs to go explore something that scares them, by having them touch your hand near the Scary Monster. It’s the foundation of “go say hi.”

I’ll use Touch as the cue in this example. Here’s one way to teach your dog to target your left hand:

Step 1. Get Ready: Start out with a treat and the clicker in your right hand, behind your back.  With your left hand also behind your back, make a fist, except put two fingers out.

Step 2. Show the Target: Put your left (target) hand an inch in front of your dog’s nose. Your dog will probably go toward your hand, expecting a treat. Ignore any pawing.

Step 3. Click & Treat: When she touches the hand with her nose, click and treat. While she’s eating, put your hand behind your back and then present it again when you’re ready to C&T again. For some reason, it makes your hand “brand-new” and interesting again.

Repeat steps 1-3 several times before ever saying, “Touch.”

Step 4: Once she’s got the hang of it, and you’re relatively sure she will touch your hand, start saying, “Touch,” right before you put your target hand out. Click and treat, only for touches that you’ve asked for.

Step 5: Begin to move the target a bit, so the dog has to walk a step or two to touch your hand. That’s one way that we get started on teaching heel in our Dog Manners and Puppy Training classes in Seattle.

Step 6: Wean off of the treats. Now click & treat only for 2 out of 3 touches, then 1 out of 2, and so on, until your dog only gets treats very rarely. The touches that you don’t click can still get praise.  Try to click the best responses (faster, less mouth, etc.).

Troubleshooting – what if my dog doesn’t touch? If your dog stares at you and doesn’t touch the hand, then either wait her out or put your hand behind your back and bring it back out again. Don’t lean into her or stare (that’s a bit scary). Your hand may also look like a hand signal you’ve already been giving her. If that’s the case, change this to a new signal – hand flat, only one finger, etc. If she is biting your hand rather than gently touching with her nose, make sure you aren’t clicking for the bite. Click sooner to reward her before her mouth opens, or click later, waiting for her mouth to close before clicking.

Talk back! Touch has a million uses.  Do you use hand targeting with your dog or other animal? For what? Please leave us a comment below.

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6 Responses to “6 Quick Steps to Teach “Targeting””

  1. Courtney Says:

    I like to play “touch” games with my dog. Right now I work on “Pluto touch” and he will touch his nose to my hand. Click. treat. Then I have him touch my other hand. Then I have him sit and I say “Pluto Touch nose” and he touches his nose to mine. It’s rather adorable. The next step is to have him touch his nose to my foot. So eventually we can play all sorts of games and mix it up. It’s one of the only commands that I feel he totally understands. It’s also helpful for when he isn’t doing something you want, so if he is biting on the leash and tugging I say “Pluto, Touch!” and he drops the leash and touches.

    I also want to get him to understand my name and my boyfriends, so that I can say “Pluto Touch Doug!” and he will run to Doug and touch. But for now “touch foot” is the goal.

  2. Grisha Says:

    Awesome! I love it! It sounds like he’s doing great. Pluto should definitely be able to go touch a person by name.

    My dog, Peanut, does kisses that way. I can say, Peanut, Kiss Jill” and he’ll go give her a kiss. The only problem is that sometimes he’s a little exuberant, so it’s more of a muzzle punch than a little lick.

    So watch your nose and keep up the great training!

  3. Robi Says:

    I like to play a game called Hot/Cold. I use three different colored frisbees and at first my dog can touch any of the frisbees and gets a click and treat. Than after the warm up one or two frisbees goes “cold”. So if she touches a cold one no click and treat. It’s a great thinking game and it got us through a long cold winter in Cleveland Ohio.

  4. Grisha Says:

    How fun! Targeting is a great gateway skill to thinking games.

  5. Sharon Says:

    I got a Clik Stik in a doggy gift basket I bought for charity. I wasn’t sure how to use it, but had heard it was good for training. Since I do agility with my dog I’m sure it will be helpful now. Thanks!

  6. Robyn Says:

    I use the “Touch” command in my puppy and basic classes as a tool for parents to use to get their dog’s attention off a distraction. We use it in conjuction with our Loose Leash Walking exercises.




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