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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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