Teaching Dog Training Behaviors: Hand Target

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Teaching Dog Training Behaviors: Dog Hand Target, Teaching a Dog to Touch Hand

Dog Training Behaviors: Hand Target

Teaching a dog to place his nose on the palm of a hand is one of my favorite behaviors to teach a dog. In my humble opinion, I think hand targeting or touch is one of the most useful dog training tools we can have. There are so many practical ways we can use this simple behavior to our advantage. I will go over just a few that I actively use, but there are much more uses of a hand target.

Some useful ways to use a hand target or touch behavior include:

  • Polite greeting or not jumping
  • Saying “hi” when nervous, confidence building
  • Moving your dog from one spot to another
  • Distracting your dog from something else
  • Using your TOUCH as a lure to teach new behaviors in place of using a food lure
  • Once a cue (word) is attached to the touch behavior, you can use it to have your dog touch other things, like a ball, vacuum cleaner, sticky note, etc. to teach new behaviors and tricks
  • Come when called behavior
  • Helping your dog not mouth hands or feel uncomfortable around hand movement
  • A lot of dogs LOVE doing it

As with all dog training behaviors, there are a variety of ways to teach your dog what you want. Of course, in my opinion, and in the eyes of animal behavior scientists, the only way is through positive, gentle methods. Here are two techniques I often use when teaching a dog to hand target.

Teaching a Dog to Hand Target: Way 1

  • Present your open palm to your dog, as you slowly move you and your hand away from your dog in a smooth motion to pique your dog’s interest to follow. Allow your dog to catch up to your hand. He either will touch your palm, or get close to touching it. This is when you say, “YES!” and toss a food treat away from you so your dog leaves to go eat it. He will then turn around and start to approach you again. Once again, use the palm of your hand, and gesture to encourage another touch of the nose. YES! and toss a treat. Repeat about 5-10 times.
  • Once you are confident that your will actually touch your palm as he is going in for the touch, say your target word just before. Touch, Push, Nose, Target, etc. It’s important not to use a word until your dog is reliably doing a behavior.
  • Now that he is becoming increasingly more reliable, you can increase the difficulty level by making your hand higher, or lower, or add a small distraction.

Teaching a Dog to Hand Target: Way 2

  • Get about 5′ away from your dog, drop your hand to your dog’s nose level and wiggle your fingers. Allow your dog to sniff your fingers, and when he does say, “YES!” as you pick them up and toss him a treat away from you. Remember, tossing a food treat away from you allows you the opportunity to do the behavior again. Repeat this exercise about 5-10 times.
  • Once you are confident that your will actually touch your fingers, it’s time to change your hand position from fingers to an open palm. Repeat the above exercise, but with an open palm.
  • Now that your dog is actively touching his nose to your palm, just as he is going in for the touch, say your target word just before. Touch, Push, Nose, Target, etc. It’s important not to use a word until your dog is reliably doing a behavior.
  • Now that he is becoming increasingly more reliable, you can increase the difficulty level by making your hand higher, or lower, or add a small distraction.

When you get to the point that your dog is reliably touching his nose to your palm, you can use it in various applications. Below you will see the two ways to get started, along with some dog training students using a hand target for polite greeting.


Does your dog know how to hand target? Tell me in the comments.

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