Hand targeting is an excellent behaviour to teach all dogs. It is a foundation behaviour for many service dogs. It can lead them to target a location, a button to open the door, a shoelace to pull, a zipper to unzip, a drawer to close, a door to open, and so much more. How does this help a non-service dog? It can double as an awesome recall and you can use it to move your dog from point A to point B (e.g. off the couch, onto their bed, into the car, away from the counter, onto the vet’s scale, etc). How useful is that?

Ideas for cues: “Touch”, “boop”, “target”, “props”, “bump” 

Caution: It’s important that your dog bonks your hand with their nose rather than you bonking your dog’s nose with your hand. If your dog finds this exercise aversive and avoids your hand, get in touch with us or practice your dog’s recall with a word instead. Some dogs are hand shy – they need help in the handling department before they feel comfortable doing this behaviour. 

Step 1: Present your palm (or two fingers)

With your dog in a standing position (ideally), present your open palm, or two fingers, a couple of inches away from your dog’s face. If your dog looks at your palm or moves toward it, click (with the other hand and away from their head) and reach into your pouch to reward them with a treat. Be patient and keep your hand still. It might take them 30 seconds or more to look at your palm or investigate it closely. Once you click and treat, remove your hand and put it behind your back. Repeat until your dog succeeds 5 times in a row.

Step 2: Click for contact

Repeat Step 1 but now click only when your dog contacts your hand with their nose. Repeat until your dog is reliably touching your hand (or two fingers) when you present it. Step 3: Add a verbal cue

Now add a verbal cue. Before presenting your hand, say, “Touch.” Pause for a full second after saying the cue and then present your hand for your dog to target. Click when they make contact and feed as usual. Repeat until your dog reliably targets your hand for the cue.Step 4: Increase the distance

Now that your dog is responding reliably to the verbal cue, you can begin to increase the distance of your hand from your dog’s nose. Increase the distance a few inches at a time and go back to the last successful distance if your dog is having trouble. Stay at that distance until they are succeeding 4-5 times in a row and then increase the distance only by half. Step 5: Advanced

Keep increasing the distance little by little and also move your hand to different positions. Try higher and lower hand positions, and also move toward the other side of your dog’s head. If things are going well, try the exercise in different rooms of the house. Eventually, take this behaviour outside. Start in boring, low-distraction areas but as your dog succeeds, gradually increase the distractions.