Teach Your Dog to Hand Target

Hand targeting is teaching your dog to touch the palm of your hand with his or her nose when it is presented and you give the verbal cue to do so. Targeting is a valuable skill for dogs who perform commercial or film work (think of a dog running to an actor away from their handler and touching them), but it can also be valuable for your dog to become a star in your home and around the neighborhood!

Hand targeting may help your dog to learn to approach and interact politely with strangers (i.e. they present their hand and your dog touches it to say hello, as opposed to jumping up on them).
Hand targeting is a great way to help prevent and solve behavior problems such as resource guarding since it allows you a calm, easy way to redirect your dog away from objects (i.e. leaving the object to go to you and touch your palm).

Hand targeting is also a good tool for perfecting a reliable recall. When your dog returns to you after you call him or her, presenting your hand gives him or her a specific spot to head to rather than potentially circling around you and playing a game of catch me if you can.
Hand targeting can also be added to the list of behaviors your dog can use to ask nicely for things. For example, you can ask him or her to hand target before getting to play in the dog run, walk out the front door, or come up on the couch for a hug.

How to teach your dog to hand target:

To begin, fill up your treat pouch with an assortment of tiny (no bigger than a pinky nail), very tasty treats for your dog.

Present the palm of your hand in front of or slight to the side of your dog’s head no more than 6 inches. Your curious dog is likely to touch your palm. At the exact moment you feel his or her wet nose on your skin, click your clicker (or if you are using a verbal marker say the word “yes”) and then offer him one tiny treat.

Why click or say yes? Since the act of a dog touching their nose to your hand is an extremely brief behavior, we need a way to accurately tell your dog that what they did at that exact moment is what is earning the food treat. After 10-30 repetitions of clicking or saying the word “yes” at the exact moment your dog does what you want, he or she will start to understand that what they were doing at the moment they heard that sound is what gets the reward.

A clicker can be a wonderful marker since it can pinpoint behaviors even more accurately than a word and your dog is not likely to have any previous associations with the clicker sound. This means it is an extremely clear way of communicating, all the better to speed up the learning process. The clicker is sort of like a sharp focus camera that takes a high quality picture of the behavior.

When teaching hand targeting be sure to avoid pushing your hand into your dog’s face.The object of this exercise is to teach your dog to touch your hand on cue, not to teach your dog to tolerate you touching his or her nose! Also, be careful not to hold the treats from your other hand too close to your dog’s face, at least not in the initial stages of teaching this, as they may be too distracting.

Once your dog is touching your hand consistently and enthusiastically when it is presented no more than 6 inches away from his or her nose, you can start to present your hand a bit farther away from your dog. Expect your dog to be less reliable in responding as you change the criteria of what you are asking (i.e. your hand is farther away, higher, lower, on a different side of his or her head, etc.). Just stick with each new way of presenting your hand until your dog touches it reliably and then try something slightly different.

Now let’s work on teaching your dog to touch your hand on cue (i.e. when you say “touch”), not just when your hand is presented. When your dog is touching your palm reliably when it is presented (reliably enough that you would be willing to bet $100 the behavior will happen!), then say the word “touch” right before you present your hand. After a few repetitions, present your hand without saying the word. If your dog touches it, then don’t reward. Continue practicing rewarding your dog for touching your hand when you say the cue and present your hand and ignoring those touches offered without you saying the cue or command.To watch hand targeting in action go to: video.about.com/dogs/Teach-Hand-Targeting-to-Dogs.htm