Ask a Trainer: “How do you teach hand targeting?”

First, what is “hand targeting?” It is a simple “trick” wherein your dog learns to tap his or her nose onto your fist or open hand. Check out our blog post on why this is such a helpful behavior.

There are numerous ways to teach hand targeting. Below is a step-by-step tutorial on one of the simple methods. Follow along with this video.

  1. As with teaching anything new, situate your dog in an environment with minimal distractions where the maximum focus can be on your training. We often recommend it be on leash or tether, or at least in a calm, safe room without many factors competing for your dog’s attention.
  2. While your dog is hungry, place a few kibble, or high value treats in one of your hands and enclose the food by making a loose fist. (Loose so the dog can more easily smell the food).
  3. Bend your elbow so that your food hand is up by your shoulder. When your dog is looking, unbend that elbow so that you present your fist about 8 inches away from the dog’s nose. When she goes to sniff your hand, and taps her nose onto the fist, “mark” that precise moment by either using your clicker, or saying, “Yes!” Then with the other hand, quickly remove a piece of the food from your fist, praise and treat your dog.
  4. When your dog does about 7 in a row, try putting the food in your bait bag, or behind your back in your free hand. Then present your now-empty fist about 8 inches away from your dog’s nose. If she taps (targets) her nose to your fist, click or say “Yes!,” praise and treat. If she doesn’t tap, go back to having the smelly food in your fist for another 5 to 10 reps and then try again.
  5. Alternate between having an empty fist and a fist with food in it as an incentive. As with any trick or basic obedience behavior, we are striving to get our dogs to “do the thing”– as soon as possible – without needing food as a lure. This is usually done in one or two training sessions.
  6. When your dog gets consistent at tapping his nose to your fist, add the cue. Just before presenting your fist, say, “Touch.” As with all training, only use the cue when you’re pretty sure your dog is focused or motivated enough to know the trick at that moment. Eventually you’ll be able to cue the trick when your dog is distracted. For now, keep it simple.
  7. Also, as with any trick or behavior, once your dog gets the hang of it, gradually start to reduce how often she gets a treat. When your dog taps her nose during a rep that won’t be treated, don’t click or say, “Yes”. Save those markers for when you’re treating. Instead, you can “mark” that precise moment with a word of praise such as a cheerful, “Good!”

Every dog is different. You might need adjustments or alternative instructions. For help in learning the fastest, most thorough and fun way to work with your individual dog, ask a qualified dog trainer in your area. If you are in West Los Angeles, give us a call.

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