How to Teach your Dog to Touch or Target

If you want your dog to follow your hand cues, you can teach him to follow your hand and touch it. This technique also reduces the use of the treat quickly. The purpose of this exercise is to teach your dog to watch your hand for instructions.

Begin by showing him your fist or two fingers extended from your fist just a few inches from his nose. He’ll probably investigate your fist curiously. When he touches it with his nose, mark and reward him with a treat from the other hand. Repeat five times, then rest for ten seconds and do it again. Try not to follow his nose with your fist; this doesn’t teach him much except that you’ll follow him. Some dogs will touch your hand the first few times and then lose interest. If you wait and try again in a few minutes, he’s likely to touch your fist again. If he’s totally lost interest, you can put your other hand—with a treat in it—right behind the target fist a few times to perk him up. Then go back to the previous method; it’s really best if your dog doesn’t see or smell the treat until he hears the marker word.

When he is touching your hand consistently, you can add the cue. (“Touch,” “target,” or “here” are common.) Give the cue just as he’s about to touch your fist. If you think he’s grasped the concept, move your fist slightly and see if he follows to touch it. He should stretch out his neck to touch your fist.

Practice your verbal cue many times. When he’s pretty reliable, stop giving him a treat when he touches your palm with no verbal signal, and only reinforce when you’ve cued him.

Move your hand to a variety of places, making him work to touch it. Be very careful not to extend the behavior too quickly, as the dog could get discouraged. The hardest place for him to follow your hand is up, so keep your “target” low for the first several sessions. Once he fully understands how to target your fist, you can begin to use it for a variety of behaviors, including loose-leash walking. As you walk, hold your hand to your side and ask him to touch it. Mark and reward each time, and then gradually extend the time between “touches.” I’ve also found targeting to be an excellent way to move resting dogs. (They can become very heavy if you try to shift them physically.) Just signal a touch and they will get up and move themselves. Targeting is also used extensively in trick training. In fact, it would be very difficult to teach dogs tricks without it.

Filed Under: Pets & Animals


About the Author: Fred Goodson has a passion for pets and animals. He has 4 dogs and is planning to have another one. He is also a blogger who writes about pets and animals. Currently, he is living in New Jersey.

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