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Teach Your Dog Hand Targeting

 by michelle on 17 Jul 2014 |
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Hand targeting is an extremely useful skill to teach your dog. Once your dog understands the basic behavior, you’ll be able to teach your dog a handful of tricks!


What Is Hand Targeting?

Hand Targeting is exactly what it sounds like: your hand is the target, and your dog learns to, well, target it. When presented with an outstretched hand, your dog will touch their nose to it. If you’ve ever watched an agility competition, then you’ve noticed how the handler often uses their hand to navigate their dog through the obstacles.


Why Is It Useful?

Teaching your dog to touch their nose to your palm can be useful in a variety of situations. You can use it to guide your dog onto a scale at the vet, to lead them through a crowded space, or to jump on and off of furniture. It can also function as “come”, and as a way to focus a nervous or aggressive dog.


How Can I Teach My Dog To Hand Target?

Just like any other behavior, you’ll need treats and patience to get hand targeting down. Once you cut up pea-sized treats of something your dog likes and choose a quiet place, you can proceed with the following steps:


1. Hold out an empty hand approximately six inches away from your dog’s nose. Make sure your hand is level with your dog's nose. Most dogs will move towards your hand to investigate. The instant they touch your palm, say “Yes!” and reward them with a treat from your other hand.


Note: If your dog doesn’t move toward your hand, you can prompt the first few touches by either rubbing a treat on your hand (to make it smell more desirable), or removing your hand and then presenting it again a few seconds later to grab your dog’s attention.


2. Repeat the first step multiple times until you are confident your dog will touch your hand at six inches away. Now you can start presenting your hand in different places. Try a few inches left or right of their nose, towards the floor, and above their head. Don’t forget to say “Yes!” and reward them every time.


3. Once your dog reliably touches your hand, you can add a verbal cue such as “touch”, “target”, or “here." Say the cue prior to presenting your hand, and reward your dog when they touch it.


You should practice for a week or two, a few times a day. Presenting your hand 15-30 times each session shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.


4. Now it’s time to practice in more distracting locations such as busier rooms in your home, your backyard, or during walks. If your dog struggles, revert to practicing in a quieter room until their confidence is regained.


The Fun Part

Now that your hand has basically become a dog magnet, you can train your dog to do a variety of tricks including, “jump”, “spin”, and “say hi.” Hand targeting can also be used to teach your dog how to play hide and seek, and even how to close a door. The idea is that if you can train your dog to “touch” your hand, you can get them to touch other objects/people as well.


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