Updated: Jul 21, 2019
Targeting is a useful behavior where we teach our dog to touch a specific part of their body to a specific object/location. A hand target is where our target is the outstretched palm of your hand, and the body part used to interact with the target is the dog's nose.
I enjoy teaching a hand target to all dogs, but especially those who are new to marker/clicker training. This behavior is usually an easy one for both the dog and handler to grasp, and we can establish the behavior relatively quickly.
I use a hand target for the following reasons:
1. To re-direct my dog's attention to me.
2. To move my dog: through a doorway, into a different location, through my legs (trick training) or around weave poles (agility training).
3. As the finishing behavior in a recall sequence.
Dogs are curious animals, and luckily for us, want to explore things by sniffing them. We can use this to our advantage in the early stages of teaching the hand target to an inexperienced dog.
What you'll need to teach a hand target:
1. A (preferably hungry) dog
2. Plenty of small, tasty, high value treats for your dog
3. A marker signal: a clicker, or verbal marker cue such as "Good!" or Yes!"
1. When you have your dog's attention, present the flat palm of your hand about 1 inch in front of their nose. Should the dog interact with your hand in anyway: look at it, turn towards it, lean forward, sniff it, lick it, or touch it with their face, click (or use your marker signal) and feed the dog a treat. Remove your hand after each click/treat repetition.
2. Repeat until the dog is starting to deliberately move in to touch your hand.
Once deliberate movement has been achieved, we will start to add a verbal cue to this behavior. A cue is a word, signal, sound, smell or touch that tells your dog to perform a specific behavior. Your cue can be any novel stimulus to your dog (i.e. it's not already linked to another behavior, or action.) I like to use the verbal cue "Touch" for my dog's hand target.
3. Adding a verbal cue: Say your verbal cue "Touch," pause 1 second, and then present the flat palm of your hand (as you've done for steps 1-2 already.) Wait for the dog to touch your hand, and when they do, click (mark) and give them their treat. Repeat this step numerous times, until the dog starts to perform the behavior in response to the verbal cue "Touch" as opposed to the visual cue of your hand being presented.
Q: What happens if your dog will not touch your hand?
A: If my dog is hesitant to touch my hand, I will try trucking a treat under my thumb, and folding it down into the palm of my hand. I will present my hand, with this hidden treat, in hopes that the smell of the food will encourage my dog forward to investigate. If/when s/he does, I will click (mark) and offer that treat with my opposite hand (no the hand I'm using as the target.)
Q: What happens if your dog does nothing when you present your hand following the verbal cue?
A: Rather than repeating my verbal cue, I am inclined to hold steady and wait. I want to ensure I am giving my dog ample time to process this new cue, and think about how they want to act in response to it. I don't want to get in the habit of repeating cues, as I may run into the problem of teaching my dog that this targeting behavior is to performed in response to the cue "Touch. Touch. Touch. Touch!" If I've waited a sufficient length of time or my dog has turned away from me to do something else, I'm going to tell him/her "Too Bad" and remove my target. This marker indicates to my dog that they made the wrong choice, and will not be receiving payment (a treat) for that behavior (or lack thereof).
Check out the following video tutorial to see a hand target in action:
For further applications of target training, check out this article by Your Dog Advisor.