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Imagine you are sitting in your house, relaxing comfortably in your favorite chair, and suddenly your dog begins barking from the other room. Maybe he heard a noise that scared or startled him. Or he saw a trespasser (i.e. the mailman) and is frantically trying to alert you to the danger. Now imagine: with a simple command you could distract your poor pup, allowing him a chance to calm down. This scenario represents one of the many benefits of teaching your dog to ‘touch’ or ‘target’.
Training your dog to tap objects with his nose is a foundational command that can lead to many more complex and useful commands. The ‘touch’ command has many uses. It can:
- Substitute the ‘come’ command
- Redirect your dog’s attention
- Build a foundation for the ‘target’ command
Using targeting, you can teach your dog skills like ringing a bell to let you know he wants to go outside or how to say ‘hello’ to visitors with his nose.
For many dogs, this command is easy to learn with consistent praise and treats and you may be able to teach him this trick within a few days. Whether you have an adult dog or are training a young puppy, teaching your dog to ‘touch’ can offer a range of benefits.
To train your dog to target with his nose, you will need treats to reward the action you want to encourage. If you are doing clicker training with your dog, or want to begin using this method, training this command works well with a clicker.
In most cases, you can start out teaching your dog the ‘touch’ command using just your hand. However, you can also use a yellow or blue Post-it note or a target stick if you prefer. These tools are especially helpful if you want to teach your dog to touch things farther away from you.
The first step is to find a location where your dog doesn’t have too many distractions. Distractions for your dog may include loud noises, toys, or other people or animals. You want your dog to be able to focus his attention on you and the training.
Make sure before you begin that you choose a specific word to indicate the command, such as “touch” or “touch it.” Changing the command word during training can confuse your dog. There are a few possible methods for teaching your dog this command.
The Palm Method
Present your palm
It is easiest to perform this step with your dog sitting or standing in front of you when you first begin the process. You should gather a good quantity of treats so they are readily available and place one treat between your fingers. With another treat in your free hand, present your palm to your dog.
Wait for the response
Dogs are naturally curious. Your pet should begin looking for the treat in your hand immediately.
Reward the behavior
As soon as your dog’s nose touches your palm, say “yes” or click the clicker and reward your dog with a treat from your free hand. Do not let him take the treat from the hand he touched. The goal is for him to touch your hand, not to look for a treat.
Change the height of your hand
Once your dog successfully touches your hand three or four times, raise or lower your hand a little and say “touch.” Every time your dog performs the action successfully, give him a treat.
Say the command without the treat
Your dog will probably only need to go through this process a few times before understanding the concept. Once he seems to have the idea, present your hand without a treat in it and say “touch.” Reward him from your free hand if he performs the action successfully. If your dog becomes confused, try again with the treat in your hand.
After your dog is successful on step five, hold out the opposite hand and say “touch.” You may need to place one hand behind your back the first few times to allow him to focus.
Transition to an object
Once your dog is familiar with the process of touching your hand, you can repeat these steps but have him touch an object instead. Hold a book or another object in your hand and reward your dog anytime he touches it with his nose.
Move the object
After your dog touches the object in your hand a few times, place the object on the floor and say “go touch” while pointing at the object. Reward your dog as soon as he touches the object.
The Post-it Method
Place a Post-it note on your palm
With a Post-it note on your open palm and the clicker in your opposite hand (if you are doing clicker training), present the Post-it to your dog about a quarter of an inch away from her nose.
Wait for your dog to react
As soon as your dog focuses her attention on the Post-it note, click the clicker and give her a treat from your free hand.
Present the Post-it again
For a second time, place your palm with the Post-it a quarter inch in front of your dog’s nose. Say “touch.” As soon as your dog touches the Post-it, click and give her a treat.
Move the target
Continue to hold the Post-it close to your dog’s nose, but move it slightly up and down or to the left and right, saying “touch” each time. Every time your dog performs the action correctly, click your clicker and give her a treat.
Place the Post-it on other objects
Once your dog is comfortable touching the post-it while it is on your palm, stick the note on an object nearby. Tell your dog to ‘touch’ and add the name of the object to the command. For example, if your place the Post-it on the door, say “touch door.” Click and give him a treat if he successfully touches the Post-it.
Repeat the training
Generally, this method works most effectively if you do it in short sessions of three to five minutes over several days. This way it seems more like a fun game for your dog than training.
The Target Stick Method
Hold the target stick in your hand
Place the tip of the stick in the palm of your hand and hold it less than an inch away from your dog’s nose. When your dog touches the end of the stick, say “yes” or click and give him a treat.
Move your hand down the stick
After a few repetitions with the end of the stick in your palm, move your hand slightly down the stick and present it to your dog. Only reward him if he touches the end of the stick and not your hand.
Continue to move your hand
If your dog is successful at touching the stick a few times in a row, move your hand a little farther down the stick so the end is farther away from your hand. Continue to move your hand until you reach the end of the target stick.
Following the stick
When your dog learns to consistently target the end of the stick, move it around for him to follow. Allow him to occasionally touch the end and then say “yes” or click and reward him with a treat.
Add in the command word
Once your dog understands, you can add in the “touch” command by saying the word just before his nose touches the stick and then rewarding him. He will begin to associate the word with the action.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 01/08/2021