How to Train a Puppy to Tap Objects with Their Nose

Easy
4-6 Days
General

Introduction

Why would you teach your puppy to tap an object with his nose? Lots of reasons! 

Nose targeting, or teaching your puppy to tap an object with his nose, can be applied in a variety of situations. It can be used to distract your puppy from unwanted behavior, such as barking at the neighbor's cat, or, it can be the beginning of teaching your puppy a more complex behavior. Service dogs are often taught to target objects in order to signal handlers, or as a basis for manipulating an object to perform a more complicated task. For instance, you may teach your dog to press a doorbell, to ring it for someone who cannot see or manipulate the bell themselves. You might train your dog to trigger an indoor bell to signal you that he needs to go out, or even that it is time for their owner to take medication. 

Most dogs think targeting with their nose is a great game, with treats involved, so it is not that difficult to teach a fun-loving, treat-motivated puppy. Although some of the more complex behaviors may have to wait until later, teaching a puppy to tap objects with his nose is a great first step to learning later behaviors, builds communication between you and your young dog, and is a fun activity that builds your puppy's confidence.

Defining Tasks

Teaching a puppy to targe or tap an object with his nose is the basis for many other behaviors they are too numerous to mention. Whether you are going to train your puppy to do agility tasks that require him to touch a target which his nose, become a service dog that needs to perform simple household tasks, like turn a light switch on or off, pick up keys, bring medication, or ring a bell, or if you want to train your puppy to do some entertaining tricks that require him to touch objects when directed, there are many uses for this behavior. It can also serve to distract your puppy when he is doing something you don't want him to do, without requiring you to punish him. Since most puppies think tapping an object with their nose in exchange for a reward is a fun activity, this is a great, positive way to distract your puppy when you need to. 

Many handlers start by training their puppy to touch a hand, toy, or stick with their nose and capturing the behavior with a clicker and treat. Then add a verbal command and eventually a hand signal to direct the puppy towards the object to nose target.

Getting Started

You will need treats to reinforce tapping behavior. If your pup is reluctant at first, or distracted, you can put some food, like peanut butter on the object you want your puppy to touch with her nose, to direct her and hold her interest. A clicker to capture nose tapping behavior is commonly employed to teach targeting behaviors. In order to transfer targeting behavior to other objects, some handlers use Post-it notes to act as visual cues for young puppies who are learning targeting behavior. Targeting sticks are also available at pet supply stores. 

Remember to be patient when teaching your puppy. Puppies have short attention spans and are easily distracted, so keep training sessions short and positive.

The Hand Targeting Method

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Step
1
Present palm
Hold out your hand to your puppy, at about nose level, palm facing out.
Step
2
Reinforce touch
When your puppy sniffs or licks your hand, click and treat. Make sure his nose makes contact with your skin. Repeat until your dog learns that touching your hand results in positive reinforcement.
Step
3
Add verbal cue
Pair the verbal command, “touch”, when your dog's nose touches your hand.
Step
4
Direct with cue
Start using the command “touch”, to direct the nose touching behavior. Only reward your puppy when you command him to touch, and he touches your hand with his nose.
Step
5
Target objects
Start presenting your puppy with other objects, like toys or household items you may want him to manipulate later on, such as keys or a piece of clothing. When you command 'touch' and your puppy taps the item with his nose, reinforce him; say "yes" or click and provide a treat. Add a hand signal to direct your puppy towards objects to be targeted.
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The Post-It Method

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Step
1
Obtain Post-its
Teach your puppy to touch objects with her nose whenever the object has a Post-it note stuck to it. This makes it easy for your puppy to transfer the nose tapping to new objects, as she recognizes the post it note as a visual clue. Because dogs see limited colors, purchase blue or yellow post its as these are colors that your puppy is more likely to distinguish.
Step
2
Present hand
Present your hand with a post-it note on it, just a few inches from your puppy's face. Most puppies will investigate an object that is presented to them out of curiosity. When your puppy bumps your post it note covered hand with her nose, click and treat, say "yes".
Step
3
Practice
Repeat over several days. Practice several times a day in short sessions so puppy does not lose interest, make it a fun game.
Step
4
Add verbal cue
Now add a verbal cue “touch”, whenever you present your post-it covered palm and reinforce your puppy for tapping your hand when directed.
Step
5
Add difficulty
Start putting the post-it note on other objects or people in your house. Start with simple objects that you can hold out to your puppy like a guest's hand or a toy, with a post it affixed to cue your puppy. Reinforce touching when commanded. Start putting objects farther away and leave them on the floor, pair hand directions and verbal cues to direct your puppy to the objects. When your dog is older you can remove the post-it notes and just point at the object and use verbal cues to direct tap with your nose.
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The Target Stick Method

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Step
1
Use a targeting stick
You can purchase a targeting stick at a pet supply store. A targeting stick has a rubber end for your puppy to target, or you can make one from an appropriately sized stick for your dogs size. Small dogs may be able to see a pencil, larger dogs may need a wooden dowel. Put a rubber eraser on the end or wrap it in duct tape to provide a target on the stick.
Step
2
Present target stick
Present the stick to your puppy holding it perpendicular to the floor. Wait for your puppy to investigate the stick, and when she sniffs it, click and treat. If your puppy is afraid of the stick, hold the stick in your hand with most of the stick against your arm, so only a small amount is protruding, and present it to your puppy so she gets comfortable with the stick. Gradually increase the length of the stick.
Step
3
Reinforce touch
Make it harder, Require your puppy to tap the target end of the stick with her nose before she is positively reinforced. Practice often.
Step
4
Add verbal command
Add a verbal command, “touch” when your puppy touches the stick to get her reward.
Step
5
Start directing
Start touching the stick's target end to objects you want your puppy to target or tap with her nose. A fully extended stick in conjunction with your arm lets you direct your puppy to tap objects several feet away from you. Touch the object with the stick end and when your puppy taps the object, following the target stick which she has already learned to target, say "yes", click and treat. Be enthusiastic, repeat and increase distance between the stick and the object slowly, until your dog learns that when you command "touch" and point the stick at an object, she should tap the object with her nose to get a reward.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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