Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Targeting

T is for TARGETING. Once you teach your dog to Target, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. Seriously, it is that wonderful :). For some reason, despite is versatility and usefulness, targeting is not widely taught outside positive professional training and competition circles. I'm not sure why as it can seriously be applied to almost any training situation.

Targeting means your dog touches a designated body part (like their nose or paw) to a designated location (like your hand or a target stick). Nose targeting is the most common type taught, but it can be taught with any of your dog's body parts :). Dogs naturally use front paws and noses to do things, so it's easy to teach them to use those body parts to target. Other body parts - hind paws, hips, shoulder, etc - can be more of a challenge to teach! The designated target location can be anything imaginable, even a specific spot on the wall or any object you have. I use targeting a lot with Monday - it's her most favorite thing in the world!

Nuts and Bolts

Teaching your dog can be quite easy and many catch on fast. Here's a common way to teach your dog to target (with their nose) your left hand:
  • Start out with a treat and the clicker in your right hand and place your hand behind your back. Make a fist with two fingers sticking out with your left hand and also place that behind your back. You can use a flat
  • Show your dog your left (target) hand about an inch in front of their nose. You want to make it easy at first :). Your dog will probably touch your hand, expecting a treat. 
  • Click & Treat when your dog touches your hand with their nose. While they are chomping on that treat, put your hand behind your back and present it again when you're ready.
  • Repeat the fist three steps several times before ever adding your cue. For a nose target I use the cue Touch.
  • Adding the Cue once your dog has the hang of what you are asking can be very easy. If you're sure they will touch your hand, start saying "Touch" right before you put your target hand out. Make sure you click and treat for only those touches that you have asked for.
  • Moving the Target comes next :). Keep the movements small, maybe your dog has to take a step or two in order to touch your hand. Once your dog realizes that they'll need to move to the target no matter where it is at, you can move it farther and farther from them.
  • Randomizing Reinforcement comes last and finishes off the behavior. Now that the behavior is strong you should randomize how often you click and treat for the behavior. (Note we will be talking more about schedules of reinforcement on Friday.) Ask them to touch two times before clicking and treating. Then three times. Then once. Then once. Then four times. Then two times. You get the idea :). Vary the number of times you ask them to touch before they get clicked and treated - but don't always make it harder. If you continue to make it harder and harder, your dog may get frustrated and give up. The touches that don't clicked and treated still get praise :).
Here is a great video from my favorite Youtube poster demonstrating the steps: CLICK HERE

What if my dog doesn't touch?

If your dog doesn't sniff/touch your offered hand, then either wait her out or put your hand behind your back and present it again. You can also run some hot dog or other stinky moist treat on your skin to make your hand more enticing. Also ask yourself, does the presentation of your hand look like a different hand signal you've already been giving her? That could be confusing for some dogs so just switch it up to a different signal - only one finger sticking out, flat hand, etc.


Targeting has many uses:
  • boosting the confidence of a timid dog
  • keeping your dogs attention in the face of distractions
  • prompt your dog to offer a new behavior without a food lure
  • helping nervous dogs explore scary objects
  • it's the foundation for the 'go say hi' exercise taught to people-nervous dogs
  • teach your dog to close doors, ring bells, turn appliances or lights on and off
  • use it as an emergency recall cue
  • locating contact zones in agility
  • useful for teaching lateral movement for Rally and Canine Freestyle
  • moving your dog into proper heel position and keeping them there
Here is a fun video showing many different tricks and behaviors that were taught with a target stick.

Need any more ideas? :) As you can see Target has a million uses. 

Do you use hand targeting with your dog or other animal? For what? Please leave me a comment below :).


  1. Great tips! I'm going to have to work on targeting with Shelby.

    1. We have so much fun with Targeting at our house. You'll have to let me know how Shelby likes it!

  2. FANTASTIC! We're in training mode at our house so this will give us something to work with. Thanks so much. Loving your blog!!

    1. Training can be so much fun :) Good luck with the targeting, you'll have to let me know how your dogs are doing!

  3. All three of my dogs know "touch" with their nose to the back of my hand. My big boy now regularly does it unsolicited. I have been unable to transfer it, though.

    1. Are you trying to transfer it to a target stick or to another object?