The Hand Target (also called a Hand Touch) is one of the simplest, most practical, and fun-filled tricks to teach to your dog as it helps to keep your pooch’s focus on you in a distracting environment. My older dog, for example, can become anxious when waiting to be examined at our veterinarian’s office. By offering a series of Hand Targets to perform, his tension almost completely fades away as he recognizes this trick as one he enjoys and at which he excels. Hand Targeting is a lightning-fast way to redirect your dog’s attention off something unwanted and back onto you. It’s also a visually intriguing trick for those who happen to be watching.
What it Looks Like
As you lower your hand your dog will touch it with his nose. With repetition and rewards she will eventually target your hand as though it were a heat-seeking missile.
Before You Begin
You will need a generous supply of dog treats, choose something your dog really enjoys.
6 Steps to a Tremendous Hand Target
Try to time your trick training session right before your dog’s mealtime, if she is hungry, she will be more eager to earn rewards. Take her and your treats to a quiet room in your home. Remember she will be able to concentrate on you and learn faster if the environment is devoid of distractions.
Take a fist-full of treats and encourage your dog to sit or stand in front of you (her position really does not matter). Lower your empty hand, be sure that your palm is out and that your fingers are pointing down (otherwise she may misinterpret this as a hand signal to Stay). It is important that you do not say anything at this stage in her training. It is too early to introduce her to a formal “Target” cue. Remain quiet and allow your dog to figure out what you want. This is called “behavior shaping.”
Out of sheer curiosity, or thinking that you are offering her a snack, your dog should reach out to sniff your empty hand, as soon as her nose makes contact say “Yes!” Now take a treat from your hand and reward her. It is essential that you transfer the treat and reward her with the same hand she just touched.
Repeat Step 3 step two or three times. If your dog continues to successfully touch your hand with her nose, switch hands. The objective is for her to target your right and left hands evenly.
Once your dog is confidently targeting both of your hands, it is time to up the ante. Now you may begin to vary the location of your hand. Hold your hand back or up high, maybe even low down to your knees and see if she will continue to target. Always mark her correct behavior by saying “Yes!” followed by an immediate reward.
Congratulations! Your dog is well on her way to mastering the Hand Target Trick. You may now name the trick. Say “Target” or “Touch” as you offer Poochie your hand. After several repetitions she will begin to associate your verbal cue with the target behavior.
Most dogs start off strong with the Targeting and then, after a few repetitions, begin to hesitate in touching your empty hand. This is usually because your dog has figured out that the stash of treats is in your other hand, and she is focusing on that one instead. If this happens, hide your other hand behind your back or just keep the treats in your pocket. You can also help her succeed by wiggling your fingers a few times, the motion should attract her to your hand, and you can enthusiastically reward her once she makes contact. As when teaching your dog any new behavior, be sure to keep your training sessions short and end on a successful note. If you are getting flustered, chances are your dog will, too. Break for a while and start up again later. If you keep training fun, both of you will learn together much faster.
Tara Baggerman, Trainer & Owner of Caliber Canines Positive Dog Training