Got something to say to your dog? Let your hands do the talking!
“Touch” is a targeting skill that occurs when a dog moves from wherever they are to a specific area (your hand). “Touch” is marked by the dog firmly pressing the end of their muzzle to the flat, open palm of the person that engages with them.
Most every dog can learn and perform “Touch” with ease. Your dog needn’t be in an advanced obedience class to learn it, in fact, puppies often pick up on this skill in a matter of seconds. Shy dogs, hyper dogs, goofy dogs, you name it, they can all acquire this skill. The reason it works well because we are taking advantage of every dog’s natural desire to explore, experiment and pursue new opportunities; every time a dog does “Touch,” they are being presented an opportunity for something they perceive rewarding from their person.
All you need to teach Touch is an outstretched hand and several small bits of treats or tasty kibble (however, I recommend using high value treats that follow the Three S rule: Small, Soft & Stinky!) Always keep the treats in the hand opposite of the Touch hand. When your dog approaches your hand and noses the end of it, happily say “Yes” and immediately give them a single treat. Repeat this several times, moving your hand placement from side to side each time, or by walking away from your dog in order to spark their interest. Many dogs cannot resist a good game of chase or tag, so many people find their dogs’ energy and enthusiasm to touch the hand target increases faster this way.
There are many different uses for hand targeting, but here are some of the best:
1) To call your dog close to you, or briefly “check in” with you when they are off-leash
2) When puppies and small dogs jump up, have them target your hand away from your body and lower to the ground (to redirect and reinforce all four paws on the floor).
3) A helpful tool when training leash walking and heeling; your hand is a point of reference for your dog to follow until these skills become more consistent and reliable.
4) To promote positive associations with the presence of hands–an especially useful tool in raising puppies and shy dogs to feel more confident and safe as new people outstretch their hands to greet the dog.
5) To redirect, interrupt or distract your dog from doing unwanted behavior, such as hard staring or barking at other dogs.
Hand targeting–just like sit, stay or fetch–should be a job or task for your dog to complete in order to receive something positive and valuable to them. Be sure to offer your dog a reward at a value that matches the level of difficulty within the context it was used so the skill remains strong and reliable. In other words, when your dog engages in hand targeting with several distractions and temptations present, be sure to provide a reward that is of high value to your dog in that occasion. When your dog can perform Touch comfortably without many distractions, it’s better to give lower value rewards or only reward for the very best responses (i.e. the fastest).
Have questions? Feel free to contact us.
Written by: Caitlin Lane, CPDT-KA