Monday, February 25, 2013

Teaching Your Dog to Hand Target

By Lisa Mason

First time and seasoned dog owners can benefit from training their canine companions to obey various commands or perform certain tasks and tricks. Hand targeting is just one of many training tools used. In fact, this version of “come” is easy to teach, easy to learn, and can be taught by dog owners of any age or experience level.

About Hand Targeting and Its Benefits

Hand targeting is a command that teaches the dog to touch his nose against the palm of the hand. As with the more basic and simple verbal “come” command, hand targeting is considered basic obedience. It should be mastered thoroughly before the dog and trainer move on to more complex tricks such as “sit pretty” or “jump.”

Benefits of this training command vary based on the desire of the trainer. It can help teach a dog to respond to visual cues, which can be beneficial when calling the dog from far distances or even for more complex future training such as agility training. It can help teach a shy dog to be more trusting of new people, and it can be beneficial to dogs who are hearing impaired.

How to Teach a Dog to Hand Target

To start, a container of their favorite CANIDAE treat should be on hand at all times. In the beginning, it is beneficial to rub the treat against the palm of the hand to help encourage contact with the dog’s nose. This is considered the easiest and most efficient way to teach hand targeting, as the aroma draws the dog’s nose in.

The moment contact is made, the trainer must reward the dog. An enthusiastic “good dog” and the treat itself are both great ways to help solidify the training. Repeat this exercise a minimum of fifteen times per session, with several small sessions per day until the command has been mastered. Repetition throughout the day helps to cement the command and the desired behavior into the dog’s mind.

The Dos and Don’ts of Hand Target Training

Do not reward any type of mouthing or biting. Only the nose should make contact with the hand and be rewarded. Even rewarding licking can be an issue, as not everyone enjoys being licked by dogs. This can result in people snatching their hand away if licked, which can be traumatic and confusing for the dog.

Do reward even the slightest nose touch to the hand during the beginning stages of training. Most dogs will quickly realize what action is being rewarded and will become more efficient in performing the command. However, if during the training, the dog begins mouthing or licking, be sure to discourage this behavior. Allowing the new behavior to continue can result in confusion.

Do not push your hand against the dog’s nose and then reward with a treat. The dog will not understand why he is receiving a treat, as he is not being given a chance to figure out the command on his own. The goal is to reward the action and the choice to follow the command.

Do use hand targeting as a gateway to teaching other commands and tricks. Dogs who are challenged mentally and physically tend to be happier, more well-behaved dogs. Boredom in dogs can lead to unwanted and destructive behaviors, so it is important to follow through with training.

As with any trick or command, training a dog to perform hand targeting can take time. It is important to be patient. The majority of dogs will pick up this command relatively quickly, though it may take time to solidify the training. Fortunately, once the command is mastered, it can open the door to a plethora of different commands and tricks as well as a closer relationship with your dog.

Photo courtesy of Creative Dog Works

Read more articles by Lisa Mason


  1. I have never heard of this 'hand training' before. But it sounds like a good idea. I think any sort of training takes a lot of patience and work. But it is so worth while.

  2. Ok Lisa, will give it a whirl...I can't seem to get Max to come no matter what unless HE decides he actually CAN hear me but usually not. I think HE is the trainer, not me! :) But he is so cute that I don't care about him doing tricks too much but worry about him not knowing come in case of emergency so we'll give it a go! Thanks!


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