Talk to the Hand: Here’s the one “trick” every dog should know

If you could only teach your dog one thing, what would it be?

There is one “trick” that I try to introduce in every class or private session that I have. That is hand targeting. Hand targeting means that when you present your hand and give a cue such as “Touch” or “Here”, the dog goes to your hand and touches the palm with his nose.  I use this cue for puppies, shy dogs, reactive dogs, agility dogs…you name it. The reason? You get at least three behaviors with this one simple trick.

You can utilize hand targeting for:

  1. Come When Called: If your dog sees your
    Pebbles is called away from chasing a squirrel with the owner asking for “Touch!”
    Pebbles is called away from chasing a squirrel with the caretaker asking for “Touch!”

    hand come out and has been trained that touching it with his nose means he gets rewarded, you can hold your hand out from across a room or dog park and he will come trotting over to bump his nose against your palm.

  2. Heel: My palm out at my side means walk with me, the dog touching his nose to my palm and walking right next to my leg.
  3. Focus on Me: Perhaps you need to distract your dog from something unpleasant, like another dog barking and lunging at her, or the vet giving an exam. Dogs that get excited about hand targeting can learn to give their attention to you and your hand rather than worry about that other stuff.

I will also use hand targeting for breaking a stay, for moving a dog into or out of a car, on and off furniture, or as a trade for a toy during fetch. I am sure there are dozens more ways to incorporate the “touch” into daily routines.  And teaching it is so simple. Present your hand right in front of your dog’s nose and don’t move it. You can rub a treat on your palm to make it interesting at first, or tuck a treat between your fingers. As soon as your dog’s nose or lips touch your palm, mark it with a clicker, or with your voice (“Good!” or “Yes!”) and reward from your other hand.  Repeat about ten times. Switch hands. Once your dog can do this right in front of his face, take your hand back a little ways. Don’t try to push too far too fast. Once you get going, your dog will start to follow your hand.

Some troubleshooting advice:  if your dog was taught “Shake”, you might need to make a different hand signal, like holding your palm just above his nose or presenting just two fingers and having him target those. Also, resist moving your hand toward your dog’s face. Just hold it in one spot and wiggle your fingers, point at your palm with your other hand or flash your hand open and closed to tempt him to touch it.  Once dogs learn this, they love it, and you will too!