Targeting teaches your dog to touch objects with his nose, paw or other body part and has various useful functions in dog training. The possibilities for targeting are endless. It is a foundation skill for many, many tricks. On the practical side, by having your dog touch your hand with his nose, targeting can be used to get your dog’s attention back to you anytime and can be especially useful when walking on leash. If your dog is reactive in any way (barking, lunging at passing dogs, people etc.) it can sometimes be just too hard to get your dog to give you direct eye contact (“look”) when you are outside and your dog is highly distracted. BUT…  “playing a game” by touching his nose to your hand is easier and gives the same result – having him look away from the distraction and back to you (and your body/hand). Targeting can also be used to move your dog’s body in the direction you want him to go by gradually moving the target. Another use for targeting is to get your dog comfortable with an object he may be wary of such as a harness, collar, muzzle etc. by teaching him to target the object.

Your dog can learn to target with various parts of his body: nose, head, feet, shoulder, chin etc. We will start with the nose and feet.

To teach your dog to target your hand:

  1. Start with your clicker and treats in the same hand. You can keep your treats somewhere within easy reach if that is easier.
  2. Stick your opposite hand in your treat bag and get it nice and smelly.
  3. Wave your empty but “smelly hand” in front of your dog’s nose starting about 3 inches just to the side of his nose. Try to wave your hand from underneath not over the top of his head.
  4. When he reaches his nose to your hand to sniff (or lick) and touches it briefly, click at the exact time he touches your hand then give him a treat.
  5. Repeat putting your hand a bit further from his nose and when he makes contact, click and treat.
  6. Gradually move your hand further away, to a different side or height and again, when he makes contact, click and treat.
  7. Soon you will see the point at which your dog “gets it” – he has figured out this game of touching your hand to get a click/treat. Once he is doing this consistently add the word “touch” right before you bring your hand down and when he touches, click and treat.

Using the technique above you can also have your dog target an item with his paw. There are several ways to teach this….

You can use small circles (plastic lids work well) and hide a treat under the lid and place it on the ground. When your dog paws at the lid, click and lift the lid to reward your dog. You can also use a larger circle and get your dog to target his whole body to a spot by using the technique described below.

  1. Take a piece of cardboard or old yoga mat (I like these because they stick and my mat was lonely sitting in my closet). Cut it into a 8″-10″ circle (you can paint it a color if you’d like – dogs see blue and yellow best).
  2. When your dog accidentally steps on the circle, click and treat (free shaping).
  3. He will soon stand on or touch the circle often to get a “click/treat”.
  4. As above, once he is doing it regularly add the word “paw”  (or whatever word you‘d like!) if you are using the small circle, or “target” for a full body target then, click and treat. You can add a name (cue) for each of his 4 feet.

Then think of all the ways you can transfer these targeting skills to tricks – teach your dog to touch (and turn off a light switch), push a ball with his nose, play a mini piano or ride a skateboard….

Have FUN!

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