'Touch' the handy behavior you didn't know you needed (until now).

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

Targeting can be an extremely useful concept that can be used to direct a new puppy or dog toward appropriate behaviors.


What is Targeting?

Targeting is the process of teaching your dog to touch something with his body. The very first thing I recommend teaching teach a new puppy or dog is not to 'sit'. Crazy right? I recommend teaching your dog to to touch his nose to your hand and here's why...

Targeting is a good 'first behavior'

Teaching a dog to touch a target (or your hand) as a first training exercise has several benefits:

  • It creates a useful 'default' behavior. Dog's tend to revert to a 'default' behavior when when begging or if they're confused about what you want. Their 'default' is often the first behavior they ever learned.

  • It gives the dog (and you the dog owner) instant success.

  • It lets you see right away how smart your dog is.

  • It gives you a powerful tool to use to create other behavior instead of just reaching for a food lure. No one wants a dog who won't respond without seeing 'the goods' first.

Targeting is the foundation for other behaviors

By teaching a solid hand target, all of the below behaviors are achievable without having to use physical force. 'Touch' is one of my go-to cues. When my dog can't focus (because squirrel!) she can still respond to 'touch' and she does so with enthusiasm because it was taught as a fun game when she was a young.


Having your dog touch your hand on cue is a foundation behavior for:

  • Recalls (come when called)

  • Heeling (or loose leash walking)

  • Redirecting attention away from any distraction

  • Getting in and out of a car or crate

  • Getting on and off the furniture

  • Getting into a specific position for vet exams or grooming

  • Many tricks!

How to teach a hand target

  1. Present your flat hand a few inches away from your dogs nose.

  2. The moment he makes any movement towards your hand use a marker (click or say 'yes'), remove your hand, then toss a treat.

  3. Present your flat hand again and repeat until your dog's nose is making contact with your hand.

  4. Begin presenting your hand to the left and right side of your dogs nose.

  5. ‎Begin gradually presenting your hand further away from your dog so he has to get up to touch it.

To cue or not to cue

Your dog will likely respond to your open hand gesture without any verbal prompting. However, I like verbal cues because they add clarity for the dog. If you want to ask for a hand touch and your dog is in-front of you (staring intently at a squirrel for example) he's not going to see your open hand gesture. Instructions for adding a verbal 'touch' cue can be found in the Responding to a Cue Foundation Training Series Blog Post.


Get creative

Once you understand the concept of targeting and how to teach it, you will be able to come up with new ideas as to how this skill could be used to help improve your dog’s behavior. Think about how to transfer this skill to have your dog follow your hand into a sit or down. Perhaps he could touch other objects with other parts of his body. The sky's the limit!


Here, young Timber is learning to stay engaged with me in an outdoor environment by playing the 'hand-touch' game.

Need help teaching foundation skills to your dog or puppy? Contact me, I'm here to help.

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Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner