Hand-targeting is easy to teach, and invaluable for handling all dogs in many situations. It’s another tool to use when your dog has “selective hearing”, and particularly ideal if they haven’t learned “leave it” or don’t know it well.
What is Hand Targeting and How Does It Improve Your Dog’s Attention?
Hand targeting simply means that your dog will learn to touch its nose to the palm of your hand on cue. This can be really useful for teaching your dog to redirect their attention to you by inviting them into your space so it’s more rewarding than what they were previously focused on.
Or, if you want your dog’s attention in order to give another cue, hand-targeting will keep the dog focused on you. And hand-targeting comes in…well, darn handy teaching dogs to push doors, drawers and cupboards closed.
Step One – Teach Your Dog to Tap Your Hand
Move your dog into a position right in front of or beside you. Hold your hand out flat, palm facing your dog. Drop your hand right in front your dog’s nose, only 3 to 6 inches away. Mark with a clicker or say YES! (mark means saying “YES” or click it using a clicker), and provide a treat the instant you feel whiskers, nose or even tongue on your hand.
If your dog is not responding, leash your dog and move to a quiet room. Bringing the dog close, put a treat between your ring and middle fingers and close your fingers to secure the treat. When your dog sniffs, present your open palm and release the treat. Repeat up to five times, then use it without the kibble lure. Now you should be ready to retry step one.
Step Two – Change Your Hand Position
When your dog is successfully tapping its nose on your hand when your hand is right in front of its face, start to vary your hand position—present your palm slightly left or right, then a little higher or lower. If your dog does not move toward the hand within two seconds, pull your hand away and hide it behind your back. Get your dog’s attention, and present your hand again, closer to its face.
Step Three – Add a Voice Command to Improve Your Dog’s Attention and Focus
Once your dog has mastered hand-targeting in all positions—low or high, to the right or left—present your hand again and pull your hand forward a few inches as your dog reaches toward your palm. When your dog touches your palm, say “Touch!”, and say it each time they touch your hand. You have now paired the hand-touching with a command/cue.
Step Four – Challenge Your Dog to Follow Your Hand
Move your hand progressively further and further away so your dog must take several steps to follow your hand. To further the challenge, use a friend or training buddy, and you can both call “touch” back and forth, moving further and further apart then into different rooms, as your pup masters this fun and useful game.
Teaching your dog to hold attention with this hand-targeting technique is useful for everyday situations, in and out of the home. Once your dog learns that you are more rewarding and fun than whatever they are engaging in, hand-targeting can then be used to call them off other dogs.