Hand Targeting, also called Hand Touch or just Touch is a lovely basic skill with many uses. The trick consists simply of teaching a dog to place his or her nose to your palm when requests. Don’t let the simplicity fool you into thinking this isn’t a ridiculously powerful tool. Touch is a great way to get a dog to voluntarily move or change position and can be used to avoid conflicts (like a dog who gets grumpy when you try to get her off the couch). It can be used in the place of a recall signal like “Come”, or as part of an emergency U-Turn skill for getting out of difficult situations. Touch is also a great skill to get and maintain focus in situations where your dog might otherwise be fearful, reactive, or even aggressive. And if that isn’t enough, Touch is also easily modified and adapted, making it a great first step to many other more complex skills.
Although there are a number of variations, the basic technique is to present your dog with a open and flat palm. When your dog moves toward your palm, ideally touching it very lightly with his or her nose, you mark the moment (see Markers page to learn more about clicking/marking) and then reward.
In other words:
Show a flat palm to the dog -> Dog touches nose to palm -> You “Yes” or Click -> You give the dog a treat/reward
Pitfalls to Avoid
- When presenting your palm, be careful not to push your palm straight toward the dog’s face. Try it on yourself – it’s scary to have a palm come rushing towards you. Instead, try moving your palm laterally relative to your dog’s nose. Picture the arm of a train crossing guard coming down. It doesn’t move TOWARD your car – it moves up and down or side-to-side.
- Be still while you wait, or move slightly away from your dog. Once your palm is open and you are waiting for your dog to approach, being still or slightly pulling away is perfect. Moving toward your dog (usually something we do thinking we are helping them succeed) can have the same effect as above and be a bit scary or trigger a flinch reflex.
- Adding too much difficulty too fast can be a huge problem. If you present your hand and do not get a response within a few seconds, remove your palm and try again a little closer or in a less distracting setting. You might also need to consider if there is something else going on at the moment that might be causing your dog stress. When you add difficulty in the form of distance, distraction, or duration – always add just one type of difficulty at a time and a small enough amount of difficulty that your dog is still likely to succeed 3 out of every 5 attempts.
A great Donna Hill video:
Emily Larlham of Dogmantics version uses two fingers rather than a flat palm – a great alternative and avoids the possibility of your dog thinking every flat palm is something to Touch.