This useful behavior is one of the first we usually teach here at MESSY Dog Training. Get a head start with your dog by following along below!
1. Capture the “Touch” behavior.
First, you’ll want to capture this behavior from your dog. Many dogs will naturally gravitate towards our open palms when presented, we just need to catch them and reward them for doing so! I usually keep my fingers together and have my hand turned sideways, to differentiate from “shake,” but you can choose an alternate presentation as long as you’re consistent.
Present your hand to your dog and when they show interest, such as reaching their neck to sniff, you will mark the behavior (with either a “yes!” or a click, if you are using a clicker) and follow with a reward from your other hand. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the dog is truly touching your hand since we want to start with approximations that we can build upon.
Repeat this process until your dog is reliably poking their nose at your hand when it is presented. For dogs who are clicker training savvy, this usually does not take very long. If your dog is new to offering behaviors and training, you might split this into a few sessions until you see significant direction from your dog.
If your dog absolutely doesn’t want anything to do with your hands, even when you’re waving it around and holding it relatively close to their face, you can try luring for 2-3 times. To lure a hand target, put a treat between your fingers (like your index and middle finger) and hold it just pinched between those two fingers. If you are doing this correctly, your hand should have the same open palm look to it that is our goal. Pinch the treat between knuckles on adjacent fingers, rather than holding with your finger tips. After showing your dog the treat and luring it 2-3 times in quick succession, present your hand the same way. Your dog will likely assume the pattern is the same and will look again for the treat. At this point, you want to mark the behavior and throw a little party to show your dog that you love that they continued the fun new game, and that treats will come afterwards, even if they weren’t presently in your hand.
2. Add Your Cue!
Now that are dog is excited about offering the targeting behavior, we want to add our verbal cue to the process as well. This will help us be able to call our dogs away from things or use it in many of the situations described above.
To add the verbal cue, first you need to decide which word you will be using. Touch, target, hand, nose, boop, and palm are some options, but the choice is up to you! One of my favorite aspects of training dogs is that they don’t know our verbal languages, and I can assign whatever word I like to whatever behavior I am training. Using ones that make sense definitely help with our understanding and remembrance of our cues, though!
You will want to say this new verbal cue right before you present your hand. If you start adding the verbal cue at the same time as you present your hand, you risk overshadowing your new cue and your old cue (the presentation of your hand). Dogs rely heavily on body language, so we need to help them realize the verbal cue by stating it separately and before the physical cue of presenting your hand.
The process then looks like: saying “touch!” followed by presenting your hand, followed by the dog touching your hand, followed by you marking the touch and giving a reward. We want to continue to mark and reward at this stage of adding the new verbal cue.
3. Create Fluency in Your Hand Touch.
Finally, we want to create fluency in the hand touch so that the dog learns to touch your hand from anywhere and in many situations. Some ideas to consider practicing include:
Keep practicing with your dog to create a fluent touch that you can take on the road and use to create your well-behaved dog in a variety of situations. What kinds of behaviors can you think of that would be easier with a hand target?
(PSST - we did some of the work for you! Visit this post for ideas on how to use hand targets!)