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Teaching a Hand Target

How To Teach Your Dog To Hand Target

Does your dog need to be “well trained” for a photo session? Not at all!  And even if your dog is well trained, their is big chance that all those “trained” behaviors will fly out the window in a brand new environment with distractions.  I don’t care if your dog doesn’t “sit”on cue – I promise we will still get amazing pictures!  

Would you like to learn a new behavior before your dog’s photo session that I find even more helpful than “sit”,  or “down”?  I’m here to tell  you about the hand target or “touch” behavior.  This was probably my favorite things to teach when I taught dog training classes at the MSPCA. It is super easy to learn, dog’s see it as a fun game, and when your dog really gets the hang of it, you can transition it right into a “kiss”.  

Hand Target with Wolf
Using "Touch" with a Wolf - Adirondack Wildlife Refuge

What is touch?

A command to get. your dog to touch his/her hand to your nose.

Why teach it?

It’s a useful foundation for many more advanced behaviors  and gives you a way to capture your dog’s attention and direct his movements. For example, coming toward you to touch your hand is a great start on recall and touching someone’s hand is a nice alternative to jumping on them.

How to teach it.

Step 1. Cut up a large number of small treats. Choose a word that you will use to “mark” the behavior when your dog gets it right, or have a “clicker” ready.  I used to LOVE training with rotisserie chicken with my dog, Kota!  It was her special treat.

Step 2. Present your hand a couple of inches away from your dog’s face. Click and treat (mark and treat) for any interest he shows, whether and actual touch of his nose to your hand or even just looking at your hand. After the first few times, click only for a full nose touch.

Step 3.  Repeat this until your dog reliably touches your hand.

Step 4. Now add the verbal cue. Before presenting your hand, say, “touch” (or “nose” or “bonk” – yes, i had an entire class doing nose bonks!!!) and then put your hand out. (Be sure to pause for a second between the command and reaching down) 

Step 5. When your dog responds reliably to the verbal cue, begin to increase the distance of your dog’s head from your hand by a few inches.

Step 6. Keep increasing the distance little by little. Also, move your hand to different positions – go high, go low, go to the side.  And remember this: Dog’s are “context” specific learners.  Just because they can do this in the middle of the kitchen does not mean that they could do this in a busy park.  Practice everywhere! 

Teaching your dog to hand target
Teaching Kota "Touch" - 2015

I thought I would take a few recent pictures just for this post.  A HUGE thank you to my husband for doing some hand touches with Kota after coming home from his 7:00 Market Basket shopping run.  (I did tell him he wouldn’t be in the pictures… but we won’t tell him!) He’s always a great sport!  

Excuse the ugliness of our backyard!  We are getting ready for a foot of snow on the way. The snow will be much prettier!  

Teaching a Hand Target
Kota brushing up on "hand touches"
Dog Training a Hand Target
Kota gets a bit "sassy" sometimes

How is this helpful during a photo session?

I love photographing dogs that know the hand touch/target during a photo session!  Oh, look at that rock for a perfect portrait of your dog – we can use the “touch” to position your dog on the rock, stump, log – anything we’d like them to hop up on.  Maybe your dog becomes distracted – we can use the “touch” cue to refocus them from whatever distraction is out there. This little behavior can lead to so man more fun behaviors, too!  If you are interested in teaching your dog a “kiss”, it’s taught the same.  The “kiss” is perfect for dogs that enjoy their “bubble of space”. They move in quick for the nose bonk to the cheek!  

Teach your dog to kiss
Kota knows her "kiss"

This behavior doesn’t take long to teach! And remember: You don’t have to set aside hours a day to train!  Dog are learning every second, every minute, every hour of the day.  And another good use of hand touch?  Getting your dog off the couch haha!  Our dogs love the couch to be close to us and it’s a comfortable spot.  From across the room, “Touch!” – your dog will jump toward your hand, and how you have your spot back to watch tv!  I also have to keep track of Kota’s weight on a regular basis.  We have a scale and use the hand touch to get her up on the scale – then she does a sit. 

This post is part of a blog circle and this week you will see a wide variety of topics!  Next up Wyoming pet photographer Erin Schwartzkopf shares her very favorite horse quotes. Enjoy your weekend!

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10 thoughts on “How To Teach Your Dog To Hand Target”

  1. I’ve said this for years, hand targeting is the Swiss Army Knife of behaviors, so useful for SO MANY things (especially a smooch in a pet portrait session!). Kota looks as sassy as ever, Winter is definitely her season!

  2. My pups know touch as a game and it’s my way to distract them from the urge to backflip towards another dog friend we may pass on the street! Never thought to use it as a tool to get other tricks or poses out of them! Hmmm….thanks for the inspiration!

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