Train your dog to touch a target

Teaching your dog to 'touch' is a great way of getting your dog's focus on a target using their nose or paw.

blake terrier training

Target training is a fun game you can play with your dog that keeps their focus on a target of your choice, like your hand or a mat, that they touch with their nose or paw. 

Teaching your dog to place a part of their body on a target and hold it there can be used in lots of different ways, and it helps to build their confidence and trust in us.

Why target training is a bulls-eye

Teaching your dog to touch your hand can help them understand that human hands are great! Practising this can be helpful for humans who might not be as confident around dogs, as it gives the dog an area to focus on. 

Target training can help prepare your dog for lots of life events, such as going to the vets and preparing them for being groomed. It's a way to move your dog around without touching them, picking them up or putting them into positions, as you can guide your dog into them. 

This means they can trust you, and your hands are always seen as good things. 

Getting your dog to focus on you rather than distractions, such as squirrels, other dogs or joggers, is essential when you're out and about.

Once your dog has learned that following and touching a target is always thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding for them, they will want to focus on that and ignore potentially scary or tempting things. 

Before you get started 

Before you start any training, your dog needs to be in a familiar environment that is calm and quiet, so you know they are starting off feeling happy and relaxed and will be able to concentrate.

Decide on a short marker word, such as “Yes” or "Good” that tells your dog that what they are doing is exactly what you want.

How to get your dog's focus and attention
How to get your dog's focus and attention
How to introduce a marker to your dog training
Training techniques
How to introduce a marker to your dog training

Top tips

  • Your dog should always appear happy to engage with you and the training sessions. If your dog appears to want to avoid the training, then you may be going too quickly for them. Even if they’re doing well, they need to learn at their own pace! 
  • Don’t worry if your dog gets something wrong, there’s no need to say ‘no’ or get upset. Just remember to be consistent and clear so you don’t confuse them. It’s all part of the learning process, as they find out what gets them the treat and what doesn’t. 
  • Keep training sessions short and simple so they’re always fun. Remember you are competing with distractions that may make it difficult for your dog to focus. Gradually introducing distractions is the way to go.
  • If your dog is short and/or you find it difficult to bend you can use a wooden spoon instead of your hand and teach your dog to place their nose on that when you hold it out to them. 


Train your dog to touch a target

Reward your dog for touching and sniffing your hand 

Start by rubbing a piece of food on your hand so your dog can smell it. If they watch you doing this, they should naturally show interest in your hand.

When they sniff or touch your hand with their nose, immediately mark this with your marker word and reward them …

Add a cue word like “Touch” 

When your dog is consistently touching their nose to your hand as you hold it out, add a special word to this action – most trainers say “Touch” as it’s easy to remember!

Say this word the moment that your dog makes contact with your hand so that they learn to …

Increase the length of time 

Next, encourage your dog to touch your hand with their nose for slightly longer by waiting slightly – by just a second to begin with – before marking and rewarding them.

Once your dog is consistently keeping their nose on your hand for one second before …

Add distractions

When your dog can reliably wait for five seconds while touching your hand with their nose, introduce a very slight distraction, for instance, hold a piece of kibble or a toy (but not their favourite, don’t make it too hard!) in your other hand.

Hold your target …

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