Targeting is a method of training your dog to follow or go to a specific target.  It has been used in formal obedience training for years, most often to get the dog to “go out” to the other side of the ring in preparation for a jump or some other behavior.  Targeting is now being used for a variety of reasons. 

Whatever the target goal, the training is basically the same.  You will train your dog to target something and then generalize either the target or the location of the target to different places.

Step One

This technique is exactly the opposite of “Leave It.”  Dogs are usually able to tell the difference right away, so don’t worry!  Before you begin, make sure you have easy access to some yummy treats. 

1.      Scent one hand with a treat by rubbing it into your palm.

2.      Put a treat into your other hand and place it behind your back. 

3.      Show your dog your scented open hand about six inches away from his nose.  Be silent and leave the hand in place.

4.      Wait for your dog to come up to and sniff or touch your hand.

  a.       You can help your dog by looking at the scented hand, which will cue the dog where to look. Keep your hand still and be patient.

  b.      If your dog doesn’t touch the hand in thirty seconds, take your hand away, reapply the scent, and repeat with the same hand in the original position.  If he still shows no interest, get a higher value treat to make the scent, and try again.

5.      As soon as he touches, immediately bring out the other hand and give him a treat.

Repeat this step several times until your dog quickly touches the scented hand.  Some people use a word, like “touch” as the dog touches the scented hand.  I tend to say, “Touch” only part of the time, because sometimes I don’t want to have to say a cue and want him to respond to the hand target.

After a few repetitions, reverse the hands, using the previously scented one to hold the treat that is given and the previous treat hand as the scented one.

Step Two

Once the dog is reliably targeting the scented hand, repeat step one without having the scent on your hand.  Now the dog is targeting your hand, not as a response to the scent.  After a few touches of the still unscented hand with rewards from the hidden other hand, you can make it a bit more difficult.  As the dog approaches, move your hand away from the dog a few inches, so he has to “follow” the hand  to touch it. 

Once the dog is following movement, you can move your hand farther each time.  You will still want to treat, but add a secondary reinforcer such as the word “good” or “yes,” and begin to phase out the treat.  Most dogs seem to intrinsically love this way to play and rarely require anything more than a reinforcing marker and praise.

Step Three and beyond.

Now that your dog is targeting your hand, the fun can begin.  You can have your dog target one hand and place your other hand out to get the dog to target it and then back to the first one again.  You can alternate your hands between your legs as you walk to get your dog to weave between them—cool trick! 

There is no an end to ways you can use a hand target.  I use targeting to help my dog with the exercises in the AKC Companion Event of Rally with great success.  You can also use the targeting to help with loose leash walking and turns.  I also use the hand target technique to teach my dog how to come into heel position.  Another very handy behavior for him to know!

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