Learning the Hand Target

17 Jun 2006Steve Schwarz

Teaching your dog to target your hand with their nose is a very valuable behavior that can be used to train other behaviors. It helps focus your dog on your “lead” hand when training crosses, and allows you to train nose taps on targets as part of training other behaviors (like a nose tap on a contact). Once you have this skill trained you can also use it to “reconnect” with your dog when you need to divert your dog from other less desirable behaviors. It is also one of the easiest behaviors to train.

You can train the nose tap with a clicker or without. You can also decide whether or not to put a verbal cue on the behavior. I trained Milo with the cue word “Nose” and I’m training Meeker without any cue word. If you start without a verbal cue you can always add one later on.

How To

Sit or kneel on the floor in front of your dog. I like to have the dog standing as opposed to sitting or in a down position. Start with some treats and optionally a clicker in your right hand. Present your left hand palm up to the dog with enough motion that your dog will notice it. When your dog sniffs or moves toward it use your reward word (Yes!) and/or click and put the treat into your left palm and let your dog eat the treat. Then put your left (target) hand down.

Starting by putting the treats in your target hand makes the treats a lure and not a reward; so some dogs become wise to this and will stop targeting when there is no treat present. So giving the dog the reward after the behavior is the best approach.

It takes more trainer coordination to use the clicker in the same hand as the treats but if your dog is clicker trained you can more accurately mark the desired behavior with the clicker than just using a word like “yes!“. But again, a clicker isn’t necessary for training to target.

Once your dog is targeting your left hand switch hands. Some dogs figure this out in a single brief session others take more time to figure out what you are looking for. It is important that you stop training while your dog is still excited to be playing this game; you don’t want to over do any training session.

Photo Progression

Here are some pictures of Meeker learning to target my hand:

StepLeft Hand Nose Touch
StartStarting Position
Raise HandRaise Hand
Nose TouchNose Touch
Place RewardReward


I found by presenting my palm with my fingers pointing downward (as opposed to with fingers up in a “high five” manner) your target hand is slightly cupped. This makes a place for the treat so it doesn’t fall on the floor. You don’t want your dog to be distracted by hunting around for their reward. Furthermore, contacting your hand when retrieving the treat further reinforces the touch behavior.

Another problem you can encounter is your dog being more interested in your hand with the treats than your target hand. Try putting your clicker/treat hand closed in your lap and your target hand on top of your treat hand. When you move your target hand up and turn it over it will slightly surprise the dog and likely cause your dog to sniff or touch that hand. At first you don’t need to move your hand very far at all. You can also put the rewards on a table/counter/shelf next to you where only you can reach them.

I just got an i-Click! clicker that has a protruding button you press to make the click. This design lets you put the clicker in your pocket and then push on the i-Click! in your pocket to make the click sound. With this clicker your non-target hand is only responsible for holding and placing the treats. It is a lot easier to use this type of clicker than holding a traditional clicker and treats in one hand.

Next Steps

Once your dog is tapping your hand start slightly increasing the difficulty:

  • Stand near the dog
  • Stand at different angles to your dog
  • Stand at increasing distances from your dog
  • Moving backward (facing your dog)
  • Moving backward (facing your dog) at increasing starting distances from your dog
  • Stand facing away from your dog and present your target hand back toward your dog, as if your dog was running up to you from behind (as when you Front Cross Learning the Front Cross - VideoFront Cross your dog)
  • Moving facing away from your dog and present your target hand back toward the dog
  • Work in different locations

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