One of my favorite behaviors to teach a dog and their owner is “Touch.” The most basic form of Touch is where we ask a dog to put their nose to the palm of our hand. This is called nose targeting.
What’s great about Touch is that it is a really easy behavior to teach your dog, so it can be a great win for first timers! This behavior can also lead to a lot of cool tricks down the road too.
How To Teach the Touch Behavior
- A hungry dog
- Yummy treats
- Clicker or a Marker word
- Your Hand
First, you’ll want to get your dog acquainted with a clicker or a marker word. The definition of clicker training that Karen Pyror gives us is:
“Desirable behavior is usually marked by using a “clicker,” a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct “click” sound which tells the animal exactly when they’re doing the right thing. This clear form of communication, combined with positive reinforcement, is an effective, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behavior that it is physically and mentally capable of doing.”
If you don’t have a clicker yet, that’s ok, you can start with a marker word like “yes” or “good.” The benefits of using the clicker over your voice is that our voice is slower than the clicker sound, so it may mean we aren’t as accurate with timing.
To start, you’ll need to teach your dog that the clicker sound or marker word has value. Go ahead and click or mark, then treat. Do that a couple times and you’ll find your dog looking at you after the clicker, expecting a treat!
Great! So now your dog knows that the clicker/marker word gets them rewards! This way when you start teaching new behaviors, you can click them for the exact behavior you desire and they’ll know they get a reward for it, so they will want to try that behavior again!
The next step is to show your dog the palm of your hand. They think, what is my human doing and go to check it out. If their nose touches your hand, click or mark the exact moment that happens and follow with a treat. Stick your hand out again, if they touch it again, click and treat. You can repeat this until you see that they are deliberately touching your hand.
But what if they aren’t interested? Set them up for success! Some things you can try are: make sure your hand isn’t too far away from their nose, maybe you can rub your hands with a treat or a little peanut butter to get their interest, and move your hand around or wiggle your fingers. Click or mark any sort of interest towards your hand. Even if they don’t touch it, you can still reward them for getting closer!
Once, they are booping their nose into your hand, go ahead and test them a little. Can you hold your hand up higher or lower? Can they touch your hand through your legs or when your hand is on the move? If they are passing your tests, that’s awesome! Let’s add a cue to it now. You only want to add a cue once you are 99% sure they are going to put their nose to your palm when you offer it. Say the word you choose right before they touch and click and treat when they complete the behavior. Repeat until they are responding to the cue. A couple cue options can be, well, whatever you want! Touch is a common choice, but bump, push, boop, or banana could work just fine too!
That was pretty easy right? And you might be thinking, why does my dog need this behavior?! Well, touch has a lot of cool applications:
- A reliable recall
- If you have a dog that really gives you an excited touch, try asking for a touch at longer distances. You can work up to them coming to you from far away, just to touch your hand. Some dogs love completing a task!
- Once my dog new touch, I next smeared some peanut butter on my hand for him to lick. I clicked and treated when he started licking. I use this behavior to redirect him if he’s getting too rough playing with his mouth.
- You can teach a stand from a sit or a down by offering your hand. They’ll have to get up and touch your hand and in the process, you can click and treat once they are in the stand position.
- Sometimes we need are dogs to move to certain spots and by asking for a touch, you can get them to certain locations without handling them. A great example is at the vet and getting them on too the scale. Different surfaces under their feet can feel a little strange, including them metal scale, so giving them the job of touching can help make positioning a little smoother.
- Keeping them close and heel work
- If you’ve got a dog that is a little nervous in certain situations, you are moving through a potentially challenging situation, or you want to work on heel work, ask them for quick, consecutive hand touches. This will keep their focus on your hand and you, rather than whatever else is going on. It will also keep them right by your side.
- Closing doors and drawers
- This one is my favorite! You can teach your dog to touch their nose to something other than your by transferring the behavior. One way to do this is to hold another object in your hand (ex. post it note, small lid, wooden spoon, etc.). Ask for a touch and click and treat for when their nose touches the object. Slowly, you can move that object further from your hand and still ask for a touch to that object.
- Now you’re ready to place that object on something else, like a cabinet door. When they touch it, click and treat! If they are doing that consistently, try phasing the object out, asking for a touch on the cabinet door! You’ll soon have a dog that will close the drawers and doors after you!
What do you use the touch behavior for? Or tell me about your adventure in training the behavior!