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The ‘Touch’ Cue: Its Many Uses and How to Train It

Targeting is a behavior in which a dog uses a particular area of their body to target something. This is often your dog’s nose to your hand, but it has many other applications such as a chin target, a back foot target, a shoulder target, or for your dog to go to a specific location such as a mat, their bed or a station. 


Targeting is beneficial because it directs the dog to where you want them to go or what you want them to do with their body through cooperation. It allows the dog to give consent to something and allows you to communicate and control where their body is, all the while giving them a choice


We’ll explain why nose targeting is so useful as a foundation for targeting behavior, and we’ll walk you through how to teach your dog to nose target.


So Why Should You Start with Nose Targeting? 


  • Nose targeting to your hand is often the first and easiest way to teach dogs the concept of targeting. Dogs naturally like to sniff and lick our hands, and we always have our hands on us, so we don’t need any special equipment.
  • Targeting gives dogs direction, so you can easily teach them fancy tricks like leg weaves and spins by getting them to follow a moving target. Wherever the target goes, the nose goes. Wherever the nose goes, the body has to follow. 
  • Nose targeting works brilliantly as a recall to get them to come to you with a nice visual cue. 
  • Nose targeting gives dogs something to do and is an easy behavior for you to remember when out and about with your dog. Targeting can help shy or anxious dogs have a job or purpose in certain situations, which helps to relax them. 
  • For dogs who might be a little hand shy, or who don’t want to be stroked, it also teaches them that hands equal good things, with a huge element of choice and control for them. They can decide to opt out anytime and not touch the hand. 
  • Targeting is also great for our timing since our bodies respond as soon as we feel the dog’s nose on our hands. At that moment we can give our marker and immediate feedback to our dogs that they got it right.


In the method below, we’ll be using a marker. A marker can be verbal, such as saying ‘yes’ or ‘good,’ a clicker that makes a noise when pressed, or a thumbs up or little flash of a torch (flashlight) if you have a deaf dog. Markers provide the dog with a sure sign that they got it right at that precise moment. When we say “click” in our technique, we mean “use this marker right now.”


You will need:

Cartoon of a dog with his head tilted and ear slightly raised
Nose targeting works as a recall to get dogs to come to you with a nice visual cue ©Zigzag
  • Tasty treats cut up small in a pot or treat pouch 
  • Your marker ready to go
  • A calm location free of distractions
  • A willing dog 


If you have a dog who is extremely scared of hands, such as rescue dogs, you can teach them to nose target onto an object like a wooden spoon or a target stick. This also works well for people with mobility problems. 


How to Teach ‘Touch’


Part 1 – Learning the targeting concept

  1. Hold out your flat hand around two inches from your dog’s nose. 
  2. As soon as your dog sniffs it or touches it with their nose, ‘click’ and give your dog a treat with the opposite hand.
  3. Hold your hand out at the same height and distance as before, and wait for your dog to touch it with their nose. Did they? Click and treat again, what a clever dog! 


Repeat the steps above until your dog understands what they’re being clicked and treated for; it likely won’t take long, and they’ll be enthusiastically bopping your hand with their nose. 


IMPORTANT: Don’t put your hand on your dog’s nose. Your dog needs to learn that they can choose to touch your hand. Dogs’ noses are highly sensitive and do not like to be tapped or bopped. 


Part 2 – Time to add a little distance

  1. Hold your hand out but now have it a couple more inches away from your dog. Wait a few seconds for your dog to understand you want them to move off and target your hand. Dogs need time to think, be patient. 
  2. When your dog targets your hand, click and treat.
  3. Repeat steps one and two. You can also start to toss the treat a little further away so your dog goes to get the treat and then comes back to target your hand. Fun game, right? 


Part 3 – Add a verbal cue

This cue can be anything you like- ‘touch’ is the most common one to use.

  1. Say ‘touch’ and then hold your hand out.
  2. When your dog touches your hand, click and treat, throwing the treat away from you.
  3. Repeat the above steps several times and start changing your position. Maybe try it standing up if you’ve been sitting or vice versa.


Part 4 – Train in different locations to generalize the behavior

Dogs don’t generalize very easily, so they need to be taught the same things in different parts of your home, out in the street, and in other places to fully understand what a cue such as ‘touch’ really means.

When you change locations, make the ‘touch’ exercise easier, so start off with the target quite close again. Dogs tend to love this exercise, so they shouldn’t have too many problems. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the ‘touch’ cue and how it can be used, happy training! 


About the Author

Petrina Firth is a Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behaviorist of over 10 years who now mainly specializes in Separation Anxiety (CSAT) and also creates content, lessons and articles for the Zigzag puppy training app and website. Petrina is a member of the Pet Professional Guild, the head of marketing and board member for the APDT UK, and a member of the CAPBT committee. She is also a tech and gadget enthusiast who enjoys city living with her rescue French Bulldog and partner.


Zigzag* is a puppy training app with a difference, rather than focusing solely on obedience we take puppy guardians on a journey through Life Skills and important developmental stages, to hopefully give them happy, confident and well-behaved puppies, with an understanding that puppies and dogs aren’t robots, they have big feelings, and that’s ok!

* Available in the UK and coming soon to the US.


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