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Most new dog owners have some idea that they should “probably” train their dog. Often, once the basic commands are learned – sit, stay, lay down, etc – many dog owners are satisfied.
But why stop there? Dogs are smart animals. They’re very receptive to instruction and as you probably know by now, they love to receive affection and approval. When you maintain a consistent training routine, and add more complex exercise you strengthen your dog’s mind, and the emotional bond between you two!
Target training, and more specifically, hand targeting teaches your dog to make direct contact – whether with you (your hand) or someone else, or an object inside the house. This kind of training uses a marker or clicker, and enables your dog to cleverly greet people, close doors, and even switch on the lights!
Another way hand training can be useful is by soothing more nervous dogs in uncomfortable situations. If they know to touch your hand on cue, that can be a signal to disregard any distractions that may be distressing them.
To begin you’ll need to have treats (rewards) handy. I use some really tasty like cheese or hot dog. If you’re using a clicker, keep the treats hidden inside your clicker hand, and use your free hand to train for the exercise.
Clickers are a great idea but to simplify this exercise we will use the word “Yes” as my marker word. The best part of hand training is how easy it is, because your dog is very likely to approach your hand nearly immediately after you present it.
With the treats hidden in one hand extend the opposite hand with your palm opened a couple inches from your dogs nose. Do not say anything until your dog touches your palm with his/her nose, say YES, then place a piece of food that is hidden, into your open palm and reward!
The key to success is to take things slowly.
Be sure that your timing here is sharp and the very instant your dogs nose touches your open palm you mark it with a YES.
Start off a couple inches away then move you back to a foot, then two and once you are getting a “touch” every time it will be safe to move back further away from your dog. I aim for 5 in a row before I make it more challenging for my dogs. If they are unable to get 5 in a row from three feet away from you, then move closer to him/her.
We are building a new behavior so we need a strong foundation.
Once your dog begins to understand what your outstretched hand means, then you can begin to say the verbal cue TOUCH every time you extend your hand. I begin this exercise inside my home with minimal distractions before practicing outside As you become more comfortable and your dog is becoming a hand target rock star then its time to start using this as a recall from further distances.
To make it slightly harder you can switch target hands or lower/raise your hand slightly above their head. The key is when your hand is extended they can’t wait to touch it! It is important to remember that this new behavior needs to be rewarded each time and along with the food make sure you are praising them for running over to you!
As my own dogs begin to perfect the touch command, I will ask them to string together a few behaviors to mix it up and keep them interested. As an example I will call over my dog and ask for a sit, down, then touch, then say YES and reward and big praise for being so smart!
Keep this new training both fun and rewarding for your dog. It is a cool way to bond even further while perfecting a reliable recall.