Teaching Targeting

Have you ever heard of targeting? This simple but important training technique is a great foundation behavior for your dog to learn. Simply put, targeting is teaching your dog to touch (or ‘target’) an object with a part of their body, usually their nose. You can easily teach this cue at home with a limited number of resources and time. It doesn’t take long for most dogs to grasp the concept, and it’s a very versatile skill! So, have we convinced you to start teaching targeting to your dog? If so, we’re here to help with easy step by step instructions!

Start simple by using your hand.

All you need to begin teaching targeting to your pup are your two hands and some tasty treats!

1. Start by taking a treat in one hand, and opening your other hand flat.
2. Simply present your open palm to your dog and wait until they show interest.
3. When your dog touches your palm with their nose (even unintentionally), reward them with the treat.
4. Once they have this behavior down consistantly, you can add the cue word ‘target’.

Add complexity by moving your hand.

The next step of target training would be to add some complexity to the technique. You can do this by moving the target (your hand) to different locations. Start by placing your hand behind your back and say ‘target’. If you dog doesn’t immediately notice your open palm, they will have to search to find the target. You can also take a couple steps away from your dog, or have them wait while you cross the room. Any amount of distance you can add between your dog and the target will be a new level of complexity.

Additionally, try placing your open hand against objects for your dog to touch. For example, place your hand against the wall and say ‘target’. Your dog doesn’t normally press their nose against the wall, so this might present a challenge for them. You can also use the couch, a table, a lamp, or anything you want your dog to learn to target. This will be a helpful tool in learning the next step!

A woman presents her hand to a dog for targeting during AWS training class

Remove your hand from the equation.

The final step to teaching targeting would be to remove your hand from the equation. This is important because you don’t want your dog to associate only your hand with targeting. To practice this, grab a sticky note or a piece of paper with some tape!

1. Start by sticking the note to your open palm and then say ‘target.’ By now, your dog will know immediately to target your hand.
2. When your dog’s nose touches the sticky note, praise and reward like you always would.
3. Once your dog gets used to doing this with the note in your hand, translate the note to a different spot. You can stick it to the wall, the couch, the table, etc.
4. Now, point to the sticky note and say ‘target.’ You may have to guide your dog’s nose there with a treat.
5. Like always, when your dog’s nose touches the sticky note, praise and reward! This will begin the process of your dog targeting objects without your hand there.
6. Eventually, you can remove the sticky note entirely and have your dog target objects by simply pointing or guiding.

TIP! Target sticks exist and you can use them to point to objects for your dog to target. You can always make your own target sticks at home, or you can literally use a stick! Whatever your choose to point with, remember to tape the sticky note at the end of the stick to begin with. Once your dog has the pointing and targeting technique down, you can remove the sticky note.

Have questions?

Have any questions, concerns, or want to further your dog’s training? Check out our training pages for more helpful resources. You can also send a message to our training team, or give our trainers a call at (207) 985-3244 ext 111. We’re here to help!