If you read the last Perfect Pooch blog (http://perfect-pooch.com/recall-why-most-dogs-dont-really-know-how/) you already know that many dogs do not really know how a recall works or why it’s worth it to come when called. Hopefully you have been working on this super important behavior and plan to continue working on it for the life of your dog. Remember- if you don’t reward a behavior, don’t expect it to be repeated. Behaviors that are not rewarded regularly go through an extinction process and lose reliability. It is always fun to chase a squirrel; do you make sure it is always fun to run to you?
Today I am going to explain why I teach hand targeting behavior to every dog I work with. Every dog. I originally worked with zoo animals and hand targets were used with many species to help move them through enclosures, provide mental stimulus and perform basic medical exams. I was impressed with how even the least socially inclined or most ornery animals did really well with targeting. It’s just so easy! In fact many service dog trainers begin target training before puppies can even walk. It’s the first step to teaching a puppy to work with you.
Here’s a video of a former coworker of mine, who I greatly respect and admire, teaching rescued bears in Thailand to hand target: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsMy0YpF674. How cool is that?! These bears come from deplorable situations and have no positive human interactions in their past, and yet they learn to hand target for rewards and even target to different objects and assist in basic medical care.
So here’s how you start:
- Have your dog right in front of you and have plenty of good, high value rewards available.
- Without saying anything, put your index and middle finger straight out and about 3 inches from your dog’s nose. (I recommend the two finger touch because it is a unique hand signal where as we use a flat palm for sit, down, stay, etc… this will look very different to your dog). Your dog will at some point sniff your fingers. Immediately praise, remove your cue (fingers) and reward. Your dog will most likely use their nose to touch your fingers and investigate. This is what we are looking for. If your dog seems nervous or does not investigate, you can try rubbing treats on your fingers. If that doesn’t work call me or whatever trainer you are comfortable working with.
- Repeat step 2 a couple of times with your two fingers just a few inches from your dog’s nose. Each nose bop gets a praise-remove cue-reward pattern.
- If your dog seems to be really interested and is really pushing their nose into your fingers, great! Now add a verbal cue right before you present your fingers. I use “touch” but you can use any unique-to-your-dog word. So now the pattern is: “touch”-hold out two fingers- dog bops fingers-praise- remove fingers- reward. (You should be removing the fingers and rewarding with the other hand almost simultaneously once you get this down).
- Now comes the really fun part- begin adding distance a little bit at a time until your dog is happy to come racing right to your hand.
Important reminder: do not touch your fingers to your dog’s nose. The point is that “touch” means the dog comes over and proactively makes contact with you, not that you will say “touch” and reach for your dog’s face. Also, never add distance until your pooch is doing great and excited about the game at the distance you are currently at.
Hand targeting is a fantastic way to teach your dog to come all the way in towards you on a recall and can eventually be used to “air traffic control” or direct your dog. You can also use it to redirect your dog’s eye contact when needed. A good time for this would be on a walk or if you see them about to get into something they shouldn’t.
Here is a video of a former client’s dog Crumpet using touch- this is a good example of how practice and dedication can make a really reliable behavior even with the distractions of a dog park: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cr1ptCdG9Y. Touch is a super useful behavior and can help shape many advanced tricks and behaviors (heel work, agility, etc.)
Head Trainer-Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator