By: Norris Boyd, Volunteer with New Dawn Animal Behavior Center
When I was first introduced to hand target training at New Dawn, I couldn’t see a clear purpose for it. Training hand targeting with your dog involves putting two fingers near your dog’s nose and rewarding them each time they touch their nose to your fingers. While it looked adorable and seemed easy enough to train, it didn’t seem very useful in day-to-day life.
After training all three of my dogs to hand target, I realized that my initial doubts were invalid.
Hand targeting has completely changed the way I train, for the better, and in entirely different ways for each of my dogs!
My youngest, Cosmo, is an energetic and excitable pup. Whenever we have company over, he gets very vocal about how happy he is to see everyone. While I’m sure he’s having a great time, our ears are not, so I’ve begun to teach guests how to hand target and reward him to keep him calm. We all sit in a circle together and Cosmo will walk to each person and hand target with them. It stops him from barking while allowing our guests to interact with him without overly exciting him.
Juno, the middle child, is a big pit bull who refuses to walk when it’s remotely hot or wet outside, which can be very frustrating considering we live in Florida! Now that she loves to hand target, walks are a dream with her, even if it’s raining. Whenever she refuses to move forward on our walks, I get low to the ground and stick out two fingers, and she comes right to me. Hand targeting has made every walk less frustrating and more exciting for her and me.
My senior dog, Bentley, struggles with anxiety caused by his dementia. Hand targeting can be a wonderful tool to occupy a dog’s mind, so I engage with him through hand targeting whenever I can sense that he’s feeling anxious. It always calms him right down, and it’s an easy way to keep his mind active now that he’s getting older.
While these are a few of the ways hand targeting has improved how I train with my dogs, there are so many other benefits to this simple behavior, including:
Encouraging loose leash walking by keeping your dog hand targeting next to you rather than pulling ahead
Distracting your dog from a situation that could make them nervous or cause them to react, such as if another dog passes while on a walk
Helping your dog greet other people politely by having them touch their hand rather than jump on them
Allowing your dog to focus on you when they are distracted by something else
Moving your dog somewhere easily
…and many more!
After seeing firsthand how beneficial such an easily trained behavior can be, I highly recommend you try hand targeting with your dog to see how many different situations it can help you out with!