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You likely know your dog experiences the world through their nose. But have you ever thought about directing that nose where you want it to go? Nose targeting, often called “Touch,” is all about having your dog touch a target with the tip of their nose. And where your dog’s nose goes, their head and body follow. That makes touch incredibly useful for training everything from obedience behaviors to tricks. It can even help redirect an anxious or reactive dog. Read on to learn how to train your dog to nose target.

How to Teach Your Dog to Nose Target

Dogs want to sniff everything, and your hand is no exception. So, start training touch using your flat hand. You can expand the behavior to objects once your dog has the basic idea. A clicker or marker word like “Yes” or “Good” can be extremely helpful to communicate to your dog exactly what they’re doing right. The following steps will teach your dog to nose target:

  1. Hold your flat hand, palm out, an inch or two away from your dog.
  2. When your dog sniffs your hand, click at the exact moment their nose makes contact. Then praise your dog and offer them a treat directly in front of your open palm. This placement of the reward will emphasize to your dog the position they are being rewarded for.
  3. Repeat the above steps until your dog is enthusiastically bumping your palm with their nose. Train in different locations keeping distractions to a minimum.
  4. When your dog has a reliable nose target from a few inches away, you can add a verbal cue like “Touch.” Say the cue right before you present your hand, then click, praise, and reward when your dog touches your palm.
  5. Now you can add distance. Start by moving your hand a few inches farther away. Build up to several feet. Try moving your hand higher or lower, closer to your body or farther away, etc.
  6. Finally, add distractions. Start with small diversions like another family member in the room and build up to larger ones like the dog park.

Tips for Training Nose Targeting

Most dogs love performing touch. It’s an incredibly easy way to earn a treat. To help build enthusiasm, use exciting treats and lay on the praise. Once your dog understands the basics, you can also selectively reward the most enthusiastic nose bumps and ignore the tentative ones. In the end, you want your flat hand to be a cue your dog will run across the yard for.

If your dog is struggling, rub your palm with a smelly treat for the first few repetitions. That will guarantee they lean in to smell your hand. If they won’t place their nose directly on your hand, shape the behavior. In the beginning, click, praise, and reward them simply for bringing their nose toward your hand or even looking in that direction. Once they do that consistently, wait to click and reward until they come a little closer. Continue to raise your criteria until they are bumping their nose into your palm.

How to Add Objects to Nose Targeting

If your dog reliably touches your hand, you can transfer the behavior to other objects like a yogurt lid, Post-It note, or piece of clear plastic. Simply hold the object so it covers the palm of your hand. Then ask your dog to touch. As the object is in the way, your dog should touch the object instead. Click, praise, and reward when they do. If they hesitate to target the object, scent the surface by rubbing it with a smelly treat and try again.

Once your dog is touching the object, on each subsequent trial, slowly move the object off your palm until you are holding it in your fingertips. Next, trial by trial, move the object toward the ground until you’re no longer holding it. As before, now you can add distance and then distractions.

Obedience Training With Nose Targeting

Because your dog’s body will follow their nose, you can use touch to teach body positions. For example, you can teach your dog to stand by asking for a touch from a sitting position. Or you can lure a down by asking for a touch with your hand under a stool or your outstretched legs. Your dog will have to lie down to get under the object to touch the target. You can even use touch to direct movement like teaching heel position.

Nose targeting also helps with good manners. If you transfer the touch behavior to a bell, you can have your dog ring the bell to tell you they want outside. That’s far quieter than barking. Touch can be used when greeting people too. Ask your guests to hold out their hand so your dog can say hello with a nose touch rather than jumping.

Trick Training With Nose Targeting

There are endless tricks you can teach your dog with nose targeting. For example, a simple spin. Simply move your hand in a circle parallel to the ground while you ask your dog to touch. Using a target object, you can also teach your dog tricks like flipping a light switch or closing a door. You eventually want to have your dog perform the trick without the target, so either use a clear one you can later remove or cut your target smaller and smaller until your dog no longer needs it.

Touch can even help with dog sports. For distance work, you can position your dog away from you by sending them to a target. In agility, you can use targeting to train many skills.

How Nose Targeting Helps Anxious or Reactive Dogs

An anxious dog might cower at the sight of a stranger and a reactive dog might bark uncontrollably at another dog. But what if they didn’t see the stranger or dog in the first place? Using touch, you can redirect your dog’s attention to something less upsetting. Just like the “Watch Me” cue, nose targeting lets you control where your dog is looking and therefore what they are reacting to. Plus, it gives them something else to concentrate on. And because you’ve trained touch to be a fun game, your dog should happily do it no matter what is going on around them.

Related article: How to Curb Unwanted Dog Behaviors
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