You may have read about a “nose touch” or a “nose target” in training articles. You’re probably wondering what exactly that is, and how do I teach my dog to nose target anyway?
This simple behavior is easy to teach using positive reinforcement or a clicker which is useful in a variety of situations. I use it to distract my dogs when they start barking at another dog on a walk and as a warmup before training or competing in a dog show. Most dogs really enjoy it!
What is nose targeting?
Nose targeting, also known as a nose touch, is a simple behavior where your dog’s nose touches your outstretched palm.
Why is this useful? Because it is a simple behavior, it is really easy for your dog to master and remember. This means that your dog will be able to do it even in situations where he is too distracted or nervous to do something more complex. It is great for bringing his focus back to you and for building up his confidence.
To teach a nose touch, this is what you’ll need:
- Clicker (optional)
And, of course, your palm and your dog’s nose!
How do I teach my dog to put his nose in my hand?
It is really easy to teach your dog to do a nose touch!
Step 1: Hold your hand out with palm open and fingers flat
Yup. It’s that easy. When starting out, keep your hand where your dog can reach it easily, but eventually you may be able to ask him to jump up a little. Wait for your dog to reach toward or touch your hand.
Step 2: Click upon touching and give a reward
When your dog’s nose makes contact with your hand, click and reward or praise and reward. While many dogs do, not all dogs will automatically touch your hand – if this is your dog, start by rewarding when he reaches toward your hand, and then as he gets the idea you can require him to get closer and closer.
Another thing you can do to encourage your dog to touch your hand is to smear a little bit of squeeze cheese, peanut butter, or cream cheese on your palm. You only need a tiny amount. Holding a solid treat doesn’t work as well because it changes the shape of your hand.
Step 3: Repeat
Repeat until your dog is consistently reaching out and bumping your hand with his nose when you offer the palm of your hand.
Step 4: Add a cue
You are now ready to add your cue! Holding out your hand is a signal in and of itself, but you should also add a verbal cue such as “touch” or “target.”
Give your cue before you hold out your hand, then praise and reward or click and reward.
Step 5: Add distance
Try standing a little back away from your dog before you ask him to touch. Experiment with having him go from one hand to the other, and running across the room or jumping up a little. Have fun with it!
Step 6: Add distractions
Once your dog is able to reliably target your hand at home, start practicing out in your yard and while off on walks or visiting pet supply stores.
Nose targeting for obedience training
Nose targeting is a great way to get your dog focused before training – or to regroup in the middle!
I like to ask my dogs to touch a couple of times before we start working on something, and as I get them set up for practicing heeling. Jumping back and forth from one hand to your opposite hand can be a really fun game!
You can also use a hand target to encourage your dog to walk nicely on a leash and not pull. If your dog starts to forge ahead, give your hand a target cue, and hold your hand next to your side to lure him back by your leg.
If your puppy is a bit too enthusiastic when greeting people, instruct them to ask him to touch as he approaches. If they keep their hands low, your dog’s paws will stay on the floor!
Nose targeting for reactive or fearful dogs
Getting a nervous dog to relax or stop barking can be challenging. Teaching your dog to nose touch gives you one more tool in your toolbox to use when needed.
If your dog is anxious, ask him to hand target and then praise like he just won an Oscar when your dog successfully touches your palm. Asking him to touch will take his mind off whatever he is nervous about, but the nose touch is a simple task so it isn’t hard for him to do even if he is stressed. Then praising him for a job well done will make him feel good (who doesn’t like being told they’re a good boy?). Repeat as needed.
If you have a reactive dog and see a person or animal approaching on a walk that might set your dog off and get him barking, use the hand touch to get him focused on you before he notices the distraction.
If your dog starts to react to something before you can head him off, use the nose touch to get him back under the threshold. Back away from whatever he is barking at, and ask your dog to touch. If he tries at all, even just looking toward you, praise and reward.
This is important because breaking focus when you’re having a meltdown is hard! Praising for that little bit of effort will further help to break the cycle of barking. Then keep asking your dog to touch again, repeating until he is focused on you and has calmed down. He should do a better and better response to your cue each time you ask.
What to do if your dog doesn’t want to touch your hand?
If you are just starting to teach a nose touch and your dog isn’t getting it, make it easier. Hold your hand close to his face, and try smearing a tiny amount of a soft treat on your open palm to draw your dog’s attention. If your dog enjoys clicker training, using the clicker can increase his motivation too!
If you have been practicing for a while and your dog is losing interest, your training session may have just gone on too long. Most dogs thrive on short training sessions such as 5-10 minutes short.
If you are working in a new area that has a lot of distractions, such as a park near a game of disc golf, your dog either may not know touch as well as you thought he did or it may just be too difficult an environment for him at this stage. Try again with some more distance between you and the distractions, or practice more in a less exciting area and then come back at another time when your dog understands it better.
Can you teach your dog to touch other objects with their nose?
Absolutely! The process is largely the same, just using an object instead of your hand.
I do recommend using a different cue word, because touching something away from you is different from coming toward you and touching your hand. I use the word “touch” for a hand touch and “target” for sending to another target item, but you can use whatever cues make sense to you.
Key points on nose to hand target training
A hand touch or hand target is a simple trick that you can use to get your dog focused on you, whether you are starting a training session or getting his attention as you walk through a crowd of people.
Once you teach your dog to do a nose touch, you can work it into lots of different situations. How will you use it with your dog