Positive Training Blog Hop: The Many Possibilities of Targets


This month’s Positive Training Blog Hop comes just in time for a cute video and a little intro… the little fluff ball you see targeting my palm above is named Kelinn. He is another Icelandic Sheepdog – his great grandmother is Jeni’s mom’s littermate. He will be staying with us for a while.

One of the first things I like to teach any dog that comes into my house, puppy or not, is to target my palm with their nose. It’s a great way to introduce a dog to clicker or marker training, where you use a distinct sound (a click made by a clicker) or a word (“yes”) to mark the exact moment a dog does a behavior.

Palm targeting is pretty easy for most dogs – simply put your open hand in front of their nose. Some dogs will merely look at it or show some distant interest and some will go as far as sticking their nose against your palm (which is the final desired behavior). Click interest in your hand and gradually increase criteria until the dog is fully touching your hand. At this point you can start moving your hand farther away and up and down and making it harder.

This was Kelinn’s first time ever learning to target a hand:

Note: Keep sessions short! Especially with baby puppies. You can see his attention waning toward the end – I probably should have cut this off about 15 to 20 seconds earlier than I did.

Of course, hand targets aren’t the end of the road. You can eventually teach a dog to target all sorts of things, with their nose and other parts of their bodies, like their feet. The nose touch behavior is a first step to teaching a dog to go away from you – you can use any object but you can buy a little ball on a stick specifically for this sort of thing – you teach the dog to nose target an object sitting on the ground and gradually move it farther away from you until the dog is leaving you to touch an object.

Jeni demonstrates a useful way to utilize a paw target – closing a door!


You an also use a paw target as the foundation behavior for teaching a dog to pivot by moving their hind legs (teach them to keep their front paws on a specific object and click for movement of back feet):


You can also teach a “mouth target” where the dog puts their mouth on an object which is the foundation for all sorts of things like a formal retrieve or pulling or holding objects (the paper towel tube was just the first thing I saw floating around… once a dog knows how to target things you can mix up the objects!):


There are endless possibilities! This is my personal favorite thing to teach to dogs that may not be familiar with positive training/clicker training or even have been trained using aversive methods. It is a pretty “easy” behavior for a dog to catch onto and it is a way to teach them that now THEY control the rewards. Their movement gets the “click” and the reward and it can be very empowering.

Even if you never go past a palm target, there are many useful applications… for a shy dog, you can have them target the palms of strangers instead of being pressured to make eye contact or be petted. You can use a palm target to move a dog around your body to a more convenient position. And of course the behaviors that can use targeting as a foundation are numerous.


Today I’m taking part in the “Positive Pet Training Blog Hop,” hosted by Dachshund Nola, Tenacious Little Terrier and Cascadian Nomads.


7 thoughts on “Positive Training Blog Hop: The Many Possibilities of Targets

  1. Pingback: Target Train your dog to Touch Nose to Hand | We Live In A Flat

  2. Nose to palm is an especially great thing for puppies to learn. Puppies who know this behavior are less likely to shy away from hands making them less difficult to place collars or leashes on and just generally more friendly dogs. It had never occurred to me that teaching a mouth “take” is target training but -wow- it seems I use targets for everything my dogs do! πŸ™‚ Thanks for joining The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop today.

  3. I’m curious if you use different cues for nose/paw/mouth targeting? I started out with a nose-touch to the cue “touch” but didn’t really discourage an offered paw-touch, and now I’m wanting to teach that separately.

    • Yep! Jeni has a different word for all numbers of paws (one two three or all four) and I will add a gesture to the cue to let her know what I want her to target. Her nose touch at this point is only a palm touch and I have no cue other than the open hand as it is used as a gauge of her attention level and I prefer it is a silent cue. But you can play around with what works for you!

  4. We trained both the pivot and retrieving by sort of target. My dog often just let the dummy fall in the middle of the retrieve, so we started again, training it backwards: First picking up the dummy lying in front of her, sitting down, and giving me the dummy. Only then I started to throw the dummy. Worked much better. πŸ™‚

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