Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Today, I'd like to talk about a nifty and simple nose-targeting skill. The goal is to teach a dog to touch his nose to our extended hand. It's so easy to teach and once a strong foundation is established, it can become a building block for other useful behaviors.
Initially, we hold our hand very close to the dog's nose so it's extremely easy for him to make contact. Because the contact IS brief at first, using a clicker or a verbal marker (like "Yes!") really helps to mark the exact moment when contact is made, and alerts the dog that a treat is now coming.
Here's a video clip of VagaBond learning this skill.
Just before this video, I had begun training with an open hand as the target. But because we've been working on his "leave it" skill recently, I think the open hand reminded him of when I hold a treat/temptation out for him to resist. You'll see in the later part of this video how he begins avoiding my hand and giving me eye contact instead, like he's been doing around temptations. That's why I switched to a fist as the target instead. Another reason a fist may be preferable to an open hand is if you've already taught a paw-giving trick where an open hand is the cue for paw contact.
You can avoid giving your poor pup's nose a static shock by first putting moisturizing lotion on your hands. Static shocks are of special concern in the winter, when our heating systems create very dry air.
Once your dog begins catching on to this targeting behavior, you can begin presenting your hand at gradually increasing distances so the dog has to move further in order to make contact. You can also create a moving target with your hand to help maneuver his body in a particular way.
Here are just a few of the many useful applications for this nose-targeting behavior:
It's great to teach this skill to nippy puppies as it gives them a new and reinforcing way to interact with human hands which does not involve nipping.
Happy greeters can be directed to touch a guest's hand, held low, to decrease jumping behavior.
It's an easy way to get a dog to step onto the scale at the vet's office without you having to manhandle him in any way.
A dog who can follow a sweeping movement of your hand can be easily guided back to your side during leash walks.
It's a simple way to get a dog focused on you rather than other things in the environment, thus making it a useful behavior for dogs that are a bit concerned about, or reactive towards, certain things they may encounter when out and about.
The nose-targeting skill can be transferred to other objects, allowing you to build some fun tricks and even Service Dog skills. Here's a video example.
Best of all, when you teach a dog how to target your hand from increasing distances, this skill can be an excellent substitute for 'come when called.'
Finally, I want to mention that simple nose targeting is a great "gateway" skill for other targeting behaviors. Dogs can easily learn to target various parts of their body to our hands. My favorites include head, chin, and paw targeting. It's a lovely way to build relaxation and cooperative behavior for grooming and other husbandry-related tasks.
This example of chin targeting helped my dog become more comfortable with mouth handling.
Another example of chin targeting yielded cooperative behavior during eye wiping.
And because being pet on top of the head is aversive to many dogs, teaching head targeting can build confidence about outstretched hands.
I hope you'll give this new skill a try!
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, along with pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies.
She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120