‘Hand targeting’ is a cue to get your dog intentionally touch part of his body (usually the nose) to your hand.  It is a useful foundation for future behaviors.  Hand targeting gives your dog a consistent and positive way to engage with you around distractions.  You can use it to direct your dog’s movement in space, it can help them learn to take treats gently, and build their recall or heel.  In general Hand Targeting is a great thing to get your dog TO DO instead of the myriad of activities they could be doing instead.


Begin facing a mirror and without your dog.  Follow these simple steps:

  1. Begin with your elbow bent, hand placed flat at your sternum.  Similar to how you would say the Pledge of Allegiance.
  2. Keeping your palm flat, extend your arm until your hand reaches waist level.
  3. Count to 3, then return your palm to your sternum.

Watch this short video on Presenting a Hand Target.  Notice how the target returns to a neutral position after only a few seconds.


Now you’re ready to incorporate your dog into this exercise.  Take a small treat and wedge it between two of your fingers.  Let your dog see you do this.  Begin with your target flat at you sternum then present your target hand within a few inches of their nose.  If they associate your hand with treats they’ll likely move toward your hand to sniff.  Drop the treat to the floor as your dog is moving toward the target or let them eat it out of your hand. 

Present the target with the lure only 2-3 or three times before switching to a marker.  Click for engagement with your hand when it is presented as a target.  Remember to remove the target after 2-3 seconds, especially if your dog has not engaged.  

In the next video you’ll see how to present a hand target with a dog and mark the point of contact.  Notice early in the video where Deja refuses the target.  That’s her choice, the target is removed, and no mark is given.  Notice next how Deja quickly takes advantage of the following target presentation.


As you introduce your dog to hand targeting and training concepts remember to keep the sessions engaging and short.  Limit your practice sessions to no more than 10 treats followed by a short break.  This will ensure that your dog has time to process and decompress between sets.  

Record a hand targeting session with your dog and share your wins and progress in the DogSchool Dog Training Support Group.  For live support or the opportunity to practice nail trims along with the community join in our Live Q&A most Saturdays at 11 am.

Ask us a question about Hand Targeting!