Teaching a puppy to ‘touch’ can be hugely beneficial. Often we start off by teaching a puppy to target our hand with their nose, then build up to targeting a target stick, another object, or anything you like! But why is it helpful? It might be a fun little trick, but what else can we use it for?
‘Touch’ can be really helpful in teaching a puppy that hands, particularly approaching hands, are nothing to fear. Hand shyness isn’t uncommon, we often find people will launch themselves at a puppy, understandably so because they’re so cute! But when we think about the consequences of this, how this may feel for a puppy, it could be quite overwhelming to have all these hands pawing at you and touching you all the time! We often pick puppies up without warning, cuddle them without associating a cue with the process so it’s completely unexpected, and all on the assumption ‘they’re only puppies they won’t mind’. So, we can see how or why a puppy may turn into a dog which is a tad hand shy. Also, what else do we do when we put our hands on our puppies? We groom, we claw clip, we grab the collar, all of these can be pretty distressing for a pup if not habituated to gradually from an early age. Teaching a ‘touch’ can help to decrease the likelihood that a pup may feel threat or unease associated to approaching hands.
Preventing hand shyness is one of the main benefits of target training, however there are many more. It can really help to build a pups confidence, and encourage a puppy to offer behaviours. One of the great things about the ‘touch’ is there is no lure, so a puppy has to work out for himself what we are asking. We simply mark and reward when they get it right, but your pup really has to think! Asking a puppy to work out a behaviour for himself can really help to improve confidence levels. You can also use a ‘touch’ as a great distraction and focus exercise, for stressful environments or to overcome/distract from things/environments your pup finds difficult to cope with. Another great use for ‘touch’ is you can easily then teach your pup to target a ‘bell’, for when he wants to go outside! So, it can help in toilet training.
Often the progression is from targeting hands, to targeting a target stick. Target sticks are nifty gadgets which are essentially, a stick with a little ball on the end, which your pup touches with his nose. They can really help to extend the range of the target far more than your hand can, and you can encourage your pup into many different positions and places by following a target stick.
The ‘touch’ is often used for assistance dogs, with the amount of work they do you can see how targeting can be used to teach so many different behaviours. For example switching on/off lights! Often an assistance dog will ‘nudge’ an owner to indicate, again you can teach this with a touch.
The sky is the limit when target training, you can use it to help in recalls, asking for a ‘touch’ as the pup comes in to you, this can be doubly useful in an emergency situation. Once you have taught your pup to follow a target (hand or stick) you can use this to help with heel work, encouraging a pup to follow the target rather than using a lure.
It doesn’t always have to be the nose that is used in target training either, you can use ANY body part. Often we ask our pups to use a paw to target, front or back! We can ask for a hip, or even something like an ear! Offering body parts in this way can be really useful for veterinary examinations and make the whole process far less stressful for a pup. I’m sure we have all seen footage of the amazing orca whales in Orlando, offering various parts of the body during tricks, some of this will have been trained via target training. We won’t debate the rights and wrongs of captive orcas, however if an orca can do it, our pups can do it!
You can use ANYthing for targeting, for example your hand, target stick, toys, bells, post-it notes, door handles (open/shut doors? What a fancy trick!), so have a think, what could you teach your pup to target? What do you think he would enjoy? It’s very easy to teach, so have a go!