How to Teach a Nose Target to Your Dog (How to Train “Touch”)

A nose target, or “Touch” cue, is one of the most versatile commands any dog should know. Learn step-by-step how to train it so that you can call your dog and use it to teach other various tricks.

What is a nose target?

A nose target means your dog touches their nose to the palm of your hand on cue. Pretty simple! It’s a trick that dogs love to do, and there are many crafty ways to use it after you’ve taught your dog the basic steps.

Why train a nose target?

A nose target or hand-touch skill is super versatile! Here are some of the most common ways to use it:
  • A nose target is commonly used as a simple recall cue. I.e., when you want your dog to come to you, say “Touch!” and extend your hand, which will call them over to you.
  • It’s also a way to get your dog’s attention and move them through space anywhere you need them to go. For example, grabbing your dog’s attention when they’re distracted, redirecting them from trouble, or just getting them out of the way of foot traffic around the house.
  • Most dogs learn to really love this trick because it’s a simple behavior that is fun for them to do. With a helper, you can play hide and seek by having your dog run and find the person asking them to hand target.
  • “Touch” can also be used as a foundation for other tricks or obedience behaviors you might want your dog to learn, like
      • Loose-leash walking (prompt your dog to walk nicely by practicing a hand target placed at your side while you walk)
      • Teaching an “off” cue for asking your dog to come down from jumping up on people, or off of furniture
      • Teaching other tricks that involve the dog’s nose – like pushing a cabinet door closed or flipping a light switch

How to train a nose target


Getting Started

Here are some pointers to remember while training your dog to target your hand with their nose:
  • Use tasty treats
  • Train in a calm environment, like your living room or backyard
  • Show your dog your outstretch hand, palm facing the dog
  • Mark by saying “Yes!” in a happy tone right at the moment your dog’s nose touches your hand
  • If your dog doesn’t touch your hand right away, just freeze. Give them some time to think about the problem in front of them. Decide how far away you will place your hand each rep, and keep it there. If your dog doesn’t respond for quite some time, take your hand away briefly, then restart from a closer distance.

Training Steps:

Note: Repeat each step several times. Aim for 5 “wins” or successful repetitions in a row before moving on.
Step 1. Place your hand right in front of your dog’s nose (~2 inches away)
Present your palm to your dog. Place your hand so close to your dog’s nose that they can’t possibly miss it.
Since you’ve probably just prepared training treats, your hands should smell interesting to your dog. Because of this, your dog will likely stick their nose out to sniff your outstretched hand. Capitalize on this by marking it with a verbal “Yes!” and then feeding a treat from other hand. If your dog doesn’t move towards your hand at all, and just stares at you blankly or walks off, try the modification below.
If for some reason your dog doesn’t touch your hand, try this:
Take a treat and place it under thumb. Present your hand to your dog while holding the treat under your thumb. Your dog will smell the treat and reach out their nose to investigate. When they touch your hand, say “Yes!” and allow them to get the treat. Try to mark and feed only once your dog actually makes contact with your hand. Repeat 5 times; then, return to Step 1 (where the treat is hidden behind your back instead).
Step 2. Place your hand a little farther away (4-6 inches away)
Now back your hand out just a little. Your hand should be ~4-6 inches away from your dog’s nose when you present it. Practice until your dog readily targets your outstretched hand from this distance.
Step 3. Place your hand even farther away (~1 foot)
Back your hand out even further from your dog. Aim for about 1 foot of distance for your dog to travel. At this point, your dog may need to take a step or two forwards in order to touch your hand.
Step 4. Add verbal cue and vary hand position (1-3 feet)
Now it’s time to do 2 things:
  1. Add a verbal cue “Fido, Touch!”, and…
  2. Switch up your hand position
Adding a verbal cue
A verbal cue is a word that signals to your dog when to do the behavior. This is helpful because you may want to use a nose target to get your dog’s attention when they aren’t already looking at you.
To add a verbal cue:
  • 1: Say your verbal cue (“Fido, Touch!”)
  • 2: Present your hand like before and reward once your dog touches
With enough repetition in this order, your dog will begin to associate the verbal cue with targeting your hand.
Switch up your hand position
Vary the height and placement of your signal hand. Try down low so that your dog has to bend down to reach it. And try over your dog’s head to see if they will stand or jump to hit it. See if your dog will “Touch” when you signal with your opposite hand.
Step 5. 4-6 ft, present hand while stepping backwards (but still facing your dog)
Now your dog should definitely need to move their feet in order to touch your hand. This is important to practice, since your dog must be accustomed to traveling in order to reach your hand if you are going to use “Touch” to call your dog over to you in the future.
It should look something like this:
  • 1: Say “Fido, Touch!”
  • 2: Present your hand signal as you take several steps backwards (keep facing your dog). Praise and feed once your dog catches up with you and touches your hand.
Step 6. Practice any other situations you might want to use this skill in. Here are some suggestions:
  • Recall in backyard
  • Practicing a heel position by your side while walking on leash
  • Hopping off of furniture
There are tons of other ways you can use a hand target, so feel free to get creative! And always remember to have fun training with your dog.

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Mara Clare Van Valzah, CTC, PNWI

Mara Clare Van Valzah, CTC, PNWI

Dog Trainer & Behavior Consultant

I founded Collaborative Canines to help dog owners to better understand, communicate with, and coexist with their pets. Here, I share my dog training stories, tips, and tricks with you and other dog lovers all over the world. 

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I help dog owners just like you find better lives with their dogs every day. If you live near Anaheim, CA, and your pup could use some guidance, contact me!

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