• Ashley Hill, CPDT-KA

Training "Touch"

Let's Practice!

Here's a fun behavior to teach your dog at home that will get the mechanics of dog training down for you - and your dog - so that you have a strong foundation for future training!


When cued, or when the handler signals by presenting their hand, the dog touches their hand with his or her nose.

(Uses: Deceptively simple, this behavior is actually a safe way to move a dog around without physically manhandling them, especially for dogs fearful of human touch. For shy dogs, this is one way to help them engage in physical touch positively with strangers as they choose to touch the human and are rewarded for that, not forced. It is also a fundamental behavior required for some methods of teaching heeling, and a fun, easy behavior to use in distracting or uncomfortable environments to keep a dog working and focused on the handler.)

Daisy, the rescue American Pit Bull Terrier, demonstrates a lovely "Touch":

(1) Have your treats and clicker ready. Present your hand, palm towards the dog's nose.

For dogs that have not used a clicker or marker before, warm up by clicking or marking and then immediately rewarding regardless of what the dog is doing. Do this until your dog immediately looks for the treat the instant he or she hears the marker. (Some trainers prefer to offer their finger tips as opposed to their open palm.) Notice how the trainer's hand is positioned in the picture above. Keep your "touch" hand visually signal distinct from the hand signal you use for "stay", or even the hand signal you use to start signaling "down" to avoid any confusion for your dog.

(2) The instant your dog's nose makes contact with your hand, mark with the clicker in your other hand or with a word like "yes", and immediately reward.

Most dogs will investigate your hand out of natural curiosity by smelling so that you may mark the behavior, but for dogs that do not, it is not a bad idea to rub a little scent of a treat on your palm, or conceal a tiny bit of treat in the crook between your thumb and fingers as an additional lure. Only do this for a few repetitions; if you do not, many dogs learn a hand lick rather than a nose touch!

(3) Practice until your dog is reliably touching your hand with their nose every time it is presented. Make sure to practice with the other hand, too, and with your hand further and further away.

(4) OPTIONAL: Add the cue "touch".

Some trainers do not like to add a verbal cue for this behavior since the hand must always be out and present to complete the behavior anyway. Therefore, the hand signal alone is enough. This is preferable in cases where an owner primarily intends to use (or finds themselves using) the behavior to keep their dog focused in distracting situations. We do not want the word "touch" to come to mean "Look around! A distraction is coming!" in addition to the physical nose touch behavior. In these cases, it may be more effective to get the dog simply immediately responding to the presented hand rather than potentially delay or confuse the response by adding an unnecessary cue. "Touch" is also a common cue for other behaviors that require a verbal cue, so it's not a bad idea to reserve the word if you have additional behaviors to train in mind.

(4) Practice the behavior in increasingly distracting environments.

Some owners find that if they proof this behavior up against long distance, their dogs respond more reliably to it than their recall cue ("come" or "here") since the touch behavior has been more frequently rewarded and they have therefore been classically conditioned to think it is fun! If you want to proof long distances, use a leash as needed to make sure your dog does not access other reinforcement (chasing squirrels, anyone?) instead of coming to you!

Reap the Rewards - For your dog

Learning this easy behavior according to the steps presented in this article will get your dog familiar with the meaning of the marker and this learning process. Dogs who understand this process can learn complex behaviors in a short series of repetitions because they have learned to take note of exactly what they are doing when they hear the marker, and do it again the next trial.

Reap the Rewards - For you

It will also hone your skills to be more effective at training advanced behaviors. Set up in advance - make sure you have a plan, your treats, and your marker to maximize your training session! You will develop the below three critical training skills:

  • Know and Observe the Criteria - Don't move your hand towards the dog's nose to get the touch, be religious about the criteria of THEM touching you!

  • Accurate, Timely Marking of Behavior - Don't mark the nose touch TOO SOON or TOO LATE; close your eyes and wait to actually FEEL the touch should you need to. Speedy, precise marking is one of the most desirable skills in dog training!

  • Understand your Dog's Strengths & Challenges - Study your dog's response to your presented hand (or whatever you chose for your final cue) in different environments. Learn what his or her most challenging distractions so you can work through them faster in all of your training. Learn where he or she is focused and comfortable performing all of their behaviors, and why.

Most importantly: get your dog to LOVE this new trick and HAVE FUN TOGETHER. We recommend teaching it with Love The Dog treats, as their enthusiasm for this high value reward will be reflected in the quality of the final behavior!

#operantconditioning #training #Touch #behavior

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