How to Teach a Puppy the Hand Targeting Exercise

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 1, 2024

hand targeting

In one of our recent Omaha puppy classes we taught Mini Aussiedoodle puppy Sylvie hand targeting. This is a lesson that has a whole bunch of practical applications and you can also use it to stop your puppy from getting into trouble.

Hand targeting is a great way to reposition your puppy without having to physically handle them. Why is that a problem? Many dogs do not like being manhandled, just like you and me. But when they are a small puppy, many people simply grab their puppy and position them however they want. This is a great way to create some resentment from your puppy. We have had many puppy parents do this too often and end up with a puppy who starts mouthing or biting or nipping their hand to say “stop manhandling me.”

You can also use hand targeting to lure your puppy down if it’s jumping up on you, use it to gauge how comfortable your puppy is with someone else, or to recall your puppy when they’re refusing to come when you call them.

A Puppy Hand Targeting Lesson

One of the reasons that this exercise is so effective is puppies and dogs eyes are very attracted to movement. A tip we share with puppy parents is to make a big karate chopping motion with their arm when the puppy is looking in their direction. This almost always causes the puppy to pay attention to you, especially if your arm movement is a big, bold, movement from your ear down to their nose level.

In the free puppy training video below, you’ll see how to easily teach your puppy the hand targeting lesson.

A couple of pro puppy training tips are to make sure your chop ends up on either side of your puppy’s face at their nose level. Do not chop so that you hand stops in front of their nose. Your first few chops should probably be 4 to 8 inches from the side of your puppy’s snout. If they do not respond to that chop but are staring at your hand, leave it there until they either touch it or look away. If they look away pull your hand back and chop halfway closer to their nose, again on the right or left side.

After you have  chopped your hand near the puppy’s nose, wait for your puppy to lean in and touch their nose to your hand. As soon as they do that immediately say their marker word then put a treat on your hand. It’s important you keep your hand in the same place. Once your puppy touches its nose to your hand, leave it there and then deliver the treat onto your hand without moving it.

Do not reward your puppy if they just come close to your hand. Only say your marker word and give them a treat if they touch their nose to your hand. Don’t be tempted to move your hand the last few inches towards their nose. While you may think this is being nice, it is actually doing the puppy’s homework for them and will confuse them and slow down this lesson. Instead pull your hand back and chop closer to their nose if they turn away from your hand when you chop.

This will help them quickly learn that they did what you wanted them to. Once you’re confident that your puppy is going to touch your hand when you chop it, you’re ready to introduce the cue word for this exercise.

A cue word lets your puppy know what the action is. You can start this process by saying the cue before you chop your hand. Some common cues for hand targeting are “touch,” “target,” “boop,” or “smash.”

In the puppy class training video below, you can see that Sylvie was a little bit unsure about hand targeting at first. But since her instructor Rachel was so patient, she quickly warmed up to it.

You may notice that Rachel waits for Sylvie to look in her direction before she chops. You want to make sure that the puppy is looking at you before you start your arm motion. Rachel also shows how you can use the positive interruptor lesson to get Sylvie’s attention when she got distracted. This is a great tip you can use at home.

Summary of Puppy Hand Targeting

  • Start with a dozen treats in one hand and no treats in your other hand.
  • When the puppy is looking in your direction chop your empty hand down to the right or left side of their nose.
  • When the puppy touches their nose to your empty hand, say their marker word then place a treat on that hand.
  • Don’t move your hand after your puppy touches it with their nose. Keep the hand in place and deliver a treat to that frozen hand.
  • If you chop and your puppy is staring at it, wait, as this usually means the puppy is trying to figure it out.
  • If your puppy looks away, pull your hand back and when they look at you chop again halfway closer to their nose.
  • Be sure to switch off between your right and left hand when you’re practicing hand targeting.
  • When you are 90% sure that your puppy is going to touch it’s nose to your hand you can add the cue.
  • The most common cues for this are “touch,” “target,” “boop,” or “smash”.
  • We like using fun cues because dogs can recognize when we smile which motivates them.
  • Don’t use their marker word or give them a treat unless they successfully touch their nose to your hand.
  • Half of how puppies learn is not being rewarded when they don’t do the action.
  • Be patient, all puppies learn hand targeting at different speeds.
  • Many professional dog trainers use hand targeting to lure dogs into many different tricks and exercises.
Want to teach your puppy hand targeting? Sign up for puppy class here.
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This post was written by: David Codr