How to Teach Your Dog Tricks and Manners with Targeting

Targeting is versatile, fun, and one of the easiest ways to teach your dog tricks and manners.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #31

This week, targeting. This easy, versatile skill isn’t in the traditional “obedience” curriculum, but you can use it to teach your dog everything from getting on the scale at the vet’s office to closing your kitchen drawers. Oh, yeah, it’s handy for tricks, too. It can even help a shy dog make friends.

Teach Your Dog to Target Your Hand with His Nose

Targeting is just touching things. Dogs can learn to touch with any part of their body, but nose and paw are the easiest starting points. I’ll tell you how to teach your dog to target with his nose. Start with a slightly hungry dog and a dozen or so tiny, savory treats. Place your open hand or your fist directly in front of your dog’s nose, say half an inch or an inch away. Most dogs will sniff your hand and in doing so will touch it. Catch that moment when nose touches hand, say “Yes!” and immediately give your dog a treat. Repeat the process, with your hand at different angles but always right up close to your dog’s nose. Switch hands, too, so your dog learns to target to both.


If she doesn’t seem to notice your hand or if she looks away, put your hand behind your back, wait a second or two, then show her your hand again. This time bring it a bit closer to her. If that still doesn’t work, rub a treat against your hand where you’d like your dog’s nose to go. Amazingly enough, the aroma of food reliably attracts sniffing.

Add Distance, and Practice in Many Locations

Over a couple of dozen reps in one or two training sessions, your dog will grow confident – she’ll reach forward briskly and bump your hand. Now you can increase the distance between her nose and your hand. Go to 3 inches, then 6 inches, a foot, 2 feet. Remember to vary the angle and to switch off between hands. Also, practice in different places, to teach your dog that targeting works everywhere. In each new place, start with a quick refresher with your hand close to your dog. You’ll be able to increase the distance quickly.

Use Targeting to Put Your Dog Where You Want Her

Now that your dog is confidently nose-bumping your hand after you’ve started a couple of feet away in several different locations, you have a useful behavior on board.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).