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

Say you’re at the vet’s office weighing your dog on the floor scale. You need not push; you need not pull; you need not haul. Just show your dog your target hand in a position where her nose would be with all four legs up on the scale. Hey presto, she targets your hand and you ask her to stay; her weight registers; all done and it’s treat time. If she doesn’t know “stay,” just feed her a treat or two to keep her in position long enough for the scale to read her weight. So simple; so low stress.

You can have your dog target your hand so as to set her in the backseat of your car just where her safety harness attaches to the belt. Play hand-targeting games when your dog is off leash, and watch her get more interested in hanging around with you.

K-9 Kitchen Helper

Teach your dog to target all over again from scratch, but now hold a yogurt lid for her to bump instead of your hand. Then stick the yogurt lid to a drawer with some double-sided tape and teach your dog to bump it there. Gradually open the drawer a little further, then a little further yet. Mark and reward only when your dog bumps it hard enough to close it all the way. Now take away the yogurt lid and practice some more. Do this with all the drawers in your kitchen. Once she’s got the idea about one drawer, believe me, this will take no time at all. When she’s bumping them shut reliably, you can give the behavior a name. Remember, dogs learn by association and prediction. If you say “Dogalini, close it!” just before she bumps the drawer shut, she’ll associate that sound with her behavior. A couple of dozen reps and what have you got? Yes, it’s K-9 Kitchen Helper, at your service.

Punch Yourself in the Nose

If, like me, you have a dozen kids living on your block, you can make your dog popular by teaching him to bump his nose against your fist. He can start from a sit or a stand; he can even jump onto his hind legs to hit your fist. The cue for this behavior, when you’re ready to add it, is an obvious one: “Punch yourself in the nose!” This makes quite an impression on the shorties when you do it with a 75-pound Pit Bull mix, I am here to tell you. Where kids are involved, of course, I must add the caution that dogs should never be forced to interact with them. Have your dog do tricks for kids only if he already enjoys kids.

Targeting to Greet

If you have a cute dog whom everyone wants to meet, and if said dog is just a little bit shy, have her practice hand targeting with several people she knows well and feels comfortable with.


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).