Train your dog to target an object

Targeting is a great clicker training exercise to teach your dog. The idea is to get your dog to touch an object with his nose. Once he learns to touch a particular target you can use that object as a lure instead of food. Targeting also makes it easy to train more complex behaviors like ringing the doorbell, turning out the lights, or running an obstacle course.


Dogs have a natural inclination to sniff your hands so using this behavior is the easiest way to begin the exercise. Once your dog has mastered targeting your hand you can move on to other objects.

Using your hand as the target

Put your clicker and some treats in one hand and use your other empty hand as the target. Open the target hand with fingers pointing down and show your palm to your dog. When he sniffs or licks your hand, click and treat. Close the target hand and place it by your side. Then open it again and offer it to your dog. Click and treat when he sniffs or licks it. After 8 to 10 repetitions, move the target hand to different places around your dog to get him to follow it.

Once he understands the exercise and consistently touches your hand, you can label the behavior with the verbal cue “Touch”. Simply say the word just before your dog’s nose touches your hand, then click and treat.

Using a target stick

Hold the tip of the stick in the palm of your hand. When your dog touches it, click and treat. After a couple of repetitions start to work your hand up the stick with each repetition. Only click and treat when your dog touches the end of the stick away from your hand. When he learns to target the end of the stick, move it around for him to follow. Let him touch it occasionally then click and treat. Add the Touch cue the same way you did when using your hand as the target.

You can buy extendable target sticks from a pet supply store, or use a dowel with some tape wrapped around the end to mark the target area.

Using a lid or stationary object

Hold the object in your hand. When your dog sniffs it or touches it with his nose, click and treat. Do 8 to 10 repetitions. Then add the Touch cue the same as before while holding the object in your hand. After several more repetitions, place the object on the floor near your dog, say “Touch”, then click and treat when he touches it. If he doesn’t immediately go for the object, click and treat for any movement toward it to start with and work your way up to the actual touch. Once the behavior is consistent, move the object away from you at different distances until your dog is willing to cross the entire room to touch it.

This variation is useful if you want your to dog to do a behavior at a distance.


If your dog goes to the hand holding the treats instead of the target hand

This is a common issue for the hand target exercise. To solve the problem, put a treat in the palm of your target hand and put your thumb over it. Then offer your palm to your dog. When he sniffs and licks at the treat, click and let him have it. Do this a few times, then remove the treat for a couple of repetitions. Add a treat for a few more repetitions then phase it out.