Imagine being able to guide your dog into perfect heel-position without ever having to yank on his leash! Imagine being able to direct your dog to “his place” or “settle rug” without ever having to drag him there! Imagine teaching your dog to turn on light switches, push in drawers, and close the cupboards all with ease! You can do it and have loads of fun in the process if you just begin with these simple steps.
First, understand that the basic behavior we are looking for from your dog is to simply have him touch his nose to the palm of our open hand. Let’s take a look at how to get started.
Begin in a relatively quiet, “distraction-free zone.” It is always helpful to train before your dog’s meal time. In fact, you may even wish to use your dog’s meal as his reward. Instead of delivering his daily ration in his bowl, get it into your training pouch. Stand or sit facing your dog. Your dog may be lying down, sitting, or standing, whatever feels most comfortable. Have both hands behind your back; the left hand with some treats in it, the right hand empty. Present your empty right hand out in front of your dog, palm open. Offer your hand about 4 to 6 inches away from your dog’s nose. Curiosity will likely cause your dog to sniff at your open palm. The moment you feel that wet nose bump your hand is the precise moment you will say “yes” and immediately deliver one of the food treats, which are in your left hand. Reposition your hands so that they are once again hidden behind your back and you are ready to do another repetition of the same pattern. You must remember to present your flat open hand in a very “crisp” fashion. Very clearly and deliberately place your palm relatively close to your dog’s nose. Again, you will say “yes” the moment you feel the dog touch his nose to your hand and then immediately deliver a food treat from the opposite hand. Continue repeating this process. Once you begin to get some good responses from your dog, switch to offering the other hand as the target. All the same rules apply.
A common mistake to avoid is to allow your hand to “drift” closer to the dog’s nose as if trying to “make” the touch happen. You must remind yourself to deliver your open palm at a specific proximity to your dog and then leave it there. Let your dog do the work of bringing his nose to your hand. Occasionally, some dogs do nothing when the hand is presented. If this happens, allow about 5 or 6 seconds to see if the dog becomes interested. If not, simply hide your hand away behind your back and present it again with a bit more enthusiasm as though you are showing him something he’s never seen before. It may also help to offer the hand slightly closer to his nose so that he doesn’t have to stretch very far to touch it. Should your dog still show no interest, you can “bait” your hand with a little tidbit of food. Hiding a tiny piece of cheese or chicken under your thumb is often all the added incentive your dog will need to get the ball rolling!
Once your dog begins to get the idea and he is giving you the same, very intentional nose touches each time you put out your hand, you may begin presenting your hand at increasing distances from his nose. You should also offer your hand at varying heights. Ideally, your goal is train your dog to actively, deliberately, and enthusiastically target or touch your hand no matter where you present it. Sometimes you will offer your open palm parallel with his shoulder, sometimes you’ll present your hand just above and to the right of his head, sometimes you may wish to have him touch down low near your feet. The point is: you will keep him guessing where he needs to drive his nose!
I am sure you’ve noticed that there has been no instruction to command your dog verbally. I’m of the school of thought that when training anything new we should concentrate on getting the actual behavior first. Get the dog so comfortable and confident with the desired action that you will bet your paycheck he’ll get it right! Then you will be ready to add the verbal cue. Practice using the word “yes” at the exact moment your dog’s nose comes in contact with your hand as this will help you install a “reward marker” to your dog’s vocabulary. Reward markers improve the efficiency and effectiveness of any training regime.
You want your dog’s touch behavior to be the gateway to bigger and better things! You will have an invisible connection between you and your dog at all times. You will be able to easily and effectively communicate to your dog just where you want him to be. Aside from using it during training, touch can be an excellent way to remain engaged with your dog without having to work on technical or difficult obedience commands.
Now go get your dog, his favorite treats, and get teaching! Remember to keep your training sessions short, sweet, fun, and motivating! And above all else, enjoy the time with your dog!