One of the most commonly taught aspects of this technique is nose targeting, however, trainers can teach a dog to touch a target with other parts of the body such as an ear, shoulder, hind paw or even the tail. In addition, the designated target can be anything including a spot on the wall, a stick, the palm of your hand or anything you choose to ask the dog to target.

Why would anybody want to teach their dog to touch any part of the body to a specific target on command? There are many reasons for this. Targeting is not only fun to teach your dog, it is also a useful behavior as dogs can learn how to close a door, retrieve objects and turn on lights using this method. Targeting can also be used to boost the confidence of a timid dog, focus their attention and as an emergency cue. You can even teach the dog to play the piano.

Teaching Targeting

  1. Put a treat on the tip of the stick and get the dog to sniff it. As soon as the dog looks at the stick, click and give the dog a treat. Click and treat the dog every time they lick, sniff and bump into the stick. Keep in mind that the clicking should be timely. If you do it too early before the dog performs the desired behavior, you might teach him to stop before performing the intended action. On the other hand, if you click too late, the dog might learn that moving his nose or any other body part away is the way to get a reward. Repeat several times, but put the end of the stick a couple of inches from the dog every time they perform the desired behavior.
  2. Keep changing the position of the stick as you click whenever the dog looks, sniffs and bumps into the stick. In addition, you can now add verbal cues just before his nose touches the target. Move the stick to different lengths and click if the dog moves towards it.
    3. Now that you are making good progress, see if you can make the dog stand on his hind legs to touch the tip of the stick. To avoid overwhelming or confusing the dog, settle for small movements. Make it easy for the dog to engage in the desired action.
  3. Keep your dog target training sessions short. Normally, 3 to 4 minutes is enough. Since you want to enhance the canine’s response time, keep the stick and some treats at hand so that you can do target training several times a day. While some dogs will grasp the whole concept in a single session and start racing for an opportunity to touch the stick, others may take 5-6 sessions to master the behavior.
  4. Always look out for signs of improvement and understanding. A wagging tail is a good sign to watch out for. When the canine touches and follows the stick without any prompting, it is time to raise the bar. You can now start to ask him to touch the stick 2 or 3 times for a single click and treat.
    If the dog bites the stick or touches it along the side rather than at the tip, omit the click and the reward. The canine will try harder next time to get rewarded with a click and a treat.
  5. Now that your dog has learned some basics, it is time to proceed to use the stick to teach the canine other behavior. If you intend to teach him agility training, you can use the stick to teach him how to maneuver around obstacles and to indicate contact points. You can also use the target to teach the canine to walk out in front of you in parade position or beside you on a leash. To achieve this, present the target next to your leg, click and treat the canine for walking beside you. Trainers can also transfer the behavior to other targets including stick notes on targets such as on/off switches or teach the dog to retrieve items such as TV remotes.


Changing the target

Try using verbal cues but this time uses different targets. When the dog performs the desired behavior, mark, and reward.

New body parts

Now that you have managed to teach your canine to use his nose to target, try dog behavior modification using a different part of his body such as his front paw. Paws are the second most frequently used part for targeting. If your canine is pawing things, you can capture the behavior with a click. To capture the behavior, wait until the dog paws at something that is okay for him to paw at and click. Alternatively, you can elicit the behavior by placing a delicious treat in a food jar and punching holes at the top of the jar. When he paws at the jar to get at the treat, mark and treat. Keep at the process until you can predict the pawing behavior and add a verbal cue.


While many dog trainers prefer to use target sticks, there is no limitation to the possibilities of what you can use. A dot of light from a laser pointer, a pencil or the tip of your finger all makes good targets. Agility trainers normally use a plastic food container lid placed on the ground or an obstacle when they want the canine to stop. Targeting is a ridiculously easy dog training method to teach some advanced skills.

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