Teach your pup to target your fingers. This alternate recall is fantastic, and not just because you can literally point your fingers and your dog will be there. ‘Touch’ is also an easy first step to these cool tricks:
- Opening and closing doors
- Closing cabinets and drawers
- Ringing a bell or pushing a button
- Turning on/off lights
- Hearing dog skills such as: alerting to a baby’s cry or a dropped object.
- Sending the dog to family members by name: ‘go find mom!’
- Learning vocabulary words; know your ‘ball’ from your ‘frisbee’
- Send-aways, or going to a ‘mark’ for canine actors
Begin by drawing two meaty smelling fingertips from your dog’s nose outward, by about a foot and a half. Now, hold your hand still. If your pup doesn’t come to your fingertips to check if a treat might be there, try starting again right at their nose and moving slowly, then holding your fingers still about 18 inches from their nose. It helps if your pup is already moving when you begin, so get them up off the couch! You can hold a treat between your two fingers at first, but advance quickly to just rubbing the smell of treat on your fingertips, with the actual reward coming from your other hand. Now, your dog can learn that the hand signal predicts the treat, not simply that the treat predicts the treat.
- When your pup’s nose touches your fingers, say ‘Yes!’
- Reward ASA
- Once your pup is getting the idea, add the cue ‘Touch’
As with anything you’ll teach your pup, less is more, try practicing ‘touch’ for just a minute or two per day. Perhaps a dozen touches peppered throughout the day. Make it fun! Kids love to call this trick ‘touch the button!’ Have them searching for your fingers high and low, soon they’ll be willing to jump high to touch them! Practice in the yard and at the park, use it to teach them to jump over your leg or climb up and off of benches and barriers.
While there are tons of cool tricks and assistance dog skills just around the corner, the basic ‘touch’ is hugely useful on its own. I urge you to use alternate recalls like ‘touch’ to move and position your dog. Most people use their recall cue ‘come’ all day long, when they simply want the dog to move closer to them, or walk along with them, or to come over to do the next exercise, or whatever. Casually using your recall cue dilutes the meaning and importance of your recall cue. Save ‘come’ for recall exercises so that your dog will come running when it counts. Then, when you’d like your dog to move closer, or a little to the left, or whatever, use your target cue ‘touch.’
There are so many applications for your dog’s new targeting skill, in fact, I just decided to teach Doug to recognize himself in a mirror! Well… he may not have had the existential epiphany I had hoped for, but he does ‘touch’ his own image in a mirror when I cue ‘touch Doug.’ He already knows how to ‘touch mom’ and ‘touch Roscoe,’ so I figured it would be cute to teach him how to point himself out in a mirror. I’ve never seen another dog do that, and I’d love to share with you how easy it is to teach your dog cool tricks like this!
‘Touch’ a post-it note: ‘Mark’
The first time you present the post-it note is key. Your dog will be curious the first time you show them the brightly coloured square, and if they are already standing or moving, they are likely to come and investigate the post-it note. Whip it out and move it past their nose, holding it still about 18 inches away. With any luck, your dog will come to check it out. Say “yes!” as their nose touches the post-it, reward with a treat and repeat just a few times. Name this cue ‘mark,’ or whatever you’d like, it’s your dog! This should be a fun game, quick, easy, and rewarding. Within just a few days, your dog will love touching the mark, and you can hold the post it note up high, down low, have them chase it all over the house, even jumping up to touch it.
In order to use your post-it mark from a distance, you’ll need to remove the context of your hand holding it. Most dogs will have no trouble targeting it on the ground, or on a wall or cabinet door. Say ‘yes!’ if they so much as look at it, and hold your hand behind it for a rep or two more if needed. If the post-it is on the ground, place your reward directly on top of the post-it, you can toss treats at it once you are working from a distance. The treat will bounce away from the mark if they don’t catch it, and then you can cue them to return to the mark, which is great practice.
Now that your dog knows how to touch your fingers and post-it notes, you can get them to touch anything, and then name it! Pretty soon, your dog will know your name, your other dog’s name, where the door is, what the heck you’re looking for when you’ve lost the ‘keys,’ and any other useful vocabulary you can think of. The sky is the limit, in fact, the world record canine vocabulary is well in excess of 1000 words! These simple exercises barely scratch the surface of what is possible with nose targeting.