Here is a sample lecture from our Foundation Skills Level 1 class. It also contains a sample of our audio file so you can listen to the lesson as well as read. This is our longest lesson and normally would be divided into 2 parts.
Listen to the Instructor read the lesson in the audio file
Game 5 Nose Targeting
Nose targeting is probably the most versatile foundation behavior you can teach your dog.
You can use a nose target to start teaching a dog loose leash walking, to follow you through narrow spaces, use it as a recall away from things, get him to jump up on things, the starting point of take and give and a hand-delivered retrieve, teaching directions, the start of a chin rest, a nose nudge for a medical alert, push and pull behaviors, flipping light switches, pointing, going around objects and teaching a tight heel position for use in crowded environments.
It is also the beginning of teaching your dog the concept of body targeting which is useful for awareness of where there body is in space, position your dog around you and teaching forward pressure when you walk with a mobility harness. Examples of body targeting are paw targets, shoulder targets, back end targets (pivoting, backing up), stepping into body harnesses, bum targets (to back into a wall in a tight space) and many more!
Yet, in most live basic obedience classes, it is seldom taught. If it is, the instructors don't show you the potential uses of the behavior or why you need to keep generalizing it and how to develop it into other behaviors.
We get the nose target behavior by capturing it initially, then continue shaping it in small increments to become the other behaviors.
Let's start with the two most common parts: nose target to hand and nose target to stick.
Nose Target to Hand
Objective 1: Dog does a solid closed-mouth nose touch to the palm of your hand
This behaviour is a bit trickier mechanically than what we have done before this because you are using your hand as the target, and have to deliver the treat with the same hand. It helps to start with placing the treat pouch on the same side as your target and treat hand and place the clicker, if you are using one, in the other hand. Using the target hand to also get the treats speeds delivery.
Your dog can be in any position to start this behaviour. Once he is ready to start moving, it helps to have him in a stand. You can help him stand up by placing the treat on the ground just out of reach so he stands up to get it before the next repetition.
Your position can help him in the beginning. It often helps to have you standing so you dog thinks you may be moving and that may help him to stay standing. If you can't stand, then at least sit so you are higher than your dog. If you are dealing with a small dog or puppy, then kneeling works well as shown in the video below. Or you can raise the small dog or puppy on a grooming table, bed or chest freezer with a mat on it.
Present your hand very close to the dog's nose and mark any movement towards it. Withdraw your hand between repetitions and present it again after the dog has eaten the treat.
In this clip, the trainer on the left uses the treat pouch method. I am not using a treat pouch. I place the treats and clicker in the same hand and reach for the treat with my target hand. That works too as long as the treats are easy to grab. Some treats, like Cheerios, can be hard to get ahold of or hard to hold in your hand without falling out, especially if you have a weak hand grip. Choose the method that works for you or try them both!
Here are two 12 week old Hovawart puppies trying this for the first time! They figure it out quickly and are giving nice firm nose targets after just a few repetitions in a distracting environment. Puppies are such sponges! We were even able to call them away from their sibling to continue training!
nose target 12 week old pup Hovawart
Adult dogs can take longer to learn this behaviour as they may have had previous experience that taught them trying new things like touching a hand is not a good thing to do. We have to over come this by breaking the behaviour into really small steps for them. They can figure it out though!
This is the first time this adult shelter dog has ever tried this behavior. Just before this was filmed, I introduced him to marker training by capturing two sets of 10 sits. I am using a verbal marker "Yes!"
Despite the cone, he is interested to sniff my hand and quickly figures out that touching it means food. He offers sits and paw touches as well but I give him time to figure out it is a nose touch I want.
If he didn't get it quickly, I could have rubbed some food on my hand to get him interested. Note that if he doesn't attempt to touch my hand, I remove it and present it again. The movement catches his interest. Time the mark so it occurs when his nose touches your hand.
At :37 he reaches for my hand but does not touch but I mark by accident. He still gets the treat as it was my mistake, not his. In that case, he was getting reinforced for effort. This is important early in the training process of new behaviors, especially if the dog has a history of being taught using punishment or aversives. We really have to take time to teach the dog that we want him to try doing new things! And break the process down into small steps like the dog looking at our hand, sniffing our hand and yes, it'd be great to touch it!
With dogs that are head shy (a hand approaching them is scary as they have been swatted with it in the past) we have to be patient and add other steps of counter conditioning the approach of a hand. More on counter conditioning in a later lecture.
Next I try to keep my hand relatively stationary so it is his choice to touch it. When he doesn't, I keep my hand in place, but wiggle my fingers. This helps to fade taking my hand away to get him to nose touch my hand. I want him to come to my hand, not my hand move to him.
Note I use the same hand throughout the beginning process until he understands what I want.
Nose Target Wiggly Fingers
In this clip, I place my hand in one position and feed from the other. That way he must make the choice to move back to my hand to touch it. That allows me to control the distance. We get into a smooth rhythm. This is called "Loopy" training.
In Loopy training, the dog does the behavior, gets marked and reinforced so that he is quickly ready to do the behavior again. Loopy training is an effective pattern to get in many repetitions in a short period. It keeps the dog's interest by keeping the rate of reinforcement high.
Nose Target Side to Side
Objective 2: Dog nose touches your hand from a distance of 4 feet.
In this clip, we are adding a step. The dog must take a step in any direction to touch the target. At this point, some dogs get stuck in the sit. If you need to, drop a treat just far enough away to get them into a stand. It is easier to get a dog to move from a stand than it is from a sit. A sit or a down are more stationary behaviors.
Nose Target Adding a Step
In this session, the handler uses her fingers at 0:08 to lure her Russian spaniel out of a sit so she can start adding a step.
standing taking a step
Here Lucy is nose touching my hand in a variety of unpredictable locations and moving several steps to do it. I switch hands and she is initially asked to run from a distance to target my hand. Fun!
I have not added a verbal cue yet. The presentation of my hand is enough for her to figure out what I want.
In 25 seconds, I get 6 repetitions in. That's one every 4 seconds or so. Not bad considering we have added some distance.
nose touch anywhere
Objective 3: Dog responds to the verbal cue.
When your dog is reliably nose touching your hand in a variety of locations, you can start adding the cue just before the dog starts doing it. Here I train Lucy to do it in a new outdoor location. First review the behavior without the cue, then start adding the cue.
Note the smooth training pattern? There's that Loopy pattern again! This time we've added the cue.
c ue (I present my hand),
she nose touches my hand,
all in quick succession.
Nose Target Add Cue
Objective 4: Dog does multiple cued nose touches to your hand for one treat.
Now is when we can start using variable ratio. This makes it unpredictable which is more fun for the dog. This game builds value of touch to the dog. You'll start seeing harder touches and perhaps faster touches when you start with variable ratio. You can actually use variable ratio to get better nose targets if you select for them. Watch for the most firm, most precise, faster etc) and mark and treat those over other ones that aren't quite as good.
Here's a few sample patterns of how many nose target reps you might ask for to start with.
1, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1
Because we are asking for more nose targets in each repetition, we can do fewer sets than 10 so we aren't making too many things harder at once. For example the training session above still asks the dog to do 10 nose targets but she's only getting marked 7 times.
We also don't want to ask for too many in a row too fast or the rate of reinforcement may drop too low and the dog will get either frustrated or lose interest in training.
So, if your dog was successful with the previous session, try these numbers:
2, 2, 3, 2, 1
2, 3, 2, 3
2, 3, 3, 3
3, 2, 4, 1
3, 4, 2, 1
4, 3, 2, 1
2, 4, 5
2, 5, 3
4, 5, 1
The above are just example numbers. Your dog may need you to practice with a more gradual build up to 5 in a row.
In this session, we have built up to 5 repetitions in a row, but note that I am using variable ratio.
I ask for 5, 2, 3, 2, 5 nose targets.
Note at :25 Lucy keeps watching the treat hand for the third repetition She was anticipating a lower number. Ideally, we want them to just keep doing what we've asked, rather than worry about how many nose targets they need to do. This could be an indication I progressed too fast in how many I was asking for.
Train up to 5 nose targets in a row for one treat. You can do 2 sets of 5 nose targets and that would be an entire training session.
One of the most common problems is the dog touching your hand with an open mouth. We want a closed mouth touch so it is clear that it is the nose, not the teeth or mouth that is touching the target. If you clean it up now, it will save you time later on. This becomes important for flipping switches, pushing buttons and other behaviors.
We need to look at the reason your dog is touching your hand with an open mouth.
1. The target hand placement may affect the dog's physical structure. A hand held high stretches the dog's neck and that tends to open their mouth. Try bringing your hand straight down from above and keep it on enough of an angle so that only the dog's nose tip will touch your hand. It helps if your dog is in a sit or down to limit her upward movement when you start training this.
Once your dog catches on that's it's only his nose that needs to touch (4 in a row correct or 8/10 correct), you can try presenting your hand lower for him to nose touch or presenting our hand on less of an angle. If he is successful, you can continue to present your hand lower. If he goes back to open-mouth, you need to do more practice with your hand coming from above.
Here I change my hand position with Jessie to show you how the mouth will open as we raise the hand target. The first one in front is closed. The second one her mouth opens. The third one she remembers to close her mouth.
nose target high 1
When I place my hand above her head and make it flat and horizontal, even if her mouth is open, she can only touch my hand with the tip of her nose. I show it in real time and in slow motion so you can see that her mouth is open but only her nose touches my hand.
This hand position limits her ability to grab my hand so she gets more practice with just touching with the nose.
nose target slow motion
2. If the dog is aroused (excited about doing the behavior), the food value may be too high. Try using lower value treats like Cheerios or cubed vegetables like zuchinni or cucumber. That may help to lower his arousal if food is the reason.
3. The dog may be excited from moving around. Try laying the dog down on comfortable mat. This will help to calm him so he thinks more about his mouth than how excited he is to do the behavior.
Once he can do a closed mouth 80% of the time or more, retrain it with him in a sit. Then in a stand. Then moving one step at a time. Each time make sure he gets to 80% or better before you change his position.
It also helps if you stay calm and move very deliberately as that helps him to stay calm. That will prevent the open mouth or grabbiness.
Let's take another look at the training session with the spaniel. We had the handler sit down to keep her more still. This helped to calm her dog down and he decreased his open mouth nose targets/grabs. See how calm and deliberate he is now?
standing taking a step
Licking the hand is another common issue. If your dog licks your hand each time you present it, this is a problem for nose targeting.
1. Wash your target hand to make sure there isn't anything tasty on it and use the other hand to deliver the treats.
2. Place a sock over your hand and cue a nose target. Few dogs will lick material. Then once he's got into the habit of not licking, take the sock off for a few repetitions, then put it back on. If he goes back to licking, you need to do more repetitions to get him into the nose touch habit.
You can also try holding other flat objects that fit well in the palm of your hand. A coaster or mug work well. That way he gets comfortable with nose touching smooth objects without licking. Then try offering your hand again.
All of the above solutions would be considered the trainer manipulating the environment to help the dog succeed. Good trainers look first at what they can change in the environment to help the dog achieve what you are asking, then gradually change the environmental 'helps' so the dog can do the behaviour on his own.
3. Teach him to nose target a stick. That's later lesson.
4. Teach him to lick on cue and put it under stimulus control. This is a bit more complicated so we will save this for later. The lick on cue might be useful for an alert behavior or interrupting anxiety or self-harm behaviors so we don't want to stop it altogether. Often the first few behaviours we teach a dog become a default behaviour and they will offer it when they don't know what else might be wanted. That is another reason we don't want to encourage the dog to lick early on.
Other challenges? Ask in the comments section below.
Objective 5: Dog does a nose touch in a figure 8 between your legs.
Start with one leg, then the other, then put the two together. We are using variable ratio again but this time the behavior is following the nose target around our legs.
First teach your dog to follow your hand all the way around one leg. Mark and treat.
When he can do that successfully 4 times in a row, try the other leg. This time use your other hand as the target. Mark and treat once he comes all the way around.
When he can do that 4 times in a row, try moving him around one leg following one target, then switch hands and have him follow your other hand. Mark and treat in the middle. You'll need to get your second hand ready to present for your dog to follow as soon as he is done the circle of the first leg. It takes a few practices to get the timing right. You can cue the second touch at first, the fade it like I did here.
For some dogs, walking between your legs feels like an invasion of personal space. You may have to start with just getting your dog comfortable nose targeting below you and between your legs. Do that for as many training sessions a you need until your dog is comfortable.
The spaniel was a bit worried about being between his person's legs. She went home and did some practice in and near her legs and under her body to get him more comfortable with it.
Note that she uses two fingers for her nose target instead of a full hand? The two fingers can be used and presented on the front side or back side. Some dogs accept this better than the full hand. You can also try the back of your hand.
spaniel nose target between legs
Practice nose targeting one hand, then switch to the other hand between your legs.
When she can do that confidently, try placing your target hand a little further back behind one leg. Mark and let the dog back out if he wants. At first, she may keep backing out, but if you deliver or toss the treat to where you want her to go (at this step, that is behind you), she will get the idea that it's faster to get away by moving between your legs.
Try getting your dog to follow your moving hand three quarters of the way around. Deliver or toss the treat to the side the dog is moving to.
Then all the way around. Deliver or toss the treat in front of you at the location where she started from.
When she does one whole circle around your leg, celebrate with several treats in a row. Congratulations! Then on to the next leg.
When you switch to the next leg, you may find that your dog is strongly one-pawed too. This means she prefers turning to one side over the other. Just like most people are right-handed or left-handed, so are dogs! The less commonly used paw will be the harder side and will probably need to be broken into smaller steps and need more practice before she will be successful.
Here's a quick summary:
Teaching a Nose Target -Touch Your Hand: A key skill for dogs
Here is an audio file for the above video.
Nose Target video audio file
Once your dog understands the basic behavior with some distance, you can start retraining it from the very beginning in several indoor and outdoor locations.
Here's an example of how to use a nose touch as a recall. If your dog doesn't know a stand or stay (see Level 2), you can toss a few treats on the ground in a small area and move away while your dog is eating them, then once she's done, cue the touch.
nose touch as recall
1. For your own disabilities, what behaviors do you need a nose target to start teaching?
You will first have to identify which tasks you need your dog to do for you. Next, think about which one might be started with a nose target. Hint: The list of behaviours that a nose target can start is in the introduction of this lesson.
2. What are the benefits of using the nose touch as a recall cue rather than a standard verbal recall? (Hint: it has to with how dogs naturally communicate with us and each other.)