There are two foundational skills I teach my clients, usually during our first session or class. I see people scratching their heads at the simplicity, asking why is this important? 'I want to teach my dog to go to his bed and lay down until I release him. Let's not waste time on such nonsense!'
This blog is more about the 'why?' then it is about the 'how?' But I'll give you some tips on how to get you started.
WHY TEACH TOUCH?
Teaching a dog to TOUCH is a great beginning behaviour for us humans to practice our training skills and timing. Because it's so easy and fun, I start by teaching this behaviour because both dogs and humans feel successful from the get-go.
TOUCH teaches your dog how to touch his nose to a target. The cue utilizes a dog’s natural curiosity, as well as their instinct to investigate things with their nose, to encourage them to bond with us. It's a wonderful communication tool!
TOUCH can be used as an attention-getting cue, as well to calm a dog down.
Once mastered, you can transfer the TOUCH cue to different objects, like how to use potty bells or even turn lights off and on.
You can use the TOUCH cue to prevent your dog from pulling on leash or to reset them into the correct heel position if they started to pull. If you notice they're about to hit the end of the leash, ask them for a TOUCH with the hand target right where you want your dog's head to be.
The calming nature of TOUCH is a perfect alternative behaviour that can prevent jumping up on people in excitement. It makes your dog think rather than react.
TOUCH can be used as a come-when-called alternative as you build a solid recall behaviour. Work on targeting your hand from a few feet away, then across the room. Once this is reliable, practice calling your dog to TOUCH when you're in a different room, or from across the yard.
Using a hard target can make getting your dog into their harness easier for everyone. It's especially useful for over-the-head style harnesses, as many dogs might shy away or just be too wiggly to easily put their harness on.
TOUCH can be used as a distraction for leash reactive dogs. When working with a dog that barks or lunges when they see other people or dogs while on leashed walks, having a simple cue like TOUCH can be helpful for when they need a distraction from their "trigger." Asking a dog with reactive behaviour to focus on touching a hand target, instead of staring at the approaching dog or person, keeps their brain engaged and busy — often preventing them from going over threshold and reacting inappropriately. TOUCH also helps move these dogs to farther distances from other people or dogs when they find themselves unexpectedly close.
Getting Started with TOUCH
Have a treat ready in a closed fist behind your back. Use the opposite hand as your beginning target.
Hold your target hand out sideways with palm open and fingers flat.
Start by placing your open palm about 5 inches from your dog's nose. Most dogs will instinctually want to sniff it.
Your hand doesn't move to the dog's nose. Keep your hand still and wait for your dog to move toward your hand and touch it.
Once you feel the contact of their nose on your hand (even if it's just a brush of their whiskers), say YES and give the treat from the other hand.
Mix up which hand you're using as the target.
This beginning step is meant to be easy for your dog to figure out and be successful. Keep your target hand really close to your dog's nose at first. This way he'll get more successful repetitions and learn the association quickly. Don't worry about saying anything quite yet. You presenting your open hand target is your dog's cue to touch. The next step is to name the behaviour: say TOUCH the moment your dog touches your hand, then say YES and give treat from your other hand. Once this is 80% solid, cue to initiate the the behaviour: put your hand out and say TOUCH. When your dog touches your hand, say YES and give a treat from your other hand.
WHY TEACH LOOK?
Making eye contact with your dog is a great way to build trust, deepen your relationship, and strengthen your bond.
Teaching your dog to “check in” with you can be a brilliant way to teach calm responses and keep your dog's attention even when there are exciting things happening around him that are outside of your control. It is also a wonderful way for your dog to learn that he can make things happen by just looking at you.
Dog eye contact triggers the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for love and bonding, in both humans and canines (one study found that dogs experience a 130% increase in oxytocin levels after locking eyes with their owners—while humans experience a whopping 300% increase).
You can use the LOOK cue to get and keep your dog’s attention in situations that may be fear or anxiety provoking. It also inadvertently teaches your dog to look to you for leadership in situations where he feels confused or overwhelmed.
Being proactive with your LOOK cue will help a reactive dog stay under threshold when you see a potential trigger coming your way. Get that LOOK, then turn around and go in the opposite direction.
Getting Started with LOOK
Hold a treat in your fingers.
Move the treat so that it’s right in front of your dog’s nose.
Bring the treat from dog’s nose to your eyes, then HOLD THE TREAT OUT TO THE SIDE.
As soon as your dog looks at you, say YES! and give the treat, but don’t say anything else.
Look for eye contact at the crate door, the house door, the food bowl and any other time your dog wants something from you. Leave out the cues and wait until your dog looks at you for the thing they want. They’ll start doing it much more often and you’ll be glad you practiced.
While TOUCH and LOOK may not be the sexiest thing you'll train your dog to do, it sure will help you achieve all of your training goals, especially when training with growing intensity of distractions and environmental surprises you can't predict.
Yours in training,
Jayne has been informally training dogs for over 20 years. During the Covid crisis, Jayne completed her Professional Dog Training Certification Program at the Ottawa K9 Academy, and set up her business - OUTSIDE THE CRATE. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers (CAPDT), the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). She has also received several certificates of completion, including Game Changing Dog Training through the Karen Pryor Academy (facilitated by Terry Ryan), Unleashed Potential - The Core Excellence Program with Duke Ferguson, Trainers Supporting Shelters & Rescue Programs (APDT), Top Dog Academy (Ian Dunbar), and more!
Jayne is a positive reinforcement trainer who uses methods that are science-based, allowing her to adjust her training techniques as new evidence comes forward. Jayne avidly pursues continuing education and professional development by attending seminars and keeping current on all industry literature and trends. She will give you step-by-step instruction on how to train your dog in all basic obedience behaviours and good manners.