Dog Training Skills: What is Target Training

ready300Target training is one of the many useful skills that we can teach our dogs.

Targeting teaches a dog to touch an object with a part of his body.

The most common body parts we teach dogs to use are nose and paws.  But any part of the body could be chosen.

What’s the point

Coming from a background of gundog training, I once looked on targeting as a rather pointless party trick.  In my ignorance I was simply unaware of the many useful applications of this skill.

It’s probably fair to say, that many traditional trainers feel this way today.

Targeting actually has lots of benefits and uses.

This skill is what lies behind the ability of service dogs to operate switches, close doors, press buzzers.  It is essential for any kind of complex positioning or obedience ‘routines’.   But the uses of targeting are not just reserved for dogs in competition or service.

You can teach a dog to walk to heel by targeting your hand on your hip.  With a shorter dog you can use a target stick for this.

Hand targeting make a neat finish to a recall, and is a useful part of training a nice delivery to hand at the end of a retrieve.

Different targets

The simplest target, and the first that many of us teach our pups, is the human hand.

Teach your dog target trainingTarget sticks are useful, especially with little dogs, as they save you bending down.

I recommend you start target training with your hand as the target.  You can sit on the floor to do this for smaller dogs.  If you enjoy yourself (and I’m sure you will) you can move on to using a target stick later.

Different body parts

Most of us begin by teaching a dog to target with his nose.  A popular follow up is targeting with paws.  This forms the foundation to tricks like a ‘high five’ or ‘shake hands’.

We’ll be looking at teaching paw touch in another article.

How will targeting help you and your dog?

Much more though, than just a foundation skill for other skills, targeting benefits the dog and your relationship with him for various reasons.

First and foremost it is a confidence builder.   But it is also a way of developing more general skills such as your ability to observe and react to your dog.

Not to mention your dog’s ability to work with food, and his awareness of what different parts of his body are doing at any one time.


Teaching a dog to target is amazingly easy.  In many cases you’ll make progress in a single training session.  Three or four days will see you flying along.

This kind of progress is extremely rewarding and motivating, both for you and your dog.

Many people who think of themselves as ‘a bit rubbish’ when it comes to dog training, will be amazed at what they can achieve in a day or two with a targeting exercise.

Not only will you gain in confidence, but you and your dog will gain in skill too.


Targeting requires accurate timing and is done with force-free training techniques.  So learning to target with give you skill in both areas.

It teaches your dog how to earn rewards by offering the behaviours you are looking for, and  most importantly it teaches him that you are a really interesting person and worth spending time with.

Give it a go

It is hard to go wrong with targeting, and dogs just love to do it.  Next time you and your dog are a bit bored, get out your clicker and a few treats, and get targeting.  You won’t look back.

And don’t forget to let us know how you get on.

This website is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson

Pippa's book Total Recall is a complete recall training programme for puppies and adult dogs, and her Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to puppy care and early training

by Pippa Mattinson on October 21, 2014

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

emma warren October 22, 2014 at 5:20 pm

I’ve been trying to teach my 11 month old springer to hand target but she gets too enthusiastic and throws herself at my hand, when I tried to reward only the more gentle touches she becomes increasingly frustrated and starts mouthing my hand. Any suggestions on how to encourage a gentle touch?



Pippa Mattinson October 23, 2014 at 9:30 am

It may help to have a look at this article first Emma, it will help you teach your dog to be calm around food


emma warren October 23, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Thank-you. I’m finding your articles and books so helpful, I recommend them to anyone I know who is getting a puppy.



Anne S July 1, 2015 at 10:26 am

Hi Pippa

I started hand targetting with my 8-week old Golden named Oona. A little bit too exited at first, she soon learned to calm down. She also starts to sit down during session and during the day. As most puppies, she tends to follow me around near my leg; any advice for encouraging her to walk at heel? Is it not too soon to use the targe or should I give it a go ?


Pippa Mattinson July 4, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Hi Anne, this is how I usually prefer to shape ‘heel ‘with a clicker. I’ll post up a target version shortly 🙂


Charmaine July 23, 2015 at 8:09 pm

Hi Pippa, do you explain in one of your books how to do target training? If so, which one?


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