I am teaching my mutt Ace the “touch” command.

I have a silent competition with my friend Maren to own the dog that knows the most tricks. Ace is now learning “touch” because Maren’s dog already knows it. She was nice enough, though, to help Ace and I.

The touch command seems pointless at first, a modified version of “come.” The goal is to have my dog touch his nose to the palm of my hand whenever I say “touch.”

Ace seems to understand the command already and comes running, eager for a treat. He’s up for anything that involves food and has always had an almost perfect recall (click here for how to teach your dog to come).

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Uses of the touch command

1. The touch command can substitute for the come command.

Since most dogs will enjoy the touch command, it can be used as a substitute for the word “come.” If your dog knows touching your hand will result in a treat or praise, then he will always be eager to run up and touch your hand. “Touch” should be fun for your dog, like a game.

2. You can teach your dog to touch any object.

The touch command is used to start more advanced “targeting.” Targeting is when a dog is taught to push, press or touch an object. Once my dog will touch my hand, I will be able to direct him to “go touch” objects further away. This is how trainers begin to teach service dogs to hit a light switch or to lock doors. The possibilities are endless.

Ace probably won’t be doing anything useful. Instead he’ll be learning this command to challenge him mentally. Plus, it’s cute. In a way, he has some targeting already learned. When I tell him to “get Scout,” he runs over and licks my cat. Scout is such a good sport!

3. Use the touch command to redirect your dog’s attention.

You can use the touch command to distract your dog from something he might bark at on a walk or while you are at home. I already used the touch command last night to distract Ace from another dog that was in our yard. He was starting to growl at the distant dog, but when I told him “touch,” he focused on me instead.

How to teach the touch command:

When training a dog to do anything, it’s best to break a concept down into simple steps. I don’t use a clicker, but the touch command would be the perfect time to introduce your dog to clicker training. With clicker training, you immediately click when your dog does the behavior you are looking for.

dog-learns-touch1cat-treat1. Hold out your hand and tell your dog to touch.

Put a small treat between two of your fingers to attract your dog’s nose to your hand (this also works for cats).

It’s easiest if your dog is sitting or standing in front of you at first. Just hold out that hand and say “touch.” Your dog will automatically put his nose to your hand looking for that treat!

2. Reward the dog by giving him a different treat with your other hand.

If you are using a clicker, hold it in your opposite hand and click as soon as your dog’s nose touches your hand. Then give him a treat.

Do not let your dog take the treat from the hand he touched. Instead, immediately give him a treat from your other hand. This will teach him to quickly touch your hand and then look to you for a treat. The goal is to touch your hand, not look for the treat.

You will soon be able to direct your dog to touch objects that are further away. He will touch an object and then get a reward from you.

If you want your dog to go look for treats, then teach your dog to “find it,” which is different than “touch.”

3. Change the height of your hand.

Once your dog has been successful touching your hand in one spot, move your hand a little higher or lower and say “touch.”

4. Say “touch” without a treat in your hand.

It will probably only take your dog two or three repetitions to figure out if he touches his nose to your hand he gets a treat. So, after success with that step, move on and hold out your hand with nothing in it. Say “touch” and give him a treat from your opposite hand once he does it. If your dog is confused, then go back to using treats.

5. Switch hands.

Hold out your opposite hand and say “touch.” Give the reward from the other hand.

After I had been using the same hand for quite awhile, I saw Ace thinking about what to do when I switched hands. I caught that mutt off guard! Ace was confused at first, so I put one hand behind my back. This gave him one option, touch the outstretched hand! I rotated hands every other time for awhile, so he learned to look for the hand I held out.

Touching your hand might be enough for you and your dog, but to make it more interesting, you can teach him to touch other objects by holding them or pointing to them. From there, you can direct him to touch objects further away by pointing to things and saying, “Go touch.”

6. Teach your dog to “touch” an object.

With this step, you will do the same as step one, but instead of holding out your open hand you will hold out a book or other object. You can use a Post-it note to help your dog understand exactly where to touch. That way you can move the Post-it note to other objects later on. Say “touch” as usual, and when your dog touches the book or Post-it, give him a treat.

7. Move the object.

This is the same concept. Once your dog is comfortable touching an object you are holding, place the same object on the ground and say “go touch” or whatever command you want to use. When he does, give him a treat. If he doesn’t understand, then go back to the previous step. You may have to tap on the object or even set a treat on it to get your dog to touch it the first time. Just remember not to let him take the treat from the object. The reward should come from you.

You could place the object in any easy to reach spot like a low table or a chair.

8. Slowly increase the distance.

Once your dog understands the concept of “go touch,” you can keep moving the object further and further away.

9. Repeat the steps with several different objects.

Don’t introduce new objects until your dog is successful with the first object. The more you add, the more likely he will get confused.

10. Introduce more complex tasks.

For teaching tasks like hitting a light switch or locking a door, you would use the same concept by continuing to add simple steps. If you want your dog to touch a light switch you would have to first hold your hand or another object in front of the switch and say “touch.” Or, put a Post-it note right on the switch. Eventually, you will be able to move your hand at the last second or remove the Post-it so your dog hits the switch without even trying.

After several repetitions you could point to the switch and say “touch.” Eventually, move further away and say “go touch” or whatever command you want to use like “get the lights.” Next, work on building distance again. Just remember to work very slowly. This whole process could take several weeks for your dog to learn. If you rush your dog, he will only get confused and you will get frustrated.

Really, the options are limitless. But maybe there are some things you don’t want to be teaching your dog like ringing bells, opening cupboards or unlocking doors!

Does your dog know “touch”? What are some other uses for the touch command?

How do you teach the touch command?

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