What is Target Training in Agility?

Make agility training fun and effective with this training method.

The agility handler directs her dog over a jump, then quickly holds her hand out to the dog. Dog and handler then drive forward together to the next obstacle. This dog is responding to the same training technique used by zoo keepers to safely handle wild animals. It is called “targeting,” a versatile training strategy used by a variety of animal trainers.

Target training teaches an animal to touch or look at a target, which might be a pole with a ball on the end or the palm of a hand. Zookeepers, for instance, use a target pole that animals are trained to follow. This allows for safe movement of animals from one area to another.

Agility trainers teach their dogs to touch their nose to the palm of the hand, then use the hand to direct their dog around the course. Basic obedience trainers use hand targeting for a formal come cue and to teach a dog to walk at its handler’s side.

Hand targeting is easy to teach. Get some treats ready. Present your empty hand, flat and palm forward, just a couple of inches away from your dog’s face. As soon as it glances at your hand to see what’s there, say “Yes!” and deliver a treat from your other hand. Repeat this several times. Your goal is to have your dog touch its nose to your palm, so reward your dog for glancing at it, then perhaps sniffing it, then touching it. Each time your dog offers one of these behaviors, say “Yes!” and deliver a treat. Soon, it should be touching its nose to your hand. Move your hand farther away from your dog so it has to reach to touch it. Eventually, you will be walking with your dog at your side, touching its nose to your hand as you move around.

Congratulations! You have successfully trained your first targeting behavior!

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