Watch Me and Touch (Hand Targeting) for Focus

“Watch Me” and “Touch” are two very important cues for your dog to understand because they are used to get your dog’s attention and let her know you want her to pay attention and focus on you.  The goal of the “Watch Me” cue is for your dog to make eye contact with you, and the goal of the “Touch” cue is for your dog to touch your hand with her nose; both actions showing she is paying attention to you and your movements.  Both cues aid in the relationship building process and both are vital for use in your Leadership role, because you’re asking your dog to pay attention to the “leader of the pack.”  In addition, both cues are critical when working with deaf dogs, for the obvious reason that you cannot get their attention through sound so they need to “check in” more than a dog that can hear.

Part I: Watch Me

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The seemly very basic “Watch Me” cue is the cornerstone of all obedience training because your dog needs to focus on you in order to learn.  Since puppies have such a short attention span and difficulty focusing on much of anything, this cue may be a hard one for them, but should be possible in very short sessions, keeping expectations realistic for the puppy.  Since the goal of this cue is for the dog to make and hold eye contact with the handler it should not be attempted with very shy dogs until they are really comfortable working with the handler and have come out of their “shell” (shy dogs will not want to make eye contact while they are in a fearful state).

Step 1:  Using a high value treat (something smelly & desirable, I use small pieces of roasted turkey) in your hand, move the treat from your dog’s nose to your nose and point to your nose.  You can start with the dog standing and then progress to sitting and down.  When your dog looks at you say “yes” and treat.  Continue until she actually makes eye contact, lots of praise “yes” then treat. Repeat getting eye contact at least 80% of the time, then move on.

Step 2:  Now that your dog is easily making eye contact with you, fade the lure (the motion of your hand going from her nose to yours) and simply point to your nose with empty hand (or you can start with a treat in your pointing hand), “Watch Me,” once you have eye contact lots of praise “yes” then treat with your other hand.

Step 3: Once you have a good “Watch Me” 80% of the time, it’s time to fade the treat to every other time, then every third time.  Once this behavior has been successfully reinforced the treat can be removed and only used occasionally.  For example, if you can get a “Watch Me” when distractions are high, or get a long “Watch Me” those cases would deserve lots of praise “yes” and a treat.

Remember you can practice at random times throughout the day, on a walk, training does not always have to be in a formal session.  And if you happen to catch your dog looking at you, reinforce that with a “good watch me!”

Part II: Touch (Hand Targeting)

The Touch or Hand Targeting – the dog touches your outstretched open hand with her nose - is also a useful cue to get your dog’s attention, if her nose is moving toward your hand she is focusing on that hand not pulling on the leash (so you can achieve a good loose leash walk), or the bicycle going by, or the person walking past.  Touch is also very useful to provide direction.  For example, to bring her to your side and then “sit,” or when she’s in a “down” then moving your hand along the floor to teach “crawl,” or leading her on the scale at the vet, even to guide her through a door of a new place.

Step 1:  With your dog a step or two away, start by showing your dog that you have a treat in the palm of your hand and when she moves to take the treat and touches your hand give her “yes” and allow her to have the treat. Timing is important!

Step 2:  Once this is going well, 80% of the time, add the “Touch” cue.  Ask for a “Touch” and when her nose touches your hand, “yes” and she takes the treat.

Step 3: Next, start treating from the other hand.  Get your “Touch,” with “yes” and treat from the other hand.

Step 4:  Begin fading the treat, and include movement of the hand adding direction to the cue (hand to your side, between the legs, down low) in order to teach “Touch” in any position.

As mentioned above, this cue can be very helpful in training loose leash walking.  If your dog is pulling or wandering too much, bring her back to you with a “Touch.”  I put a treat between my fingers, let her know it’s there, and ask for a “Touch” reestablishing attention on me.  For heavy pullers, this is not going to be easy, but be a calm, patient Leader and you will win her over.

You can practice this anywhere, anytime – doing the dishes, before you feed her, before a toss of the ball, when she’s following you to the next room, etc.  A good goal would be greater than 15 times a day where you ask for and receive a “Touch.”

Please Note:  “Touch” is also very useful for helping shy dogs in their long socialization process.  This special topic will be covered in depth under “Shy or Nervous Dogs” in the Resource section.

Chris Guest, ABCDT, CTDI