The "Touch" Command
One of the first things I teach new dog owners is the Touch command. It can be so helpful in so many situations, and to teach other commands with. It’s very simple, easy to teach, and gets you and your dog off on a positive experience with training. Even if you dog knows a kazillion commands already, if they don’t know touch, you’ll want this in your training toolbox. Use as a distraction when working with unwanted behaviors, as a guide when teaching more complicated behaviors like crawling under obstacles or guiding around obstacles. Plus, it’s just fun to show people a trick that doesn’t need any space or equipment. So let’s look into how this is done.
Before you start, let’s set some ground rules. First, never repeat a command! Say it once, then wait, even if it takes a long time! Second, timing is everything in training! The split second that dog obeys properly, reward immediately! Third, you have to repeat the training twice a day for several days, even if you think your dog has it down really good. To make these things reflexive, and we absolutely want commands to be obeyed reflexively, you have to drill it, over and over and over. Finally, do not overwork a dog in one training session. When they start to look away, seem to hesitate a lot, start to get distracted by mundane things, they’re on overload, STOP! I recommend no more than 15 minutes twice a day, no less than 10 minutes once a day, and EVERY DAY for at least a full week. Then move on to another command after that. If your dog doesn’t get it after a full 7 days, hire a professional trainer, something is off with either you or your dog that should be addressed right away.
Now on to the Touch command! Start off in an environment with no distractions. You can use treats, or a clicker, or a reinforcement word like “good” said enthusiastically and lovingly. Whatever reward you use, you will need some treats to start off with. In the beginning the reward should be a treat, given at the palm of your hand. As soon as the nose touches that hand, give the treat there at the palm of your hand. It will reinforce the behavior.
Start by placing your hand out, palm flat, close to your dog’s nose. Not too close that they pull away. If they pull or look away, you’re too close, don’t invade your dogs space! Then you’ll say “Touch” and then wait for your dog to eventually touch their nose to the palm of your hand. Be very patient. If you need to, rub a treat on your palm to give it an interesting smell. Hand out, “Touch”, wait… The second they touch their nose to your palm, reward, immediately!
A side note here; If your dog won’t actually physically touch your hand, reward for moving towards the hand, or getting close to the hand. Once they get that, then move on to insisting they actually touch your hand with their nose.
Repeat this a bunch of times. Over time, once the dog starts to get it, move your hand to other positions; higher, lower, to the left, to the right, further away, closer, etc. Then when that doesn’t seem to be a problem for your dog, move around to different places. Sit on the couch and do it. Stand in the kitchen and do it. Go out into the backyard and do it. Bear in mind this happens over days, not minutes, not hours. Train this for several days, twice a day, but start each session simple, with your hand close, just like the first couple of times you did it. Then move on to the more complex environments and situation.
If your dog reacts to something, use this to distract them while you take whatever steps necessary to handle the situation. If you want teach your dog another command, use Touch to lure them into that position or guide them through that obstacle. And the best part, when someone asks, does s/he do tricks? “Touch” can be so quick, simple, subtle, their jaws will hit the floor. Just act like it’s nothing, they’ll be impressed.