Updated: Feb 8
Service dogs must be trained in certain behaviors to help their specific disabled partner. If the behavior is triggered with a command (visual or verbal), it’s called a “task.” If the behavior is triggered via an environmental cue (a sound, a change in the partner’s body, etc.), it’s called “work.”
This is part of a series on various service dog tasks/work behaviors, their purpose, and how to train them. You can find a glossary of terms here and the whole list of behaviors covered (so far) here. There are so many behaviors and ways to train those behaviors, but I hope to cover the most important ones. If I’ve missed something, please let me know!
The behavior you’re looking for with Touch is to have your dog bump their nose against a specific target on cue. This can be used to teach an alert, to help teach a dog how to guide to somewhere, and many other behaviors.
In order to train a dog how to perform the task Touch, follow the below steps. Mark (clicker or “yes”) and reward for correct responses and only move onto the next step when the previous one is consistent and reliable.
1) Make a unique shape with your hand (two fingers together) and hold it within 1” of your dog’s nose. As soon as they bump your fingers with their nose, mark and reward.
a. If they show no interest, you can rub a smelly treat (like cheese) on your fingers first.
b. Keep your hand still. You want THEM to move to YOU, not the other way around!
c. Be careful that you’re not marking for bumping the rest of your hand with their nose. You want to make sure that they are targeting the smaller area of your outstretched fingers.
2) Add the cue “Touch” (or whatever word you’d prefer), then offer your fingers (in the unique hand shape) for them to bump against. Mark and reward hitting your fingers with their nose.
3) Add some distance, starting close and slowly extending the distance until your dog is running from several feet away to bump their nose against your fingers.
4) Now, you can switch the location of their Touch. The best way I’ve generally found to do this is to put a sticky note on your fingers and start by having them touch the sticky note instead of your fingers.
5) Move the sticky note to an area you want them to bump (such as a leg or a door), then say “Touch” and point to the sticky note. Start this with your dog close to the target sticky note, so they can succeed.