Training Games For "Hand-Shy" Dogs

fearful dogs Apr 17, 2023

Does your dog flinch away when you reach over their head? Here I give you a few simple training games that can help your dog become more comfortable with hands overhead.

Please note that these training games are for YOU and your dog. If your dog is at all uncomfortable with strangers, I don't recommend teaching them to touch the hands of strangers- at least not without the guidance of a trainer. 


Training Game #1: Boop The Hand (At Nose Level)

 This is what many trainers might call a "basic hand touch" or "hand target".  Hold out your hand at or below your dog's nose level, in a way that doesn't cause them to back away. For many dogs, that means holding your hand out to the side of your dog, rather than moving your hand right toward them. Check out the video below for a demonstration of this.

Once your dog touches your hand with their nose, say "Yes!" and give them a treat. Repeat many times, in different locations. Many dogs end up really loving this trick.


Training Game #2: Boop The Hand A Little Higher (High Five)

This game is the same as the previous one, except now you'll be holding your hand up above your dog's head.

The goal at the end of this training game is for your dog to happily "boop" your hand when you hold it right over their head. However, you might have to start out by asking your dog to touch your hand when it's only an inch or two higher than their nose.  This game should be fun for your dog at every step, so if you notice them hesitating or backing away, move your hand lower right away. 

You can see examples of some different hand target heights in the video below.


Training Game #3: Boop The Hand Coming Toward You

 This training game is pretty advanced. In this game, you reach your hand toward your dog as if you were going to reach over their head to pat them. As your hand moves toward them, your dog touches their nose to your hand.  Review the video for examples of varying the speed and angle at which you move your hand toward your dog, to try to make it easier for them. For a dog who hates hands coming over their head, I'd probably start the "boop the moving hand" game with a moving hand that's at or below nose level. 

If you and your dog enjoyed these games, or if you tried them and trouble with them, we'd like to hear from you! You can comment below this blog, shoot us an email ([email protected]), or message us on Facebook or Instagram.