If I Could Only Teach ONE Thing to My Dog – Targeting, Part Two

In my first article on targeting you learned that targeting teaches your pet to touch an object with a part of his body. Dogs are most commonly taught to target an object with a nose or paw; but using shoulder, chin, or EYES are very useful (Oh wow! Could ‘focus’ be considered a type of ‘target training’? I’m sure that question could lead to some interesting dog training dialog . . . for another day, right?).

In the earlier article, targeting is an easy and FUN skill to teach and the benefits of a dog understanding the skill of targeting are HUGE:

Emotional Benefits: 

  • building confidence for a shy or fearful dog
  • redirecting an excited, distracted or reactive dog back to focus

Training Benefits:

  • getting the dog to move wherever you want him, in any position you want him, without physical manipulation
  • resetting dog to offer another repetition in a training setting
  • redirecting a dog who has lost focus
  • building body awareness
  • guiding a dog through a distracting environment
  • helping the dog to understand Loose Leash Walking
  • facilitating a fun path to recall

A Foundational Skill to Fun Tricks:

  • Spin
  • Circle
  • Paws up
  • Under
  • Ring a bell

A Clear Explanation to Criteria for Simple Husbandry Tasks:

  • Grooming
  • Getting on scales
  • Exams

Service Dogs Tasks

  • Close drawers and doors
  • Push call button
  • Push elevator button
  • Turn on / off lights
  • Medical Alert Skill

Once your dog learns the skill of targeting, it becomes a versatile tool that you’ll always have with you, and it is a tool that most all dogs find fun and reinforcing.

TargetingHere is a fun example of a cute trick that was possible due to target training. My favorite zoo animal, Fiona the Hippo, made this painting by targeting her nose and mouth (with a little purple paint applied thereto) to a piece of paper. TaaDaa! Thanks to target training, Fiona is an artist.

In Targeting Part One, the process was described:

  • Get the behavior (nose touch to hand)
  • Mark the behavior
  • Reinforce the behavior
  • Repeat

In ensuing sessions, as your dog excels, add only one (1) difficulty. As your dog grasps that one new concept, add only one (1) more.

Here are a few types of difficulties* that might be added to a simple nose target to hand:

  • move the target (palm of your hand) HIGH, LOW, to the RIGHT, to the LEFT
  • switch hands
  • teach it again in a new location
  • add a distraction while teaching
  • wait for the dog to touch the hand more than once before marking and reinforcing
  • incrementally build the duration which the dog holds his nose in place
  • ask the dog to take a step to commit to following your hand
*Each of these difficulty factors can lead to new skills for the dog

This video shows an example of some of these new targeting challenges by demonstrating dogs who are committed to follow my hand:

  • following my hand around me as i turn in a circle
  • taking a few steps to touch my hand
  • following my hand to spin
  • following my hand up high to a ‘paws up’ position

Once the dog is eagerly offering the “new skill,” a cue can be added (‘follow’, ‘circle around’, ‘spin’, or ‘paws-up’ are the cues I use for these tasks).

Be sure to include training with both left and right hands and in both clockwise and counterclockwise direction, as demonstrated in the video.

This fun trick of weaving between my legs was taught by having Nya target left hand and right hand alternately as I took a step and dropped the hand by my side. As Nya understood the trick, the hand targets were faded.

By delaying the marker (and therefore the accompanying reinforcement), you can teach a dog to ‘peck’ your hand multiple times or to hold his nose in place, building some nice duration. The target can then be moved from your hand to an object, paving the way for so many new skills and tricks, such as Dabo demonstrates at the end of this video as he closes my kitchen drawers.

To explain the idea of moving the target from my hand to another object, I used these steps:

  • review simple hand target
  • add a small piece of duct tape to the palm of my hand
  • move the duct tape from my hand to the object, leaving my hand near object
  • duct tape on target object, fade proximity of my hand
  • reduce size of duct tape until none is needed
  • add a cue

When a dog understands targeting his nose to you or an object, it leads to so many fun and useful options.

BUT, chin targeting is my favorite! (dog targets HIS chin to you or another object).

The concept is the same. The process is the same :

  • Get the behavior
  • Mark the behavior
  • Reinforce the behavior
  • Repeat
  • Add difficulty

Chin targeting can be an asset to keep the dog in position for grooming or for a vet exam. The below video shows how Ari is learning to ‘station’ or ‘park’ herself via chin targeting. In our initial sessions, I was only marking for Ari’s chin touching the target.

Notice that the target is at an ideal height for her chin to naturally land on it. And notice that I have positioned the target in between Ari and myself, setting her up to succeed in touching the target when she approached me. In ensuing sessions, I began to delay the marker to build duration. Finally, when she understand placement of chin and duration, I added the distraction of TOUCH.

Teaching a chin target is a great way to help reduce your dog’s fear and anxiety at a vet visit by equipping him to be a cooperative participant rather than robbing him of choice and requiring restraint.

Targeting: simple, easy, versatile, and empowering! What’s not to love, right?

Rachel Thornton is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed, a graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy of Animal Training and Behavior and Owner of Cold Nose College Natchez Trace located in Hamilton, Alabama. She’s also well-known trainer and mentor in the service dog community. Rachel offers force-free training and behavior consulting to clients in the tri-state area of Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi. 205-412-3612; www.coldnosecollege.com


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