Targeting fun!

The past couple of days I've been doing a lot of targeting work with my dogs. It has also caused me to reflect on how useful targeting is and I thought I would devote a post solely to targeting.

For the non dog trainer readers, targeting is simply teaching the dog to touch his nose or paw to something. In puppy classes, I start out with the dog nose to owner's hand targeting. Stuff to do with hand targeting:

1. Keep your dog's attention on YOU and not everything else in the world. Similar to just asking for a "watch me" but hand targeting is generally easier when they're insanely distracted as it allows the dog to look at what they want but still focus on you for a second.

2. A replacement for luring. When teaching new behaviors, you can skip luring your dog with a treat, and just use targeting to get your dog to spin, turn, swing to heel, etc. You could also teach your dog to heel with hand targeting although I don't use that method myself.

3. Hand signal for come. If a dog knows to touch his nose to your hand, you can easily call your dog to come far away by just putting out your hand. I find it extremely helpful for owners as it gets them to actively train a recall instead of just shouting come over and over and expecting their novice dog to do it.

4. Fears. Since Vito was in a fear period recently (I think he's over it?), I've gotten to use this one a lot! Once you can get your dog closer to what they're apprehensive about, you can ask for hand touches close the object. Then a hand touch while your hand is touching the scary thing. Finally you can ask the dog to touch the object themselves without your hand there.

A lot of the hand targeting stuff can also be used with a target stick. Just teach your dog to follow a stick, or a wooden spoon, whatever and you have a nice extension of your hand. Some people teach many tricks this way, including heeling, backwards heeling, retrieving specific items, and really any trick you could teach through luring. I haven't personally done any training with target sticks but there are even some on the market now with clickers in the handle!

But most of my target training in the past couple days have been with a target lid. Basically I grab a top to an empty butter container and teach my dog to touch their nose to the lid. This is a bit harder, but still very easy for dogs to learn. Instead of asking for a nose touch, some train a paw touch instead. In Vito's 11wk video I show him using a paw touch since that's what my very pawwy dog first offered. At first I didn't care, but I later changed my mind and only rewarded nose touches.

Things to do with object targeting:

1. Place. While I personally free shape the place cue (run over, lie down, and do an automatic stay on a mat), I teach most others to do it via targeting. Just put your target lid on the dog bed so when the dog targets he is on the bed. Then you can either just start clicking when the dog is on the bed before he touches the target and then take away the target completely, or make the lid smaller and smaller so the dog is running over to his bed without even seeing the target.

2. Utility go backs. I haven't fully decided on what method I'm going to use to teach my dog's the go out (run straight out away from me, and then turn and sit on cue) but targeting is one of them that I've been doing. (The other method is Sue Ailsby's "punch it" where Lance runs and jumps on a wall.) Either way, it's easy to teach your dog to run farther and farther to the target. With Lance I've already been randomly having him turn and sit before reaching the target sometimes, and other times just rewarding him going all the way and then sitting.

3. Directionals. In obedience dogs have to do a directed retrieve where you tell them what glove to pick up based on the direction you are facing. Since I don't always want to practice the full chain, I've been breaking it down this week and just asking Lance and Vito to run to the correct target I'm pointing them towards. The hard part about this exercise anyway isn't the retrieve but having your dog actually go the correct glove.

4. Agility contacts. There are a billion ways to teach your dog to hit the yellow on the contact obstacles and many of them start out with having the dog target a lid on the floor immediately after the obstacle. I haven't fully decided what I want my criteria to be on the teeter, but as of now I'm putting the target on the teeter and rewarding the dogs for driving to the end.

Since I'm doing running contacts on the aframe and dogwalk, I just move the target several feet from the obstacle. This allows me to have my dogs driving forward with focus ahead, not worrying about my position. (Don't ask about the weird striped board!)


5. Anytime you want your dog focused forward. I've used targeting to get my dogs over a small sequence of jumps when they're first learning. I've also used it after the weave poles with Lance (he won't work for a thrown toy and thrown treats get lost in the grass!).

6. Teaching tricks. If your dog has a foot target to lid then this is an easy way to teach them to cross thier paws. Simply have them lie down and paw target, then slowly move the target closer and closer to their other foot so they have to cross over to touch it! Since my dogs don't have a paw target to a lid I taught them to "pose" and "cross paws" through paw targeting my hand (aka "shake").

But this week I also wanted to work on Lance's "reverse" where he is several feet away from me facing me, then on cue turns away from me and backs up to me. He is really good at backing up towards me, but now that we have more distance he is starting to cheat and sideways hop to me until he gets closer and finally completes his back turn. Since I haven't offically taught him to do a 180 turn I can't really blame him :P So this week I've been putting a target lid right behind him and rewarding him when he did a nice turn away from me and to the target. Then I started to chain the two behaviors and already am seeing great improvements in his "reverse!"

So there is my tribute to targeting!!!

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Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.- Roger Caras

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