The Power of Targeting   1 comment

In my Basics group class I always teach targeting, and this cue, more than any other, elicits the question, “Why are we doing this?”

Targeting typically refers to nose targeting, or teaching a dog to touch her nose to a target. The target can be a hand, something held,like a plastic lid, a target stick (an example of which is shown below), or a flat or standing object set up at a distance.

The Clik Stik, a retractable target stick with built-in clicker

(Note: I have received no incentive or reward for sharing the above training product)

Teaching a dog to nose target can have a plethora of possible applications:

  • An alternative recall: Targeting is a really fun, easy cue for your dog to perform. If for any reason you have a recall (come) that is not very strong, or you only have an emergency recall that you don’t use outside of emergencies or situations in which you are prepared to highly reward your dog for returning, or your dog is just not responding well to your typical recall at that moment, targeting can be another cue which has the same effect. If you ask your dog to target your hand (which you always have with you!) your dog will come running over to you, exactly the same as he would with a recall. Even if you do have a good recall, it can never hurt to have an alternate cue. Your dog may decide she likes targeting better than “come”-ing, so you might as well take advantage of that!
  • Teaching new tricks: You can teach many new tricks or cues by luring your dog, or moving food in front of his nose so he follows it into the correct behavior. While this can be quite effective, when dogs have food right in front of their nose they tend to not be thinking about much else! They will follow the food into the correct behavior, but they aren’t all that aware of what their body is doing. Eventually they will figure out what behavior is earning them the food, but this process can go much faster if instead of following food, the dog follows a target. By following a target much more of their brain power is available to think about what they are doing, and they will realize what is earning them the treat faster. This can also be helpful if you need some extra reach in teaching a cue, or you don’t want to bend over, because you can use a target stick to have your dog follow something farther away than your hand.
  • Working at a distance: If you need to send your dog away from you, for example, to send him through over a series of jumps, or to tell him to go to his bed, you can do this by sending him to a target. Sending to a target is often used for training dog sports like agility and flyball.
  • Bolstering a shy dog’s confidence: Shy dogs are often fearful of hands coming over or around their faces or bodies. By teaching a shy dog to target a flat hand, a hand coming toward her is no longer scary, because it is associated with a fun, easy game where she got lots of treats! This can not only help your dog feel happier, it can prevent bites that come from a scared dog snapping at a hand coming at her.
  • Positioning your dog: Sometimes we are out with our dogs in crowded spaces, and we need them to move out of the way. Rather than pulling our dogs where we need them to go with the leash, which often results in them planting their feet and bracing anyway, we can ask them to target our hand and have them easily and happily shift position. There are many other times you may want to position your dog: to get him into heel position, to set him in place for a photograph, or to help him get unstuck or untangled, for example.

These are just some of the possible applications of targeting. It is a very versatile cue, and while you may not see a useful application when you first teach it, chances are you will come across a time you are glad your dog knows it. Worst case scenario, even if you never use targeting in any practical application, it is never bad to teach your dog another trick and exercise her mind!

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Posted February 15, 2010 by Eileen in Training Applications

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One response to “The Power of Targeting

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  1. I use targeting for my horse! Your last example “positioning” is what I use targeting for with my horse. He was traditionally trained to lead by pull and release but he was hardly enthusiastic about it. Using targeting I can control his position and speed with out playing tug of war! He will also follow the target to investigate a scary object or load into a trailer. Great article!

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