We have a saying around our house: "so much target training, so little time." Okay. Not really. While it is true that the potential tricks and skills of target training are pretty much endless, having fun with target training possibilities is more of a philosophy we train with than a phrase we use. Nose to target training and paw to target training are a base for multiple dog tricks and canine sports. So is teaching your dog to go to a target away from you, the handler. Using distance target training is essential in dog sports such as agility, Treibball, freestyle, flyball and obedience. Having a dog that knows to go to "their spot" is an important practical skill that can help your dog learn to behave when the door bell rings or when human company visits. In using target training to teach a shy or timid dog to go away from you, the dog can build confidence in learning that it is okay to leave their handlers side. In fact, they get rewarded for it! Target training is a great way to mix up training sessions and to just have fun when training.
Beginning drive plate dogs should not be expected to go far to get to the plate. It is usually best not to put any obstacles between the target and the beginning dog. You simply want the dog to learn to drive to the plate. Ask your dog to "stay" and when you're ready, release your dog to the drive plate. I use a simple "get it" command when no obstacles are between the dog and the target. Be sure to mark* the dogs run to the target and meet the dog at the drive plate to give another reward. Target training with a drive plate is exercise for the handler too! Once your dog is confident about running to the target, you can begin to use the drive plate for teaching jumps, tunnels or any behavior where you want your dog to quickly go to a spot ahead of you. When the dog is eventually confident about their drive, the plate can be gradually weened away.
The Go Out Mat
The best go out mats are large enough for beginning dogs to see and even get all four paws on. But you'll eventually make the mat smaller as your dog advances and you begin ween away from target mat use. When shaping a beginning dog to go to the target mat, simply lay the mat on the ground and reward any interest in the mat. Obviously, you prefer feet on the mat, but some beginning dogs need to be rewarded just for looking at or sniffing the target. Since I use a go out mat to teach my dogs to go away from me and stay away from me until further instructed, I do not want them to come back to me for their reward. I mark* the desired target behavior and toss the treat farther from me as a reward. When a dog beginning to learn the go out mat gets even one paw on the target, give a jack pot reward!
Once your dog is reliably placing two or four paws on the go out mat, you can begin to stand farther away from the target. This is also when you can give the behavior a command word or phrase. Some use "go mat" or "go spot." Like any target training, when you transfer the target, you can change the command. If you were to place the go out mat on the dogs bed, you can change the command to "go bed." You would then ween the mat away.
But first you would want your dog reliably going to the mat as well as working with a smaller target. Since dogs are very visual learners, eventually just the sight of a few square inches of mat will be enough for them to excitedly go to it. Take all of these steps very, very slowly. This is an advanced behavior and will take time to train. Remember that if your dog is making mistakes it is because you may have advanced to quickly. Never be afraid to step back or do over. Training should always be positive and fun for both dog and handler.
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