Thanks to everyone who participated in last weeks Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. For the March blog hop, we have issued a target training challenge. We encourage bloggers and readers to use positive training techniques either to target train their dogs, cats, birds, etc or to expand on the target skills their pets already have. On March 3rd, share your results and learn from the target training experiences of others. But if you want to target train or teach a new target trick, where do you begin? Well, we have some tips on how to target train with your pet or on how to expand your pets target skills.
Beginning Target Training:
Nose to Palm
Wilhelm, Brychwyn and Huxley have been doing a nose to palm "nose" command since puppy kindergarten. (Some people use the word "touch" but that is our agility contact word.) When first teaching your dog (or any pet) this command, start very small. You want your dog to touch their nose to your hand as opposed to you touching your palm to their nose. So as not to confuse dogs starting at target training, don't make them go very far to touch your palm. Just a turn of your dogs head or a small lean in to touch your palm is enough at first. When shaping this behavior, present your palm very close to your dog if your dog sniffs or touches your hand, mark and reward (give treats from your other hand!) Some dogs may need an even slower shaping introduction and you might mark and reward just for the dog glancing at your extended hand. For those of you less patient positive trainers, you can lure the behavior by hiding a small treat in between your fingers, be sure to mark your dogs nose at your hand before they gobble up the treat! Once your dog understands the behavior you want, you can begin to label it- "nose, "touch," "target," etc. (I don't recommend "palm" because it is more difficult to later transfer that target command to other objects.) Once your dog knows what you want (nose to palm) you can start to move your hand farther from your dog and get them excited to come touch it. Advanced target trained dogs will run across a room or leap into the air to touch their nose to their handlers palm. Remember, though, that if you move too quickly through teaching this command and your dog does not come to your palm, back up and move more slowly. Keep your palm closer and make sure your dog understands what you want. This is a very fun, bonding command for you and your dog when trained patiently. It can also be great exercise!
Brychwyn usually does his target training with a target stick since he likes the nose to palm game a little too much. We were interrupted in the middle of our Rally Advanced title run by the judge rushing across the ring and exclaiming "excuse me, did you just give your dog a treat?!?" I was so embarrassed but Brychwyn had simply leaned forward to "nose" my palm when I gave him a flat palm "stay" signal. Most commercially available target sticks have ends that are too small for beginner dogs to learn on so I have an antenna ball over the end of my store bought stick. Target sticks are also very easy to make- simply place a ping-pong sized ball on the end of any sturdy stick. A good target stick length is usually from your relaxed hand to the floor. Shaping nose to target stick is the same as teaching nose to palm. Most dogs will sniff the ball out of curiosity so quickly mark and treat! Once your dog understands the game, add a word to the action and then begin to slowly progress into the ball being farther away. Luring the target stick is also possible by smearing a bit of peanut butter, baby food or pâté on the ball. Even though your dog gets a treat from the stick when luring, make sure a good reward also comes from you for a job well done. If you use a lure, continue to work the distance of the target slowly so you can eventually ween away the lure without confusing your dog.
Once your dog (or any pet) is very familiar with their "nose" command, you can transfer the command to pretty much anything. Using something large enough for your dog to see/smell like a piece of paper, tape, a sticker, etc, on your palm or the target stick, slowly re-train the "nose" command. Some dogs are more apprehensive about this small change than others, so be patient. Once your dog is reliably touching the new target, it can be transferred anywhere! I haven't yet done a lot of Treibball training with Huxley, so yesterday I began familiarizing him with a ball "push." This command begins with a nose to ball touch. I put a piece of paper on my hand and familiarized him with "nose" to the paper. Huxley caught on quickly because he loves the "nose" game but not all dogs will learn the new paper, sticker or tape introduction in one training session. Once Huxley was excitedly following the paper to "nose" it, I taped the same piece of paper to a large ball. I carefully held the ball so that my hands were hidden and Huxley wouldn't be confused. I waited (not long) and Huxley nosed the paper! I marked the behavior and gave him a huge reward. I did not label the behavior with a word since this will one day be a "push" and not a "nose." We only practiced a few more times; no need for perfection, just positive and fun!