Updated: Jan 24
Every dog I train, is taught to “target” in one form or another. Targeting is touching a specified object with a nose, paw, or other body part. I have taught a sea lion to dance, my dog to close the door behind her, a shelter cat to high five and many other behaviors using targeting!
Targeting is a foundation behavior, that when combined with the training process of shaping can lead to all sorts of beneficial, fun, and practical behaviors.
Why I train targeting and how it is used varies from dog to dog, but here are 10 universal reasons.
1. Builds a strong relationship between owner and dog. Simply put, this is my number one reason!
2. Great for beginner clicker trainers. It is not complicated and it's really easy to capture. The dog touches the target, you click and you treat! I love the Clik Stik because it has a built-in clicker which helps enable better click timing.
3. It is a perfect starting point for so many behaviors. If the dog knows how to touch its nose or body part to a target, you can move it and have your dog follow. When combined with your perfectly timed clicks, you can get the dog to do movements without the use of force or food luring.
4. It is better than a food lure! When a dog follows a food lure, they focus so completely on it that they become unaware of anything else that is happening, including what their body is doing, they are not learning, they are just following food!
5. It can help you avoid repeating cues. An example of how you can refocus your dog with targeting would be when you ask for a behavior, such as “sit”, if he/she doesn’t respond, instead of repeating the “sit” cue by saying it again (or again and again as some individuals do), you simply put out your hand and ask for a “touch” (hand targeting). Once you have been touched, click and treat and ask for “sit” again.
6. It can come in many forms. Targets are easy to come by. A target stick, a hand target, a bouy target on a pole, a finger, a container lid. The list goes on and on. To target the dog learns to touch whatever the item with whatever the desired body part is (e.g. nose, paw, etc.).
7. Target training is a great way to communicate. Not all my trainees are puppies, and many come to me with a history, sometimes one that is unclear. The dogs are usually a few years old and with those years, they have learned that not all interactions with humans bring desired outcomes. By teaching them to target, I am building a direct line of communication with them. I am teaching them each time they interact with me; good things can happen for them.
8. Dogs seem to love it! The sight of the target becomes a cue to them that awesomeness is getting ready to happen. After I teach people how to target train their dogs, I tell them to put the target away after their training sessions and only bring it out when they intent to work with their dog with it.
9. It provides comfort through off-contact training. I just finished working with a fearful trainee. He had some anxiety towards being handled. Targeting now allows others to interact and build that relationship through positive reinforcement training by not having to touch him.
10. Targeting = YOU!! When you are continually pairing yourself with things of high value to the dog, you are continually pairing yourself with desirable outcomes. You will begin to see that YOU become one of the dog’s positive reinforcers. The dog will begin giving you requested behaviors for the opportunity to be with you or interact with you.
To see targeting in action, click here to watch a fun Tik Tok video of me shaping my dog Maci to close a door. I started with foot targeting to the purple lid and eventually faded the target until it was no longer needed for her to comprehend the verbal cue of “close.”
For examples of targets check out my pinterest page on various targets that can be bought or made. This is just a sample; creative options are endless.