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How and Why to Use a Target

When I refer to using a target, I'm not talking about a specific goal, though having goals in your training plans is very important. When I bring up the use of targets I'm actually referring to a training tool, one that can actually take many different shapes and forms. So what is a target?  Simply put, a target is an object that we train animals to interact with in some way. For example, the target I use most often, is a hand target, where my hand acts as the target that the dog is trained to touch his nose to on the cue 'touch'. Another is a blanket (the target object) set on the ground that my dog is trained to go lay down, and stay on, to the cue 'bed'. There are also target sticks, usually something like a stick with a ball attached to the end, that the dog is trained to either touch or follow, or both.  Why are targets useful? So many reasons! I use my hand target to teach many different behaviors, such as walking on a loose leash, to walk up or down stairs slowly, and for a really solid recall. I also use it to help get Kodas attention away from something he finds scary. And I'm currently using a variation of a hand target to teach both my dogs to hold still for veterinary exams. I've used a target stick to train other behaviors as well. I trained Koda to follow the target stick,which I then used to teach him to spin, to look left and right, and to do what I call doggy burpees to keep his muscles strong.  The target stick is particularly useful when trying to teach your dog to go in or out of things, like crates, and to pass by something that they perceive as scary at first. Use the target stick to teach your dog to walk up a ramp to get into a car rather than jumping in. Use it to teach them to walk slowly on slick floors (you could also use a hand target for this), or for fun tricks like 'stick em up' or 'bow'. So how do I start training my dog with a target? It's really quite simple actually! Let's start with a hand target. Place the open palm of your hand a couple inches in front of your dogs nose. Dogs naturally investigate things with their noses, so be ready, and the second your dogs nose touches your hand, click and treat. Repeat this several times until he is touching his nose to your hand 8 times out of 10. Then start moving your hand further away from your dogs nose so that he has to move his own head to reach your hand, or even take a couple steps. Keep repeating this until you again reach 80% reliability. Gradually increase the distance or change the placement of your hand (such as above your dogs head, or to the right or left), and once you feel like he understands the game is to touch nose to hand, start adding the cue 'touch'. 

Targets are my go to training tool. I use a variation of targeting every single day. Honestly, I think that if there was one thing I would tell all clients to train their dogs first, it is likely going to be a target behavior. If you are curious how you might be able to use a target to train your dog, reach out and lets start training!


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