ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Targeting: What's Next?

Sharon has taught her dog to target the target stick, but asks where to go from there. She asks also what the point of teaching him to target the stick is all about.

Sharon, clicks and tossing chocolates at you for your terrific question, and for not being shy about asking! You certainly have the makings of a good clicker trainer---you're thinking, problem solving, and wanting to know how this one behavior will tie into others you'll be teaching, and if it has any value in itself, besides being fun for the dog to learn.

I'm on digest, and have not seen any other responses, so I hope I'm not reinventing the wheel here, but I'll offer a few of my own thoughts and experiences, knowing that those I forget will be offered by other listmembers.

First, once your dog knows how to target, you can use this knowledge to literally move him into any position needed, in order to do totally "hands off" teaching of new positional behaviors.

So, your dog knows to touch the target stick with his nose. Have you now raised and lowered the target stick so that he has to take several steps to reach it? Have you moved it closer and closer to the ground, and up high so he has to stand up on hind legs to reach it? Have you moved across the floor and had him follow you, nose to that target, as if his nose was magnetized?

These are all precursors to wonderfully helpful behaviors for every dog to know, whether the dog is an athlete or a couch potato. Dogs who have opportunities to learn new things all the time are happy, healthier, more resilient and stable dogs. With the target stick, you can teach a multitude of new behaviors, keeping his enjoyment of problem solving high.

What next? Well, you have lots of options! You can use the target stick to teach loose leash walking or heeling, and it is fantastic for helping the dog to adjust to the handler's pace. Fast, slow, stop---the target stick combined with your clicker are powerful tools for imparting this information to the dog.

What else? Well, you can use the target stick to teach sit, down, roll over, crawl through your legs or a tunnel, to back up, to dance on hind legs, just to begin with. You can also use the target stick to introduce balance-exercises, such as walking forward and backward through a ladder on the ground.

This will help the dog learn where his back legs are, become more balanced, and build up muscles and ligaments. It also helps build trust in the handler, when attempting strange new equipment. With the comfortable target stick, which the dog already knows---trying new things can be far less stressful.

You can also use the target stick to teach your dog to do obedience positions, such as front and finish, or go around you and come to a sit at your side or front. You can teach your dog to weave in and out of your legs with a target stick. You can teach him to ring the thong of bells by the door to go outside. Or to stand up and flick the light switch off with his nose.

You can teach him to go to a certain place and do a down stay. I'm sure you can think of lots and lots more ideas, once you start thinking of how you might use a "magnetized" stick to lead your dog into new behaviors.

And, you can use it to turn on new people to the joy of clicker training! With a target stick, you can help a neighbor with a wild puppy by showing the person how to use the target stick to get the dog actively engaged in problem solving,

And then, you can show them how you can lift the tip of the target stick over the dog's head, and as the dog's nose follows, the rear end folds down into a sit. You can then show them how you can use that same target stick pulled downwards between the dog's feet to bring him then into a down position.

And then to walk around the house with you without a leash, just glued to your side with his nose on that stick. It's very impressive to people to see how quickly dogs pick up targeting---in fact, I think it's really one of the easiest behaviors for a dog to learn. So it will make you look very good, very quickly.<G>

Here's one of my favorite fun ways to use the target stick, which you and your dog may enjoy. Teach your dog to crawl using the stick and your leg. Just get down on the floor, and bend one leg up at the knee, making a tunnel just large enough for your dog's body to fit through, but only if he's on his belly.

Position the dog on one side of your leg and hold the target stick on the other side of your leg, cuing the dog to move through the "tunnel" to reach the target stick. If sitting on the floor is not something you like to do, you can do the same thing with a low chair rung.

You can also use the target stick indoors to "lead" your dog over homemade jumps, just simple little things like stacking up phone books and laying a yardstick on the top, and then targeting your dog over the stick clicking when the dog is in mid-jump.

You can make a game of it and lead over the jump with the target stick, then lower the stick until it's nearly dragging on the ground, and the dog, following that target, makes belly contact crawling to follow the stick. The crawl is a wonderfully fun behavior to teach with a target stick!

You can use the target stick to teach your dog to spin around in circles in each direction, on four legs, then on two. Hey, none of us can have too many "parlor tricks", right? <G>

Though the target stick is one of the most useful tools in teaching new behaviors, it's also one of the best for getting dogs quickly engaged, focused and excited about each teaching session.

Happy Targeting!

Debi Davis
copyright 2001 Debi Davis


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