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How to Teach Your Dog Tricks and Manners with Targeting

Targeting is versatile, fun, and one of the easiest ways to teach your dog tricks and manners.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
October 6, 2009
Episode #031

This week, targeting. This easy, versatile skill isn’t in the traditional “obedience” curriculum, but you can use it to teach your dog everything from getting on the scale at the vet’s office to closing your kitchen drawers. Oh, yeah, it’s handy for tricks, too. It can even help a shy dog make friends.

Teach Your Dog to Target Your Hand with His Nose

Targeting is just touching things. Dogs can learn to touch with any part of their body, but nose and paw are the easiest starting points. I’ll tell you how to teach your dog to target with his nose. Start with a slightly hungry dog and a dozen or so tiny, savory treats. Place your open hand or your fist directly in front of your dog’s nose, say half an inch or an inch away. Most dogs will sniff your hand and in doing so will touch it. Catch that moment when nose touches hand, say “Yes!” and immediately give your dog a treat. Repeat the process, with your hand at different angles but always right up close to your dog’s nose. Switch hands, too, so your dog learns to target to both.

Troubleshooting

If she doesn’t seem to notice your hand or if she looks away, put your hand behind your back, wait a second or two, then show her your hand again. This time bring it a bit closer to her. If that still doesn’t work, rub a treat against your hand where you’d like your dog’s nose to go. Amazingly enough, the aroma of food reliably attracts sniffing.

Add Distance, and Practice in Many Locations

Over a couple of dozen reps in one or two training sessions, your dog will grow confident – she’ll reach forward briskly and bump your hand. Now you can increase the distance between her nose and your hand. Go to 3 inches, then 6 inches, a foot, 2 feet. Remember to vary the angle and to switch off between hands. Also, practice in different places, to teach your dog that targeting works everywhere. In each new place, start with a quick refresher with your hand close to your dog. You’ll be able to increase the distance quickly.

Use Targeting to Put Your Dog Where You Want Her

Now that your dog is confidently nose-bumping your hand after you’ve started a couple of feet away in several different locations, you have a useful behavior on board.

Say you’re at the vet’s office weighing your dog on the floor scale. You need not push; you need not pull; you need not haul. Just show your dog your target hand in a position where her nose would be with all four legs up on the scale. Hey presto, she targets your hand and you ask her to stay; her weight registers; all done and it’s treat time. If she doesn’t know “stay,” just feed her a treat or two to keep her in position long enough for the scale to read her weight. So simple; so low stress.

You can have your dog target your hand so as to set her in the backseat of your car just where her safety harness attaches to the belt. Play hand-targeting games when your dog is off leash, and watch her get more interested in hanging around with you.

K-9 Kitchen Helper

Teach your dog to target all over again from scratch, but now hold a yogurt lid for her to bump instead of your hand. Then stick the yogurt lid to a drawer with some double-sided tape and teach your dog to bump it there. Gradually open the drawer a little further, then a little further yet. Mark and reward only when your dog bumps it hard enough to close it all the way. Now take away the yogurt lid and practice some more. Do this with all the drawers in your kitchen. Once she’s got the idea about one drawer, believe me, this will take no time at all. When she’s bumping them shut reliably, you can give the behavior a name. Remember, dogs learn by association and prediction. If you say “Dogalini, close it!” just before she bumps the drawer shut, she’ll associate that sound with her behavior. A couple of dozen reps and what have you got? Yes, it’s K-9 Kitchen Helper, at your service.

Punch Yourself in the Nose

If, like me, you have a dozen kids living on your block, you can make your dog popular by teaching him to bump his nose against your fist. He can start from a sit or a stand; he can even jump onto his hind legs to hit your fist. The cue for this behavior, when you’re ready to add it, is an obvious one: “Punch yourself in the nose!” This makes quite an impression on the shorties when you do it with a 75-pound Pit Bull mix, I am here to tell you. Where kids are involved, of course, I must add the caution that dogs should never be forced to interact with them. Have your dog do tricks for kids only if he already enjoys kids.

Targeting to Greet

If you have a cute dog whom everyone wants to meet, and if said dog is just a little bit shy, have her practice hand targeting with several people she knows well and feels comfortable with.

When a stranger wants to say hi, show them how to present their hand for a nose-bump. Your shy dog can nose-bump and then turn right back to you for a treat. I love this because it’s win-win-win. Your shy dog has a positive experience saying hi. The greeting is brief and she comes back to you, so the situation doesn’t push her too hard. And the friendly stranger got to say hi to the cute dog.

A nose-bump to a person’s hand also makes a good greeting behavior for a dog who’s inclined to rowdiness. Similar advantages apply as for a shy dog: Rowdy gets to practice a polite greeting; the greeting is short and he comes right back to you, which means he has less time to get himself in trouble by jumping up; and the stranger got to interact with your – ahem! – polite dog.

Word of caution – when I say “shy” and “rowdy,” “shy” and “rowdy” is exactly what I mean. If your shy dog sometimes snaps or bites, or if in your heart of hearts you know that your rowdy dog isn’t actually keen on making friends, you’re in Get Good Behavior Help Land, not Quick and Dirty Tips Podcast Country. Okay?

There’s so much to say about targeting that won’t fit in a podcast. For more tricks and useful applications, check out the resources list on the bottom of this page. And talk to me! Call 206-600-5661 or e-mail me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my Facebook page. Your questions and comments may appear in future episodes. I’m touched that you listened. Goodbye!

Resources

Mandy Book and Cheryl Smith. Right on Target! Taking Dog Training to a New Level. Dogwise, 2005. Available at www.dogwise.com.

YouTube has many excellent target-training videos. Some use a target stick; all use a clicker where I describe the trainer saying “Yes.” Same principle!

Teaching a dog to turn on a light switch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DWbV5VKZxc

Teaching a stand-on-hind-legs “beg”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG8YnHYHo3k

Teaching “spin”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJBPPUZSeto&feature=related

Teaching “take a bow”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxiOhddRO_E

The “Childproof Drawer Alternative” video inspired this episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJKq0S3VzS4

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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