Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to direct your dog from place to place without needing to pull them or grab a collar?
In my last column I mentioned the zoo animal trainer I worked with last week. One of his teaching tools is to train the animal to touch an object or ‘target’ which can then be moved around so that the animal follows.
With puppy training we want our dogs to learn to follow hand signals. By holding a piece of food or a toy in your hand you can easily attract their attention to the movement. Gradually they begin to just look for the hand signal.
A target can be your hand, a circular piece of card, a wooden spoon or a professional one (retractable, like a car aerial with a blob on the end and a clicker in the handle – we trainers do love our gadgets).
Try this gorgeous offering from Karen Pryor Clicker Training – Clik Stik – Target Stick and Clicker
Training a target: Decide if your dog will touch the target with his nose or his paw. I use a different word command for each (‘touch’ for nose, ‘target’ for paw. They sound quite different when you say them – try it)! Today we will work on nose ‘touch’. You can experiment with paw touch on your own, it’s good training practice for you!
For nose touch: Place a small blob of cheese spread or meat paste (or anything similar that your dog likes) on the end of the target. Hold it in front of your dog and allow him to sniff/lick it briefly. As he does so, say ‘good dog’ (or click your clicker) and give him a treat. Move the target away each time you have finished, before presenting it again (do not move it towards the dog – let him approach it)!
Do this several times until your dog sees the target and deliberately moves towards it to touch it with his mouth/nose. If he chews or grabs it in his mouth, don’t praise/click, just move the target away and pause for a few seconds. Slow things down with an occasional sit and reward.
Next, remove the tasty stuff from the end of the target so that your dog is touching just the target.
Finally, add a cue word (‘touch’, or the cuter ‘boop!’) so that your dog learns to associate their action with that word. Don’t give this word too early – you risk confusing the dog with lots of incorrectly trained parts of the task.
Can you now move the target away from your dog so that he follows it when you say ‘touch’? Each time, praise/click and reward with a treat. Practice moving him around the room, holding the target away for him to approach and touch with his nose.
That’s it for now – Over to you to think about ways you can use this skill, and add what you can use it for to the comments below!