Targeting is a form of luring, but it removes the treat by a step. It involves teaching the dog to touch his nose to an object. You might use this tool to move your dog or have him interact with someone or something. Anything can be used as a target, but the three main targets are your hand, the lid to a yogurt container, and a target stick. (You can buy a target stick online at Clickertraining.com or make your own out of a short piece of dowel.)
The goal with using targeting is to get the behavior started and then wean the dog off the target so that he is performing the behavior reliably without it. The same rules apply to weaning off the target as with weaning off the lure. Use it to get the behavior started and then wean your dog off of it. To teach your dog to target your hand with his nose, follow these steps:
Hold your hand palm-up with a piece of food tucked under your thumb in the center of your palm. Click and treat your dog for sniffing your hand.
Keep the food in your hand for six repetitions and then take the food out and repeat, clicking the dog for touching his nose to your palm.
Have the dog follow your hand in all directions while you move around the room.
Involve a helper and have your dog target your hand and then your helper's hand for clicks and treats.
Label the behavior of touching his nose to your hand by saying Touch.
Try the trick in new places and with new people until your dog is fluent. Don't be afraid to go back to using food for a few repetitions if your dog falls apart around a new distraction.
On occasion, you may want your dog to move away from you to perform a behavior at a distance. In that case, it may be useful for you to teach your dog to target a yogurt lid with his nose. The steps for teaching your dog to target a lid are:
Put the lid in your hand and hold a treat in the center with your thumb.
When your dog noses at it, click and treat. Repeat for six repetitions.
Present the lid with no treat and click and treat for sniffing or nose bumping.
Label the behavior by saying Touch again just before your dog touches the lid.
Put the lid on the floor close by and repeat, clicking your dog at first for moving toward the lid and then for actually touching it with his nose.
Move the lid at varying distances until you can send him across the room to bump it with his nose for a click and treat.
Targeting an object can be used to increase confidence and help a scared dog move from one place to another — the car, the bathtub, etc.
Another variation of targeting involves using a stick as your target. The target stick acts like an extension of your arm and is useful in working with your dog at a little distance from you. The steps for teaching your dog to touch a target stick with his nose are as follows:
Put the end of the stick in the palm of your hand with a treat and click and treat your dog for sniffing or nudging at it with his nose.
Gradually work your hand up the stick and only click and treat your dog for touching his nose close to the end away from your hand.
Try putting the stick on the floor and only clicking and treating when your dog touches the ends.
Have your dog follow the stick as you walk with him until he's racing to catch the end of it for a click and treat.
If your dog is doing a lot of mouthing of the stick, don't click until he does something more appropriate, like nudging it with his nose. Be careful to click only appropriate touches and ignore all others.
Sometimes you may want your dog to interact with an object with his paw instead of his nose. Teaching your dog to target with his paw may give you another tool that you can use to help him learn whatever trick you are teaching. The difference between teaching your dog to target with his paw instead of his nose involves paying attention to which body part is hitting the target.
Put your hand or lid out for the dog to see, but withhold the click until he steps near it. Because you have already taught your dog to target with his nose, he may offer only this behavior at first. Be patient and wait for paw action near the target.
Withhold the click to let your dog know that you want something other than a nose touch and see what happens.
Make it easy on your dog by moving the lid or your hand along the floor so that you can click him for moving toward it. An easy way to help your dog to get this behavior started is to put the lid at the base of the stairs and click him for stepping on or next to it.
When you withhold the click, your dog may get frustrated, but don't be too quick to help right away; wait your dog out and see if he'll paw at the target or move toward it.
Practice a paw target separately from a nose target and be sure to have two distinctive cues for each one.
Short, frequent training sessions will help your dog figure out what you want faster than long, confusing ones.
Teaching the dog to touch his paw to a hand target can be the starting point for teaching many other fun and useful behaviors.
For targeting to be useful, you must practice it often. The more experience your dog has with this method, the better it will serve you in your trick training.