Monday, July 11, 2011

Puppy Java learning to 'Target'

Targeting is a skill where Java will learn to touch a part of his body to an object, known as the 'target'. Usually we teach dogs to touch their nose or paw to an object. Targeting is helpful in teaching our dogs to go to a mat, lying on it and remaining in place; for service dogs to open and close doors; to move our animals from one place to another; to teach them to go on or under obstacles; or to facilitate teaching tricks. It also helps dogs to learn about their bodies, for Java I wanted him to begin learning about turning his body to the left and right in a circle. This helps with strengthening his hind end and learning about hind end awareness.

I started to teach Java how to target a bit differently then I have in the past with my other dogs. Instead of teaching Java to first touch his nose to the center of my palm, I started with a target stick. Target sticks can simply be a spatula, a spoon, a stick with taped wrapped around the edge for visibility. Or you could opt for a more formal click stick which has a clicker built in. or a target stick that has a red rubber end and also comes with a stand for distance work. Both can telescope to over 20 inches.

I wanted to give a target stick a try to see if it would facilitate his understanding of moving towards an object to touch his nose. I had already used my hands to do a lot of touching him all over his body, especially around his feet to accustom him to having his nails trimmed. Just for my own curiosity I wanted to see if teaching him with a target other then my hand would make a difference to the learning process.

I paced the target stick very close to his nose, he was interested in something different, he moved closer to take a sniff. The instant his nose touched the rubber ball, I clicked and gave him a treat.

Gradually I moved the target stick inches further from Java, he had to make the effort to move towards the target. I continued to click and treat each correct response.

I was late on clicking a few times, and clicked as Java was attempting to mouth the ball, no need to yell at him. He was just learning what this new game was all about. This is the beauty of clicker training, the only 'correction' the dog receives is the lost opportunity of receiving a reinforcement...his treat. Our relationship was intact, he still trusted me. I just withheld a click when his mouth touched the ball. The next rep I clicked a tiny bit early, just as his nose was about to touch the target, but before he opened his mouth. He quickly understood that it was his nose that needed to touch the red ball on the target stick in order to get a reinforcement

It wasn't long before Java was following the target stick.

I began moving it ever so slightly to the right, to get him to turn in that direction.

Java's first two lessons in targeting gave him a good foundation towards his first trick: 'spin'. Stay tuned.


  1. Where can we find the target stick that has a red rubber on the end?

    Thank you*

  2. Hi, thanks for writing. The target stick shown in the photos is this one: with the base removed. I like this target stick as it can be made longer or shorter. Other options are: This target stick is about 14 inches in length. Happy Training!!