Welcome to Day 15 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
At a glance:
- targeting exercises teach the animal to touch or rest a specific body part on a particular target or place
- targeting has a wide range of applications and is very versatile
- cognitive based enrichment
- we can use targeting to teach obedience behaviours, to improve confidence, to help in cooperative care and to teach tricks….there’s nothing we can’t do with targeting!
- get the family involved in this one – children can be great dog trainers with lots of guidance, and lots of these behaviours are child-friendly, and make maintaining the peace with kids and K9s easier.
Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
- training exercises can be practiced in individual sessions of no more than 30 seconds at a time; have as many sessions as you can!
What do you need?
- food rewards – you can use your dog’s regular food, a training mix, commercial treats, home prepared treats such as cut up meats, cheese, vegetables or homemade treats such as liver or tuna cake
- targets such as post-its, spatula or wooden spoon, commercially available target sticks, small stools, chairs, blanket, towel, face cloth
Targeting behaviours may form the end-goal behaviour or may be used to teach other behaviours using the targeting behaviour to guide the dog into position, for example.
You have already practicing some targeting during our project already. On Day 10 we worked on matwork; that’s essentially a targeting exercise: the mat is a target for the dog’s body to lie on.
There are a number of reasons that I have included targeting in #100daysofenrichment.
First off, targeting behaviours are easy and quick to teach and are a great mental workout for dogs, and good practice for training skills for humans.
Just practicing short training sessions with simple behaviours helps your dog become a better learner, making teaching new and more complex behaviours a doddle.
Targeting is versatile and we can use it to teach lots of behaviours and develop important life skills.
Targeting behaviours, such as hand targets and other nose targets, are neurologically cheap behaviours. That means that they can be easily used to refocus your dog, after some exciting event where there brain has been very busy, because a nose touch doesn’t require a whole lot of brain or body power, particularly where it’s been drilled.
And because of that and that they are simple to teach, we can build a really good reinforcement history, making targeting behaviours excellent for getting our dogs’ focus back on us, when we need it.
Some targeting behaviours like matwork and chin targeting can help in calming a dog after excitement, and help them come down a little from being wound up. We teach a chin rest, along with matwork and deep breathing, in our Crazy2Calm class as a way to help with whole-body recovery from arousal.
And of course, right now, it’s very popular to talk about the application of targeting behaviours in cooperative care during husbandry procedures. More on that later.
Targeting behaviours are useful in moving and positioning an animal, non-confrontationally and hands-off, which makes things safer and more comfortable for all.
Here, one of our awesome students teaches a targeting behaviour and applies that to moving the sheep non-confrontationally.
- to teach the dog to touch a specific body part to a specific target
- to teach the dog that their human will ask for behaviour and will make sure reinforcement is available – this reduces stress by improving predictability and controlability
- to apply targeting to teaching a range of behaviours
- improve day to day life, for dog and human, through targeting
- to build that bond between dog and human
- to have a fun and rewarding experience in social situations, between dogs and humans
- to learn about learning – this is just another puzzle to your dog…”how do I train the human to make rewards available?!“…it’s all human training, for dogs!
While training exercises certainly fall into the cognitive enrichment category, they can provide so much more.
Providing dogs with cues allows for a complex level of communication between two species; you are merely requesting that the dog perform behaviour (he already knows how to do the behaviour…they can already drop things) and that request comes with a contract. Respond appropriately to this signal and rewards are coming your way. That’s the deal…that’s what being a good teacher is about – keeping your word and making it easy for your dog to train you.
This forges the most healthy of relationships between our two species. This is a level of social enrichment that’s tricky to replicate.
When we talk about enrichment being enriching, this is never more clear than when we start to teach behaviours intentionally. It’s the human’s job to set the dog up for success by making sure the behaviour is doable and that rewards are fast-flowing.
There’s no test at the end of this and you and your pet are not under any pressure. Learn to enjoy the time together, whether you achieve the goal behaviour or not. That’s what’s enriching here…the social and cognitive outlets such exercises provide (for both species).
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
How can we achieve these goals?
- although you can use any reward that your dog will work for, using small food rewards that are quick to eat are best for these exercises so we can have lots of fast repetitions
- keep it simple and split behaviour – reward approximations toward the final behaviour, rather than hoping that your dog will offer the goal behaviour quickly
- take your time and work in many short sessions
- try for 30 seconds at a time, 5-10 rewards each session, and then take a break
- plan each session – what behaviours are you looking for and rewarding?
- watch the clips and try out the exercise
- portion out your dog’s daily food and allot some for training exercises
- make a training mix by adding in something yummier and leaving it all to ‘cook’ together in the fridge; the smells will mingle, harder foods will soften a little, and everything will become more valuable
- remember to adjust your pet’s diet accordingly to accommodate the extra calories from treats added, where relevant
- split your food rewards into little bowls with just the right number of rewards in each bowl so that you are ready to go; stick bowls of rewards in places where you may need to teach and reward behaviours so that you have rewards ready to go
If you are feeding wet or fresh foods, cut up small or mash to a paste and present on a wooden spoon or spatula. Alternatively you can freeze in small ice cube trays or a pyramid baking tray so that you can use small portions and individual treats.
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of targeting behaviours:
Where do I even start?! Targeting is truly the most versatile training approach. I much prefer it to luring, as a way of teaching behaviours, and I use it in so many training and every day interactions with dogs.
We might have the dog target specific parts of their body such as their nose, the side of their face, their chin, each food, two feet at a time (front or back), their side/shoulder, their underside, their backside…we can even teach visual targeting behaviour so that the dog watches a particular target.
There is a targeting application for every training problem and we are only covering the basics here!
In this clip, a hand target is being used as a consent tester. I build up a chain of behaviours (things that I do) so that he learns what’s about to happen: the ear drop bottle means I am going to ask for a hand target which means I am about to administer drops.
He can opt out at any stage and the hand target behaviour allows for a really clear signal, that he consents or not.
This is not, and should not be, used in isolation. I have worked to create a CER (Conditioned Emotional Response) to the presentation of the bottle first; he has a well established CER to ear handling already. Putting that emotional response (how he feels about what’s happening) together with behaviours, like standing there, hand targeting and holding still, builds a truly cooperative experience. (We discussed the establishment of CERs on Day 3 )
Behaviour is happening because he feels good about it all, and he feels good about it all because behaviour is happening. You can’t have one without the other!
Option 1: Nose targeting
All that needs to happen is the dog’s nose touches the target!
Start with teaching a simple hand targeting exercise – the animal touches their nose to your palm.
If you are just starting out with a novice dog, a dog new to training, begin with the luring approach:
But if you have some mechanical training skills and your dog loves to train, try capturing – this approach just offers a bit of a short cut over the luring approach above:
Once you get some reliable nose targeting to your palm, begin to mix it up a little:
Hand targeting is so helpful in teaching lots of different obedience exercises and my favourite applications are to teaching recall and loose leash walking.
Start by getting your dog moving more and more toward your presented palm:
Build the amount of movement gradually, so as to keep your dog successful:
As you move about, you can begin to position the dog at your side, in loose leash walking position and that can help you build some nice walking behaviour.
You might even like to practice cavaletti, from Day 8, using a target. This can help to get their nose off the ground, looking for treats, and to straighten up so that they can really benefit from strengthening and striding.
Play the Hand Target Game to get your dog moving back and forth and making approaching to nose-touch super-rewarding. This is a great rainy day game and a wonderful game to get the entire family involved.
You can play with a group, just two people or on your own – toss a treat away, present your palm and when your dog returns to touch it, reward and toss another reward to repeat.
This can help us build a reliable recall too. Even though we know that dogs are more reliaby responsive to body cues, hand signals and facial expressions, we rely on word and sound recall cues, for some of the most important and potentially life saving behaviour we teach dogs. Adding a hand target to your recall routine, a visual hand signal, will greatly improve reliability and clarity in learning.
We teach it in three separate pieces: conditioning a recall cue so that we can get that whiplash turn, building a STRONG CER to collar touches, and building lots of movement and rewards into hand targeting.
And can gradually add more and more distance by tossing the treat.
Target all the things!
Help establish this behaviour by teaching your dog to touch their nose to different items. Introduce other nose targets in largely the same way you did your palm.
While this is wonderful for generalising and further establishing targeting behaviours, it’s a great way of helping shy or cautious dogs experiencing the world; a nose touch, no matter how tentative, results in a food reward AND the opportunity to move away. Gaining distance and relief may often be the most reinforcing outcome for a worried dog.
Shut The Front Door!
We can use our target behaviour and apply it to lots of useful and cute exercises; this trick fits both useful and cute!
Using a small target, like a post-it note, on the door, we can teach the dog to close the door with a gently tap of their nose.
Our awesome students worked hard to get this behaviour on cue, during their workshop, so that they could use their fun verbal cue: “Were you born in a barn?!” for closing the door!
Option 2 Foot Targeting
Just like nose targeting, teaching the dog to touch feet to targets is versatile and applicable to a wide range of situations. It’s perfect for teaching animals to station in a certain spot, for stepping up on to something, to teach them behaviours that can help with husbandry procedures, and of course, cute tricks!
Start by teaching your dog to put a paw or two onto something flat like a coaster, paper plate or a towel or mat, folded up.
Note the food reward placement, and where I stand, in relation to the target, here. To get the dog to step on the blanket, I throw the food to the opposite side of it so when the dog returns to me, he must approach or pass over the blanket – we can set him up to carry out the desired behaviour. This allows for a high rate of reinforcement and rapid learning.
Once your dog is happy to put two feet on a flat target, you can begin to introduce height. Work with a small stool, upturned dog bowl, an upturned pot or similar. Make it big enough that your dog can comfortably fit both feet.
You can increase the difficulty with smaller targets and selecting for specific foot movements (left or right) as your dog progresses.
Later in #100daysofenrichment, we will introduce rear foot targeting and some rear end awareness and will talk more about foot targeting in relation to foot handling and nail care.
Asking your dog for two-feet-up is a great consent behaviour that your dog can use to let you know they are ok to be groomed or to have their walking equipment fitted (we’ll talk about that later on too!).
Option 3 Chin Targeting
Chin targeting has just about become the new hand targeting for versatility and applicability. Chin targeting may also be preferred by lots of dogs who are sensitive about touching their noses to hands or other things.
Lots of targeting practice here, with my boy:
I love chin targeting for helping to position the dog for husbandry procedures and it’s great that there is now such interest in teaching dogs behaviours that allow for cooperative care. But, the tendency to aim for behaviours only or primarily, like a chin target, can cause the dog to be put in situations where they don’t feel delighted about what’s happening to them.
Some will say, “but the dog can move away at any time…” and while that might be true, dogs often don’t. Dogs are stoic and often, when overwhelmed with worry, can’t move, or they begin to offer appeasement type behaviours (which may be missed or misinterpreted).
Making sure that the dog learns to move, which is behaviour that needs to be taught too, is an important part of teaching, as well as the development of the necessary observation skills on the human’s part.
With husbandry behaviours, I want to work in comfort building too – helping the dog feel good about the handling experience. That’s why we introduced handling comfort exercises on Day 3 – we can establish that first, and in separate sessions work on targeting, positioning and the behaviours necessary.
Then you can begin to put it altogether so that you have the behaviours and the feelings right.
And we practice comfort + targeting, especially when there has been some sensitivity:
Start with teaching a chin rest in your hand:
You can use this exact approach to teach the dog to rest their chin on a surface, such as a chair, stool or your lap.
This entire playlist illustrates how a chin rest can be used as part of a training program to teach cooperative eye-drop administration.
Build some duration by delaying the treat, in very small increments. Note the reward positioning in this clip too – these trainers have their their treats coming from behind and often slightly below the dog’s eye line. This helps to keep the dog’s chin in place as they rest in your palm waiting for their treat.
Introduce hands approaching the dog, building toward handling and husbandry. Make sure that you have practiced some comfort with handling too separately though! (Day 3)
You can see how gradually we add any challenge to these exercises – each time we progress we do so in teeny tiny increments. This is referred to as splitting criteria finely and that makes sure we have time to observe the dog closely for signs of even mild discomfort, while allowing the dog plenty of opportunities to withdraw consent.
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!