Training Tip Tuesday is back and I’m excited to share a little bit of the video content that I’ve been developing for online classes. I’m working on converting Mod.Dog Fundamentals to an online, self-paced course so that you can keep up with your dog’s training at home. Someday, when we’re able to meet in person again, the online class will supplement the live group class content and serve as a homework repository. Cool, right? I mean, when life gives you a pandemic, make pandemic-aid.
Much like the in-person class, each online class will start with a couple of warm-up exercises designed to get your dog centered, focused and ready to work. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on teaching your dog automatic check-ins, which is exercise #1 for weekly group class. Another really good focus exercise is teaching your dog to “touch-target.” This usually starts as a hand-target, but as the dog becomes proficient at targeting, the skill can actually be transferred to loads of other things and can be used as the base for lots of more complex behaviors. Today we’re just going to focus on the first couple of steps.
FIRST: Grab some yummy, smelly soft treats and your clicker, if you have one. Using slightly greasy treats like hot dogs or cheese are best when teaching this skill because you want your targeting hand to smell enticing to the dog as explained in this video:
Step 1 with Dog: Present your “target” hand to the dog, about 2-3 inches from his face. He will likely immediately start to sniff. When his nose touches your palm, Click! or say “Yes” and get a treat from your other hand to give to the dog. Repeat this 5 times. Resist the temptation to say anything except to praise your dog when he gets it right.
Step 2 with Dog: Stop and assess your progress. Did your dog successfully touch his nose to your palm each of the 5 times? If so, try 10 more repetitions.
Things not going so great? Here are some troubleshooting tips:
- Make sure your hand is close enough to your dog’s nose. Don’t shove your hand into his face, but make sure to hold it only 2-3 inches from his nose to start. Hold your hand still, let him investigate. Be patient and wait for him to come to you.
- Be careful not to “click the lick.” If your dog gets a lick in before you’re able to mark it with a click or a yes, then simply remove your hand for a second and present it again. Dogs who are first learning this skill will be tempted to lick, but if we mark/reward that too many times in a row, then the behavior becomes licking, not nose targeting.
- If your dog is licking your palm, then try presenting only 2 fingers or a closed fist, as demonstrated here with Pixie.
Step 3: Add the Verbal Cue. After your dog has repeated the behavior successfully at least 10 times in a row, you can add the verbal cue. Here’s the sequence:
Say the verbal cue “touch”
Present your hand
Mark and reward your dog when he targets your hand
Hooray! You’ve just introduced a new cue to your dog. This is just the beginning, folks. Do me a favor and over this next week, practice these first few steps with your dog twice a day. Count out 10 treats and do 10 repetitions twice a day. Practice in various rooms of your house first, then try it in the back yard or outside somewhere. This will help your dog generalize the skill. In next week’s training tip we’ll add some more complexity and learn some ways to apply the skill to real life!