Target Training Games for Daycare
By Melissa Viera
Target training might be one of the most multifaceted core behaviors for dogs to learn. Training a dog to nose or body–target is fairly simple.
Once a dog knows the targeting game, there are many ways that it can be used. Imagine being in a group of daycare dogs and being able to call each dog individually using a target recall or send each dog to their own place.
Animals can learn to hold their nose to a target during grooming and veterinary procedures. Target training is also useful for training many tricks. For example, a dog can be taught to push a door closed by touching a target with his nose.
There are many different types of targeting behaviors that can be taught; nose, paw and even shoulder targeting, to name a few. With a simple to train nose target, the animal touches his nose to an object, or a person’s hand. In just one session, even animals with no training experience will usually get the concept down. In a few more sessions, the behavior can be put on cue and cleaned up enough to make it useful for daycare games.
The first step to teaching the nose target is simple. Most dogs will naturally want to investigate the target, which can be any object you choose to use, or your hand. Hold the target or place it down when the dog is watching, and when he leans in for that first sniff, mark and reward right away. Some dogs will need some more encouragement, but be patient. Once the dog understands the targeting game, training moves along quite quickly.
Marker–reward training is helpful for success with target training. Food rewards tend to work great for training the behavior quickly. Other types of rewards can be used as well, such as praise, toys and play. One of the benefits of using small bits of high–value food is that the animal eats the treat and continues the training without having to take a lot of time with the reward.
A marker can be a word, the click of a clicker, a whistle or any consistent sound or signal. The marker tells the animal exactly what they did to earn a reward. It will only be used for training purposes and it is always followed by a reward.
With target training, you want to mark the instant the dog’s nose makes contact with the target and follow with the treat reward. Without using a marker it would be difficult to communicate with the dog clearly so that the dog understands it is the behavior of his nose touching the target that earns the reward, and not when his nose pulls away.
In the beginning, every successful touch to the target earns a reward, but the rewards can be random once the behavior is learned. Some dogs won’t need much upkeep of the training at home, while others should get as much practice as possible.
Many clients will appreciate the extra care and attention their pet is receiving when you tell them about the training. Whenever you train something new during daycare, send home a report card or a few notes so the pet owner can reinforce the training at home.
A nose to hand target can be used as a recall to get dogs to come when called. Train dogs to target individually, being careful food aggressive dogs do not work close to each other to prevent fights. Once you have the behavior on cue, you can teach dogs to respond to their names and the cue. With practice, you can call individual dogs in a group to come touch your hand and check–in. A good cue word is “touch,” so you would say the dog’s name then ask for a touch.
Targeting is also great for trick training. If your clients are interested in using targeting, provide them with a simple, one page outline of instructions, or direct them to a video on the web with examples of targeting. You don’t have to give them an entire training lesson, just enough to get them inspired to try it on their own. There are many tricks that require dogs to touch an object or go to a mark which targeting will be the foundation for. Trick training is a fun way to enrich dogs during daycare.
Full body targeting is also useful for groups of dogs. Each dog can learn to go to their own place which can be a raised platform or even just a place mat. Teach the dogs to stay on their place until released. An example of a release word is, “break.”
If you are ready for a fun challenge, then why not give targeting a try? Start small by choosing just one or two dogs to begin experimenting with, or try it with your own dogs. The training is fun and fairly simple, but it takes some trial and error to be able to incorporate it into normal daycare time. Don’t get discouraged if it takes some practice to start being able to use the targeting with your groups.
You can have a positive impact with target training by helping dogs build confidence, listen to instructions and have fun!