What’s the most fun, versatile and quickest thing to teach your dog? It’s nose targeting, of course! Nose targeting means that the dog will touch his nose to your hand – or the tip of a target stick – to earn a reward, and it is one of the most basic building blocks of clicker training. Once your dog is trained to target and will follow your hand for extended periods of time, the sky’s the limit on the number of things your dog can learn.
I love to tell my clients that targeting is like playing Jedi mind tricks on your dog. “You will come to me… Your nose will touch my hand… You WILL spin in a circle.…” All important and practical things for the Rebel alliance, yes?
For me, the most fun thing about targeting is communicating with your dog without physical prompting or manipulation. How incredibly cool is it that your dog does what you ask without having to push, shove, rock or lure your dog into position?The dog moves where you want, but by his own free will. Now the targeting behavior isn’t for naught as your dog definitely expects his payout during training, and a healthy jackpot now and then. But in my opinion, that’s a small price to pay for willing and joyful compliance.
Here are five of the most practical reasons to teach your dog to nose target:
- Teaching a Down – Many dogs respond to the luring method of teaching a down. (Start in a sit position and bring a delicious treat down in between the front paws to capture a down. The dog’s nose will follow a treat to the ground and his belly will flop on the floor.) But some dogs respond differently to this method, and I’ve found that some breeds already close to the ground, like Dachshunds, can’t really be bothered with this method. Nose targeting can help gradually get the dog to follow a target underneath an obstacle, like coffee table, which ultimately results in his belly on the floor in a down position.
- Loose Leash Walking – There are many ways to begin teaching this behavior, however, one method utilizes nose targeting. Your arm should be straight down at your side, palm facing the dog, whose ear should be parallel to your leg. Start with moving one step forward, then ask for a “touch,” the verbal cue for nose targeting. Click and treat for the correct behavior. Slowly build up the number of steps between asking for a touch. Your dog must learn to follow you and go no further than your hand at your side to earn a click and treat
- Recalls – If your dog has already learned that coming towards you often yields great things, then naturally, this behavior can easily be transitioned into a great recall, or learning to come when called. You can practice with a friend, having the dog target back and forth between you. Gradually, you can increase the distance between you and your helper, and then add some increasing distractions to build reliability of the recall.
- Redirection– Is your dog afraid of the UPS guy, the dog walking across the street or the inanimate mailbox at the corner? You can use your nose targeting to redirect your dog’s attention, and turn the frightful or unpleasant situation into one that earns a click and a reward. The reward in this case might even simply be the opportunity to move away from the scary thing, instead of a food reward.
- Tricks – Oh, the endless amounts of tricks that you can accomplish with targeting… Spin, roll over, close the drawer, turn on the light, dance, hop between platforms, weave in between your legs, and the list goes on. Tricks are great fun, but also serve as great strengthening of this important foundation behavior and an opportunity to bond with your dog.
There are many other wonderful reasons to teach your dog to nose-target. This skill by itself may not fix your most pressing obedience issues. However, it is undeniably important in teaching your dog desirable behaviors to replace the unpleasant ones. So if you attend an obedience class and spend a great amount of time on targeting, just know that once it’s Jedi-mastered, you’ve built a very important foundation for many other behaviors to be taught with relative ease and speed.
Take a look at this 3 minute video of nose targeting by Emily Larlham of Dogmantics to get started…Happy targeting!