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What is a Target Stick and Why Should I Own One? (Part Two of Two)

What is a Target Stick and Why Should I Own One? (Part Two of Two)


Before you start with a target stick, it is mandatory that you learn what operant conditioning a/k/a clicker training, is all about. Please go to Featured Content and read it, then digest it, then train it. After that step is completed, come back here for training with the target stick.


As I explained in part one, this is not the hardest thing you will ever train. However, there are some obstacles that could arise if you don’t train correctly.


First, (see above) your dog knows and reacts to the sound of the clicker.


Second, you are ready with your target stick and your clicker and treats. Simply hold out the target stick and wait, eventually Ace will get curious and want to check out the stick. At this point he only has four options (five, if you count just walking away).

(1) he could just look at it, (2) he could lick it, (3) he could sniff it, and finally (4) bump it with his nose. Any of the four is sufficient for a click and treat.


I know what you are thinking, but what if my dog is not at all interested in the stick? As with all things “training,” there is a fix for that. Try taking some butter, or peanut butter or cheese, or anything Ace finds irresistible, and rub the end of the stick with that. I don’t think there is a dog alive that would not be at least slightly interested in those odors.


Now you are going to wait and repeat the above, but try to get the tip of the stick within a very close proximity to his nose. (Under no circumstance are you to ever touch the stick to his nose. He must move toward and touch the stick on his own, or you will get nowhere really fast.) Each touch gets a pay “click/treat.” The more click/treats, the faster he learns.


Also, after his initial introduction to the stick and it is obvious that he knows that his nosing of the stick means treats, two things to keep in mind:


1) You are now going to start offering the verbal cue of “nose” every time you offer the stick.  To do this, simply say “nose” as soon as you see Ace is starting to do the trick. This way, he has a chance to associate his action with the word. Then in future attempts you are going to start saying “nose” earlier and earlier, until you can get the behavior just by giving the cue.


2) You are going to remember that if he bites or paws at the stick, there is nothing, except you ignoring his futile attempts; no click, no treat. You will see the light go off in his head as he works to figure out what he has to do to get you to click and that darn treat.


Keep working so that the click and treats only appear upon his successfully lightly touching the tip of the stick with his nose, and avoid giving or doing anything about any misses.


This is what I think is the fun part. Once a dog understands the stick, you can see the enjoyment in him when I start to move the stick around and he chases it. If it goes over his head or under his jaw, make him take a step into the stick or follow you around trying to touch it, move the stick to your side. Make him go around you to get it, have it touch the floor, use your imagination for fun places to have him go. It’s kind of like playing with a kitten and a feather.


Please make it easy at first so he always has an easy win. Then build up to tougher moves.  Of course, by this time you know and it should go without saying, that each successful touch is a click and treat.


By transferring the target stick for other objects to target, the practical applications are endless. Agility people, obedience trainers, trick dog trainers, therapy dogs (who are gifts from God, learn to target to help make life easier for their people) all use targeting to get a desired behavior. As we go through more articles, you will see how to apply targeting for better and more complex behaviors.


Now that Ace knows how to target with his nose on cue, it’s time to take it to the next level and teach him that he can also have fun by using a paw to target.


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