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Week 1


This is a simple, but incredibly useful foundation behavior.  Let's teach our dogs to target a target stick, your palm,  and a ball, to begin with.     


To shape the Hand Touch/Target behavior:

 1. Get some tasty morsels of food and a clicker. Having a short leash on your dog prevents his wandering away and eliminates long periods of failure between his successes.

2. Hold your open hand, palm facing the dog, just an inch or two from his nose and wait quietly. I position my self on the dog's right but facing his right shoulder so that I can see what he is doing and I am in "heel position" to the dog.

3. Wait quietly for the dog to touch out of curiosity.

4. At the very moment his nose touches your hand, click and feed your dog. Remembering that this is a thinking game for dogs will help you to resist the temptation to pet or verbally reward at this time.

5. After successfully repeating the above steps several times he might suddenly "refuse" to perform the behavior. He has merely entered into a learning dip; he will come out of it if you do nothing but wait. In learning dips dogs are often looking for help and reassurance that the food is being earned for this simple task. Your waiting allows him to find the answer on his own, which will solidify the behavior in his mind.

6. After the dips (there are normally two) the dog will display renewed interest in touching your open hand and may intensify the behavior. Until you add a command you won't see another dip unless you raise criteria too quickly and cause him to really quit.

7. You may raise criteria slightly by moving your hand to the left, the right, then up, and then down, waiting for the dog to respond with a touch each time you stop your hand in a new position - click and feed for each touch.

8. You may further raise criteria by having the dog jump up or travel forward to touch your hand - again, remain silent - clicking and feeding after each touch. Your hand should be still before each touch, for to do otherwise is asking the dog to touch a moving target.

9. When the dog is consistently offering the touch behavior whenever you hold out either hand, the behavior is ready for a verbal command.


Touch a ball.

Hold the ball in your hand above the dog's head, then briskly move the ball in front of your dog's nose.  (Don't be so abrupt that you are scary, though!) Most dogs will sniff the ball, because they are, literally, nosey!  As son as the dog touches, click, then treat.  Repeat, until he is smooth. 

Lower your hand, check that the dog can target the ball 12 inches from the ground, 6 inches from the ground, on the ground, on the ground with your hand 1/2 inch from the ball, on the ground without your hinting hand...

Touch the Target Stick

Present the target stick to your dog. When he sniffs it, CLICK and treat.  If he is reluctant to sniff it, the first time or two you can put a dab of something yummy on the end of the stick.  Don't keep on luring, though...just jumpstart him...                                   

Repeat several times, and begin altering the height of the stick randomly. Hold it a few inches higher, lower, to the right, to the left. Turn around, do it in a different direction. Take it into other rooms, and practice getting the dog to touch the tip of the ball in each direction you face.

Broaden your movements, slowly pulling the target stick across the room as your dog follows, as if a magnet were pulling him.

Why this crazy behavior? It's easy! It's fun! Puppies LOOOOOVE it! And it is the base, most important behavior you can teach for quickly learning many advanced behaviors down the road. You're teaching muscle memory now to your puppy. Teaching him to target and move with the target.


Now that your dog can target three things, can you think how you might use targeting to teach him to find your cell phone when you lose it?                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Get your clicker, and plenty of treats, and sit down with your dog. The easy way to teach shake, if your dog cooperates, is to hold a smelly treat in your closed fist and put it in front of your dog, about shoulder height. Let him sniff it. Chances are that he’ll try to lick your hand, nudge it, or paw at it. As soon as his paw hits your hand, CLICK and then give him a treat. Try several more times. Your dog will soon be offering his paw to you first thing to get the treat. When he gets to this point, start giving the vocal command “Shake.” Remember to always click BEFORE giving the treat, at the exact moment his paw hits your hand. When he’s ready, give your open palm to your dog. This will be your hand signal for shake. Ask him to shake, click if he paws your hand, then give him the treat. He may be confused for a while, so backpedal if you have to until he is ready to paw your open palm. Once he’s pawing at your hand, try to clean up your act by increasing the time he has to leave his paw in your hand, then clicking and treating. You should be able to get him to leave his paw there until you release it.


Reach out as if you were going to ask for shake, but click before  the dog’s paw touches your hand.  Repeat until he is reaching but not touching.  Try this from a step, then 2 steps away from your dog.  Tether him, if necessary, for a few repetitions, so that he can be successful at this new behavior, rather than just trying to “shake” and experiencing frustration. 

Once he is waving his paw, get a bit pickier.  Start rewarding only the higher paw waves, or start rewarding a double wave, rather than a single…