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Right On Target


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What’s It About?

Take your training to the next level by finding an easy way to teach your dog new and complex behaviours.

In this book, training experts Mandy Book and Cheryl Smith, teach us all about target training.  Targeting means teaching your dog to touch a designated point or item with a part of his body – for example, with his nose or paw. It is an excellent way to train dogs, enabling us to shape behaviours by breaking them down into easily trainable steps.

It allows us to teach our dog to work at a distance with speed and accuracy. Targeting is of tremendous use in many of the dog sports, including agility, flyball, obedience, freestyle and heelwork to music, as well as for the therapy or assistance dog.  We can also use it to teach important everyday behaviours such as the recall, and as a great way to teach fun new tricks.

Chapter one looks at targeting basics. Book and Smith begin by noting that many dog owners use targeting but are often unaware they are doing so. Things as simple as teaching a dog to go and lie down when you point at his bed or opening your arms wide when you call your puppy are both examples of targeting. They explain that it can be an extremely useful tool in both competition and everyday training, and is  commonly used by large animal trainers who do not have the option of putting a wild animal, such as a dolphin or an elephant, on a lead! Book and Smith believe that as dog owners and trainers we can and should make much better use of targeting, and their aim in this book is to show us how to do so.

In the first chapter Smith and Book introduce us to the basic concepts of targeting, They explain the importance of timing, providing some exercises we can practise to help improve this, also looking at the importance of breaking down behaviours into small trainable steps, as well as knowing how and when we should raise our criteria in training. They examine rewards, explaining the impact of when and where you give treats, as well as the need to observe your dog to determine whether he is learning. Book and Smith recommend record keeping in order to help review progress, as well as encouraging the less experienced to practise each exercise first without a dog, in order to fine tune your mechanical skills. They also add that working with a training partner can be fun and invaluable when problems arise.

In the following chapters, Book and Smith introduce us to various exercises. For each exercise, they provide a section on getting ready, explaining what stage your dog should be at before you attempt it, as well as any practical considerations to bear in mind, such as what equipment you may need. They then provide detailed step-by-step instructions of how to teach the exercise – one version for the more experienced trainer who is familiar with the clicker, and another more detailed set of instructions for the beginner.  You will also find suggestions for cues as well as a troubleshooting section, with solutions to common problems. Finally, they examine how we can cross train this new skill with other behaviours.

The first skill that Book and Smith show us how to teach, is the nose touch. This can have lots of useful applications, including teaching agility contacts and sendaways.  They explain that as dogs naturally follow their noses to things, they find this exercise relatively easy. They begin with the nose touch to hand which is simply teaching the dog to bump his nose to the palm of your hand. The next step is to teach a nose touch to a contact disc. The third step is to teach the nose touch to a target stick, which you can then progress to a moving target.

Chapter three introduces foot touches. Book and Smith comment that some dogs are very foot orientated and will hold toys between their paws, pounce on things or paw at you. These types of dogs will find this exercise easy. The first exercise to teach is the front foot touch to target. The object of this exercise is for the dog to place either front foot on a flat target. It is a good exercise to follow on from the nose touch, as it will help the dog to understand he will also be rewarded for touches with other body parts. It can be particularly useful for teaching contacts, training flyball, heelwork to music and even to teach your dog to ride a skateboard! Once your dog has mastered the front foot touch, you can then move onto the front foot swipe. This involves getting the dog to paw at a target with a front foot. Once your dog has learnt this behaviour you can begin to transfer it to other items, such as a light bulb switch, teaching the dog to turn the light on.

Chapter four moves on to body touches. Dogs aren’t necessarily aware of a lot of their body parts, so these exercises can sometimes be difficult to teach. The authors begin by teaching the easiest touch, the full body touch, which involves teaching the dog to go and lie down on a mat.. They then introduce a hip touch, where the objective is for the dog to move his hip a short distance to touch a target and hold in place on this target until released. In this exercise we are learning to shape against instinctive behaviour, as the dog will be more inclined to move away from the target then lean into it.

Chapter 5 looks at “good behaviour” targets. Book and Smith explain that we can use targets for a variety of everyday situations. By expanding on the basic nose touch, the authors show us how to teach all sorts of useful behaviour, such as the dog slipping his head into a halti, coming when called, heel off lead and heel on lead.

Chapter 6 focuses on targets for agility. The authors explain how we can build upon a nose touch to hand to teach your dog to turn into you and away from you by following your body language. This forms the basis of front and rear crosses. We can also use the nose touch to contact disc, to send the dog away from us, teaching the basis of the ‘Go on’ or to go to a table. Finally, Book and Smith show us how we can use targeting to teach the 2 on, 2 off position.

Chapter 7 introduces ‘social’ targets. These are target-based behaviours that you can use in a social environment, particularly useful for therapy or assistance dogs. By modifying the nose touch, Book and Smith show us how to teach the dog to ‘kiss’, gently touching his nose to a person’s cheek. They also show us how to teach the dog to visit/go say hi by sending him to a person indicated, touch their hand and interact with them in some way. We can also build upon the foot touches by teaching a high five. The authors also show us to teach the dog to tug/ retrieve, introducing a different type of targeting, asking the dog to do something specific with their mouth.

Chapter 8 shows us how to use targets for freestyle and heelwork to music. We learn how to build on the skills learned in the first few chapters to teach the dog to spin, weave through legs, and side step.

Chapter 9 looks at targeting for ‘show business’. Book and Smith show us how to teach some entertaining behaviours that are often used in movies. These include a hug, where the dog puts his head over your shoulder close to your face, a sit up where the dog will lift up his front end up from a sitting position, an army crawl, a bow and  to move along and  hold up one foot in a limp.

This book provides detailed and comprehensive instructions on how to train your dog using targeting. Jean Donaldson writes: “This book exploits learning principles with impressive sophistication, yet is completely accessible. I loved the ultra-clear organisation, splendid criteria progressions, and clever applications.”


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