No no, not that kind. Although babies and dogs can be adorable, we’re talking about a brand new cue for Ranger.
Teaching a dog to target on an object is a fluency that can help him learn a ton of other things – from going to a specific spot, to just going away, to heeling more precisely, to finding people, to moving his body in a specific way; the potential is endless. Here’s an article that says pretty much what I am about to say, but I’ll link it anyway just to show you guys I’m not making this all up – Dog Obedience Training through Targeting
I taught my elderly Collie to target on my hand and on a pen or target stick, but I have chosen a little plastic lid for Ranger for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want him to learn that jumping up at or shoving hands is good. Second, if I give my kids a pen and have them practice this, they will probably stab him in the eyeball. So, a lid it is.
I thought about putting a picture of a lid here but really, you know what a lid is. This is not one of those food blogs where they show you each step in such excruciating detail you’d rather just eat Ramen noodles than scroll through “Here is me placing a carrot ON THE COUNTER TOP. I am now REACHING MY HAND TOWARD A CUTTING BOARD. I have acquired the cutting board and I am PLACING THE CARROT ON THE CUTTING BOARD.” :eyeballs bleeding:
Sorry, where was I? Targeting.
I want the lid to be a discriminative stimulus. It will tell him “time for the target game!” So I tuck the treats away and hide the lid until it’s time for him to do the behavior – its presence will become the signal that touching nose to lid will now be reinforced. I make it really easy at first and put it right in front of his face. He sees a new thing, he sticks his nose out to inspect it. Click-Treat! Step one is complete.
We did this for a while, moving the lid up, down, left right, further away, up in the sky, on the floor. If you just make little changes, your dog will keep at it; don’t make giant leaps or he’ll just stare at the thing and then stare at you and bark (this only happened twice, I was being impatient).
Ranger was really clever about this and caught on wonderfully. Once he was obviously focusing on the lid, I started to tell him “Touch!” right before I brought the lid out for him to target. Then, I switched up to keeping the lid out and having him “Wait” between “Touch” cues. The lid may tell him it’s time for the target game, but I don’t want him shoving his face on it the second he sees it, so he needs to learn to wait for a cue from me to start playing the target game.
So here’s the results after about 10 minutes:
Ranger loves this game! He didn’t want to quit, but sadly I ran out of treats and didn’t feel like chopping up another block of food for him (we use doggy sausage – natural food rolls – for training) so his time was up. We’ll play again later!