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Beyond the Target Stick

Q: I have started target stick training with my 4-year-old lab, Carter. He is very quick to learn and really enjoys it. I've gotten him to touch the stick in many situations, and have shortened the stick, but he still wants to touch the end of the stick when I say "target." Where do I go from here? How do I teach him to touch objects and not the stick each time? I would like to teach him to maybe turn lights on and off or something challenging and interesting. He learns so quickly he needs a constant challenge. Any suggestions?

Kristin in Atlanta

A:To move the dog from stick to beyond the stick, I'd suggest sliding the stick up your arm until it's right alongside your index finger. Now have him touch the stick and your finger at the same time. Move it around so that he quickly gets clicked and treated for touching stick/finger here, there, high, low, far, near, down, up, just a few inches, not a long way. He'll "tell you" if you are making too big a step in terms of distance. When you've done that about ten times in a hurry, and he's moving confidently, quickly lay the stick aside and repeat the same touches with just your finger.

So, now you've transferred the cue to your finger.

You are keeping the treats in your other hand, aren't you, and doling them out as fast as you can after each click? Dipping into your bait bag each time is SLOOOOOW shaping. Dogs learn faster with speedy shaping.

OK, now take a Post-it note, hold it in your thumb and finger, and have him touch your finger and Post-it note. Work in short distances, just have him move a few inches to two feet or so, and touch touch touch the Post-it note. If you have a verbal touch cue you can have him touch it here, touch it there, touch it on the rug, then click/treat. Three touches for one click.

You are being careful to click DURING the movement toward the target, not after he's touched it and backed away, right? After teaches nothing. During teaches trying to make contact.

Now you might stop here and have another lesson tomorrow. The next lesson would be to put the Post-it note on the wall, and send him to it, over various (short) distances, with the touch cue and a hand signal. You can play with this. Will he touch it on a chair? On your knee? On the refrigerator door? Open the door and give him something from inside, for a big surprise.

As in the video Take a Bow-Wow, put the Post-it on a slightly opened kitchen cupboard door and click him for nudging it. Make the target smaller. Shape for bigger nudges. Ta-da! You've trained "close the door."

So, now you have three targets, and the dog has the idea; you can probably target to anything your finger points at. Tons of places to go from here. Peggy Tillman's Clicking with Your Dog Step by Step in Pictures has ideas. Lots of the trick books have things you can build with a target. Use the regular old target stick to teach roll over, or crawl under a low piece of furniture, or go through tunnels (cardboard boxes with the ends open).

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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.