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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.

Beyond the Target Stick

Now I know what I am doing wrong.  I have been clicking after he touched the target not during the movement toward the target.  Thanks Karen.



I started clicker training a few weeks ago. Our 4-year old dog (Entlebucher Mountain Dog, i.e. herding dog) responds really well to it. I mainly started to try and control his behaviour at home. I.e. the door bell goes and he runs to the door frantically and barks like crazy. Once you open the door and let him sniff on the people, he is fine. Second problem, and this seems to only occur with younger humans (teenagers). He knows a particular kid, greets them tail-wagging but still barks at them as soon as they start moving around in the house. I can use the clicker in the beginning and everything works great. But if this kid stays in the basement for a few hours, as soon as he opens the door again, our dog will start barking at him again. Or if a visitor goes upstairs (our dog is not allowed upstairs), as soon as this person comes back down he will get barked at as if he never saw them before. I do think he is overprotective and tries to herd our visitors, but don't know how to solve it, especially when I can't always stand on guard with the clicker in my hand.
Earlier, we were all eating, including a teenager visitor. I made our dog lay down on his bed the entire time during which he made low "singing-type" noises because he knew he was not allowed to bark. Then our son and his friend get up and walk past the dog's bed. Our son goes past - nothing, and as soon as his friend goes past - on loud bark and a snapping-type movement as if to warn the kid.
I would appreciate any tip! Thanks in advance!

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