“It’s Just a Stupid Trick”- Or is it??

We are often asked the purpose behind particular exercises we teach in our classes or consults, especially those exercises that have essentially been branded as tricks for one reason or another. This is always a great question but not always so quick and easy to answer!

Targeting is an exercise that we commonly teach- a simple skill where the dog touches an owners hand or other object with their nose (Targeting can take many forms but this is the one we teach most often). It’s a skill that dogs tend to pick up within a session and owners find fairly straightforward and fun.

So you would think that the question “What’s the point of this?” would be just as straightforward to answer.

What makes it difficult however (and also quite fantastic!) is that the answer can be varied and the benefits numerous! This seemingly simple exercise can be used in such a variety of applications. Have a look at the short video below- this was taken in one of our recent puppy school classes and gives a great example of where targeting can be added to improve engagement, fun and focus in your dogs training.

Next time you start thinking of targeting as being “just a trick”, remember the following benefits-

Fun- Never underestimate the importance of fun in training. What’s the difference between targeting and teaching your dog to sit? The main difference is that targeting allows movement and most dogs simply love to move. In fact, the more boisterous, bouncy, active or even naughty your dog is the more they are likely to want to MOVE! Targeting allows us to allow them to MOVE- but in a controlled and directed way. Movement is fun!
If you have more fun with your dog, particularly in situations where they might normally be distracted you are guaranteed to improve both engagement and focus from your dog. Whilst obedience exercises of sit and drop are important as well, they are part of teaching your dog self control and inhibition. Your dogs focus in these exercises is completely dependent on how motivated they are for your food reward, pat or praise as the exercise ITSELF is not naturally fun. This means that for dogs that are less motivated, a total focus on obedience exercises can be challenging. By adding exercises like targeting, you DOUBLE the reward available as they enjoy the exercise AND get their reward from you.
Position your dog- Having trouble with loose lead walking or getting your dog to go to a bed and stay there? Targeting is a great way to position your dog to where you want them by simply moving the target item!
Build the dogs confidence- Targeting teaches the dog to deal with mild conflict as they need to move away from the food reward in order to get it. The difficulty of the exercise can then be increased and the dog becomes more confident and persistent over time.
Teach the dog to approach the human hand with a closed mouth- this is particularly important for puppies and young dogs who often approach a hand with an open mouth or become ver excited and nip or mouth.
Physical exercise- By placing targets down the other end of a hallway or cricket pitch targeting is a great way to exercise your dog- work the brain and the body at the same time!!
Use targeting to teach other exercises- whether it be going to a bed or mat, agility exercises or the foundation of other tricks (remember, some of the above applies to other tricks too so teaching tricks is not pointless or stupid!!!) targeting can speed up the learning of other skills.
Help children interact with your dog safely. Using target sticks or simple hand targets can be a great way to control interactions between dogs and children your dog may be meeting for the first time. As an added bonus, kids LOVE IT.
What do you and your dogs love about targeting???

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