How to Get Behavior: Targeting March 21, 2012

Strata performs his hand target behavior.

Now it is time to wrap up my series on “How to Get Behavior” with targeting! Targeting is like a hybrid between the three methods I have already explained: luring, capturing, and shaping. Here’s why.

How to Target

First, you must use capturing and/or shaping to teach your dog to touch or follow a target object. One example of this is hand targeting, which I teach in almost all of my dog training classes. The dog touches his nose to his owner’s hand when presented with an open palm.

When the dog understands that targeting behavior, you can then use it to train other behaviors by using the target as a lure f or the dog to follow. For example, I teach dogs to get on and off of furniture on cue by first teaching the dog to hand target, then using that target to lure the dog on and off of furniture.

There are lots of variables with targeting. You can use any object as a target, and popular items include wooden spoons, sticky notes, and plastic lids. I have a how-to guide for creating duct-tape targets on my website, which are very versatile. The dog can be taught to target with a different body part. For example, hand targeting requires the dog to use his nose, but you could also teach the dog to target an object with his paw, chin, or entire body! In a way, mat behavior is like a full-body target.

Why not just lure?

How is targeting better than luring with food? I prefer to use a target, particularly a hand target, when possible because I find it is easier for my students to fade a target than a food lure. It seems to me that the dog can focus more on the task and what his body is doing and not just blindly following food. Additionally, when using a hand target as a lure, the hand target can very easily evolve into a hand signal for the behavior. All three of my dogs will dismount furniture if I point to the ground; this was taught first by hand targeting them off, then clicking them for jumping on the floor (but before they could touch my hand). Then I simply changed my hand signal from an open flat palm to a pointing index finger.


Targeting can be used for so many behaviors, but here are some ideas to get you started…

  • An over-exuberant greeter can be cued to hand target when meeting a new person
  • A hand target provides a visual target to drive towards during a recall
  • Prevent your dog from counter-surfing while you’re in the kitchen by having her lie on a mat (full-body targeting)
  • Teach your dog to spin to the “left” or “right” by having him follow a target stick or wooden spoon in a tight circle


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