Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My (Other) Favorite Cue to Teach Dogs

Aside from the general "my dog never listens outside of our house/yard", one of my most common complaints from clients is that their puppy (or adult dog, in some cases) mouths, bites and/or nips. This is most common in puppies and herding breeds. I see a lot of Labradors who do it too.
That doesn't really matter, though. What is important is that the vast majority of these dogs are not "dominant" or "aggressive" in any way. They are usually trying to interact in hopes of play or simply to get their owner's attention.
In addition to management tips and redirection, one of the things I love to teach mouthy dogs is the Touch cue (it's also called Targeting). This cue simply teaches a dog to gently touch his or her nose to a person's hand. I'll put the training handout at the bottom here so you can teach it to your dog, too! This cue is great for dogs who like to grab hands with their mouths because it teaches them an appropriate way to interact with hands.
You know what's better than that? It it so much more flexible than that. You can teach your dog to Target with different parts of their body, like legs (yup- all four of them), paws, hips, tail or ears. You can also teach your dog to target anything at all! People, walls, toys, wall switches, etc. The list goes on.

But that's not all! In shy dogs, this can boost confidence. In dogs who have lost a limb or have vision deficiencies on one side, it can help with body awareness. Using targeting, you can teach your dog to open and close doors, turn lights off and on. In dog sports like Agility, Canine Freestyle and Rally, it teaches them to target contact zones on obstacles and lateral movement. It can be used to teach all kinds of "party tricks". It can even be used as an emergency recall!

Without further ado, here are instructions for the Touch (or Targeting) cue:


Purpose for touch:  Touch teaches your dog to interact nicely with hands, which is very helpful if you have a 'nippy' puppy! It's also a great confidence booster and a first building block in many dog sports. 
Hand signal/ visual cue: Place your hand near your dog's face, palm open 
Voice command/ verbal cue:  'Touch'
Behavior Pyramid:
Start with your dog sitting or standing and hold your hand, palm open, in front of your dog's nose (3-5 inches away)  with your fingers pointed toward the wall. 
Seriously, don't move your hand and don't say anything. 
Your dog WILL move to touch your hand with their nose. 
As soon as they do, say “touch”, CT
As your dog gets better with this, try putting your hand in different positions. 

Mistakes your dog may make:
Approaching your hand with an open mouth:
Move your hand away, saying “oops”, then offer your hand again
Dog shies away from your hand:

Reward any movement towards your hand. As your dog gets better, wait until they touch your hand, even if it's brief. 

Building the behavior:
As your dog improves this skill, remember to add in your random reinforcement schedule- only giving food rewards intermittently without a pattern. In addition, you can give food rewards for the best, quickest responses. 
Try having your dog target other things (the wall, a toy, a specific toy, a door, etc.)

Now, go out to your living room and start having fun with your dog!