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Foundation Skills Level 1 - Sample Lecture

Here is a sample lecture from our Foundation Skills Level 1 class. This is Part 1 of 3 lectures.

Donna reads the lesson in the audio file

Game 5 Nose Targeting

Nose targeting is probably the most versatile foundation behavior you can teach your dog.
You can use a nose target to start teaching a dog loose leash walking, to follow you through narrow spaces, use it as a recall away from things, get him to jump up on things, the starting point of take and give and a hand-delivered retrieve, teaching directions, the start of a chin rest, a nose nudge for a medical alert, push and pull behaviors, flipping light switches, pointing, going around objects and teaching a tight heel position for use in crowded environments. 

It is also the beginning of teaching your dog the concept of body targeting which is useful for awareness of where there body is in space, position your dog around you and teaching forward pressure when you walk with a mobility harness. Examples of body targeting are paw targets,  shoulder targets, back end targets (pivoting, backing up), stepping into body harnesses, bum targets (to back into a wall in a tight space) and many more!

Yet, in most live basic obedience classes, it is seldom taught. If it is, the instructors don't show you the potential uses of the behavior or why you need to keep generalizing it and how to develop it into other behaviors.

We get the nose target behavior by capturing it initially, then continue shaping it in small increments to become the other behaviors.

Let's start with the two most common parts: nose target to hand and nose target to stick.

Nose Target to Hand

Set up: Have the dog on a non-slick surface. Kneel or bend down to the dog. 

Raise puppies and small dogs up on a surface like a bed or couch or even a chest freezer with rubber mat on it to help you reach them if you have mobilty issues.

Count out 10 treats and have them in one hand. The other hand is the nose target. Clicker is optional. I prefer using a verbal marker as it is one less thing to handle. 

Objective 1: Dog does a solid closed-mouth nose touch to the palm of your hand 

This behaviour is a bit trickier mechanically than what we have done before because you are using your hand as the target, and have to deliver the treat with the same hand.

Using the target hand to get the treats speeds delivery. Other options are to place the treats on a table beside you or Hold the treats in your non-target hand or place the treats in your other hand. 

If using a treat pouch, it helps to start with placing the treat pouch on the same side as your target hand.  Place the clicker, if you are using one, in the other hand.

Your dog can be in any position to start teaching this behaviour. Please do not cue any specific position to start with. Whatever the dog chooses is correct to start with.

How to Start:
Present your target hand very close to the dog's nose and mark if he looks at it or moves towards it at all. He can sniff it too! If he actually touches it the first few times, that's a bonus!
Take your hand away between repetitions and present it again only after the dog has finished eating the food. 

What we are looking for is the dog's nose lightly or firmly touching our hand.

Here is a 8.5 week old Aussie mix pup showing just how easy it can be! 
And yes, this is her first try ever!

In this clip, the trainer on the left uses the treat pouch method. The trainer on the right (me) does not.  I place the treats and clicker in the same hand and reach for the treat with my target hand. That works too as long as the treats are easy to grab. Some treats, like Cheerios, can be hard to get ahold of or hard to hold in your hand without falling out, especially if you have a weak hand grip.  Choose the method that works for you or try them both!

Here are two 12 week old Hovawart puppies trying this for the first time! They figure it out quickly and are giving nice firm nose targets after just a few repetitions in a distracting environment. Puppies are such sponges! We were even able to call them away from their sibling to continue training! 
nose target 12 week old pup Hovawart

Adolescent and adult dogs can figure this out quickly too. We can help them by breaking the behaviour into really small steps for them. They can figure it out though!

Here is 10 month old Mini Australian Shepherd. Her mom has taught this to her already but this is my first training interaction with her. She is a sensitive girl but she still moves quickly through the steps with me. Changing handlers is a big issue and the relationship needs to be built from the start with each person. This simple game is a great way to start.

Here I am adding some distance between her nose and my hand. This adds movement.
I start with some side to side, which gives her different pictures of my hand. If I were to hold my hand parallel to the ground, that might be interested as a different signal or cue so I am careful (at this point) to make sure my hand is fingers pointing down.
When she is successful with that, we progress to me backing up to get her to follow the hand forward. 

The more repetitions of the behavior and the more slight variations (side to side, moving forward, more steps to get to the target, etc) that the dog does, the more history she has with doing the behavior. That will translate into more enthusiasm for doing the behavior. That allows us to keep asking for more from her (distance, duration, height, distraction etc). This applies to all behaviors we teach! When the dog is not successful, it pays to go back and do more reps at a level of difficulty that the dog was successful at doing, then try a single repetition of something that is a little bit harder mixed in with more easy ones. 

Note I use the same target hand throughout the beginning process to help him understand what I want.

With dogs that don't like people in their personal space for whatever reason, we have to be patient and add other steps of counter conditioning the hand coming toward the dog. More on counter conditioning in a later lecture.

Problem Solving: This dog starts to focus on the food holding the treat and ignoring the target hand. It's a simple fix: put your hand holding the food behind your back between each repetition. It also can help to feed the dog with the target hand or place the treat on the palm of the target hand. See how I shift the treat to the target hand at 0:13? That way she starts associating the food delivery to be in that hand so that's where she will go to get it. We can stop shifting the food to the other hand once she catches on. 

While she puzzles through the challenge, she sits at 0:08. It is much easier to get a dog to move to a nose target if she is standing. I use the reward at 0:17 as a lure to get her standing to set her up for the next rep. The faster she learns that she can nose target while standing (and doesn't have to sit between each rep, the easier our job will be and the faster she will progress. 

Nose Target

Problem solving: Here is a dog in a shelter learning to nose target. When he seems to forget what we are doing, I wiggle my fingers to attract his attention. It works and he's back on track! 
Nose Target Wiggly Fingers

From the end of Part 3: 


1. For your own disabilities, what behaviors do you need a nose target to start teaching?

You will first have to identify which tasks you need your dog to do for you. Next, think about which one might be started with a nose target. Hint: The list of behaviours that a nose target can start is in the introduction of this lesson. 

2. What are the benefits of using the nose touch as a recall cue rather than a standard verbal recall? (Hint: it has to with how dogs naturally communicate with us and each other.)