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Target Stick Training - Introducing The Target Stick To Your Dog

The target stick is an invaluable tool for us dog trick trainers. Target sticks are fantastic for luring or guiding our dogs into the various positions we require from them when teaching new dog tricks. This alleviates the need to forcefully drag your dog around by the collar - plus using a target stick is far more effective anyway.

As soon as you have charged up the clicker it is time to introduce the target stick to your dog - most dogs take to the target stick with great enthusiasm.

"Target Sticks Help To Guide Your Dog Into Position - The Clicker Marks The Behavior In Your Dog's Mind"


Introducing The Target Stick Step-by-Step

Introducing the target stick to your dog is carried out the same way we teach any new behavior. At first we make it very simple for our dogs by rewarding small increments or pieces of the finished behavior. We then gradually increase our expectations (what we require from our dog) and build the behavior step-by-step.

The following steps are an example of how you can teach your dog to touch the target stick with his/her nose. It may take you a number of days or even weeks to work your way through the steps below - it all depends on your dog and your skill as a trainer ;)

Step 1:

Hold the target stick in your hand and position it a few inches from your dog's nose. Click and treat even the slightest interest in the stick from your dog - even a glance toward the stick is sufficient at this early stage.

Step 2:

Hold the target stick in the same position just in front of your dog's nose but this time you will only click and treat an actual movement toward the stick - a glance is not enough any more.

Step 3:

Once again hold the target stick close to your dog's nose. This time you hold off with the click and treat until your dog actually touches the target stick with his/her nose. If needed you can wave the stick around a bit or dip it in peanut butter or cream cheese to make it more appealing to your dog.

Step 4:

Now that your dog is nudging the stick with his/her nose you can add a few other variables - one at a time. Move the target stick further away from your dog's nose and in different positions (high, low, left and right). Also practice your targeting when your dog is in various postures (standing, sitting, lying down...) and in different locations around the house.

Step 5:

Now request that your dog touches the target stick when it is moving (your dog should follow it) and when it is laying on the floor.

Step 6:

When your dog is touching the target stick reliably in many different positions and circumstances it is time to attach your cue word or label to the behavior. Do this by saying "Touch" just before you present the target stick to your dog, then click and treat as normal. This step is all about building an association in your dog's mind between your cue "Touch" and the act of touching the target stick. You can see this in action by viewing the video at the top of this page.

Step 7:

You're now ready to start teaching some fun dog tricks!

Tools Of The Trade - A Clicker, Treats & Target Stick

General Rules When Introducing The Target Stick

  • Practice your target stick training with many short sessions each day and in different locations around the house.

  • The target can actually be anything you choose it to be. Your target could be your hand, a lid, laser light, ball or a store bought target stick.

  • The target stick is used to build new behaviors (including tricks) but is then phased out when the behavior is established.

  • Add your cue word ("Touch", "Paw" or whatever you choose) only when you are very confident your dog will touch the target - always get the behavior you want first, then add your cue word.

  • Once you have attached your cue word and it has meaning to your dog you should only ever click and treat a touch of the target stick when you request it.

Target Stick Troubleshooting
Dealing With Timid Or Difficult Dogs

Below are a couple of techniques you can employ if your dog is a little timid or somewhat reluctant when the target stick is produced. Most dogs won't need these extra steps and will happily touch the stick in any position.

  • Coat the end of your target stick with peanut butter, hot dog or spreadable cheese to make it more appealing to your dog.

  • Place the target stick on the floor with a tasty treat lying directly under the end of the stick. "Click" just as your dog touches the target stick to get at the treat.

  • Place a treat in your hand and cover it with the end of the target stick. As soon as your dog nudges the target stick to get at the treat be sure to "click" and release the treat. Once your dog is happy to touch the tip of the target stick when it is in your hand you can slowly slide it down away from your hand (coat it with something tasty if necessary).

Good luck with the target stick, when you're ready put your newly learned skills to good use by teaching the spin or take a bow...

Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.