Nose Target. No thanks

by | Nov 8, 2018

Did I teach this 20 years ago? Oh yes.

Do I teach it now? Nope.

Advancing our skills, knowledge and understanding is about learning more, adding depth and changing what we do and what we teach. Advanced training is rarely about increase complexity but exploring the complexities that are within simple behaviours.

Nose target is permanently off my “would teach” list

Nose targeting where the dog presses, or bumps, their nose to the palm of the open hand or fingers is a commonly taught, regularly employed activity.

It is used to bring the dog close to hand contact, teach nose-first behaviours and husbandry. Its history goes back to the earliest days of clicker training as an example of targeting, with an easy-to-teach attraction.

I suspect it evolved from the exotic and marine mammal training, especially with sea lions – I am in awe of their exquisite neck muscles to achieve the balance point.

I am sure this is a familiar sight, along with games where the ball is thrown at the animal who nose-butts it back again. I have visited collections where the animals are regularly introduced to guests. The safety protocol to keep teeth away from guest was the long duration nose target.

The structure of the sea lions’ nose and a dog’s nose is different. Dogs cannot close their nostrils and often take considerable effort to protect this delicate and important organ from damage.

When a dog is burying a bone, the soil is pushed with the top or bridge of the nose. Not directly against the nostrils.

When I see one of the dogs playfully poke another dog with their nose, it is the lips covering the teeth that engage in the effort, not the nostrils.

For whose benefit?

We cannot excuse the process with “he doesn’t seem to mind” where the potential treat on offer and the training history outweigh any discomfort. Dogs, men and small children can all be manipulated to engage in stupidity for a short-term rewards without awareness of the long-term consequences.

Boxers (as a sport not a breed of dog), get their faces punched on a regular basis and I suppose the short-term consequences support the “he doesn’t mind” reasoning, without the acknowledgement of the long-term effects. But I would mind. I have experienced the uprising dog as I bent over and I know it is super painful.

There is a fashion to teach the heads-up heelwork with this nose contact to hand for extensive duration. Apart from it presenting an uncomfortable, nose squishing learning process it ONLY positions the head of the dog.

The trainer rarely sees that it does not allow for natural free movement and balance.

I regularly see:

~ compromised action (when the hand is too high and the dog’s front legs are flailing) or

~ compressed vertebrae around the neck and upper back (when the hand is too low),

~ and the greater extreme where there is limited flexibility in the spine, a dog walking in a half sitting position.

Target training is an exquisite process used to build accurate, detailed, complex or simple behaviours to every animal, but it also needs thoughtfulness and skill to engage safely.

Many protocols or methods are now coming under the “I only train with positive reinforcement” label, but there is a gradual inclusion of the knowledge being used to manipulate dogs into behaviours that are not for their individual benefit but purely to serve the desires of the person.

Training for dog-sports has often included a high cost to the animal, and we can now include Cool Dog Trick Videos as the new sport that compromises animal welfare. The dogs most easily manipulated? Colloquially labelled as “high drive”.

Targets are REALLY cool

Learning how to teach and use targets as straight forward, unambiguous cues for the dog is at the centre of thoughtful training.

There is a rich range of uses where we can bring awareness to the dog of their own body, through isolation or immobility or enhanced movement.

Stationing

A location, usually in association with an object where the whole body is held stationary, or “on station”. I use platforms.

Isolation

Training a specific part to hold position whilst another part of the dog is trained to a different target or movement. This is perfect for developing proprioception skills, self-awareness, physical rehabilitation.

Husbandry with chin rests

This enables a maintained stillness of the head, with a free hand for treatment. It can be transferred to an object, such as a mouse mat, which can be placed on a chair, or a person’s leg, floor when lying down etc.

Follow this

We can teach a visual target so that the dog learns to follow and move freely without nose-squishing.

Targets are one of the most versatile ways of communicating, from mice to giraffe. Learning good target teaching skills is at the very core of thoughtful training.

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Key Reading

The Experienced Dog

Knowing your dog has receive sufficient preparation does not mean every eventuality, but a range of different conditions so that when the unexpected happens they will draw on their skills and solve the issue.

The Value of Experience

The non-experienced, or current generation of imposters, have attended a course, read a book, got a certificate and have yet to gain experience to deepen their knowledge or understanding of the subject, protocol, method …

Chasm opening up?

The more I see “sit, down, come, stay heel” as the essential basics the more I am moving further away from the general view of living with dogs.

Normal is always changing

What was normal in training 20 or 40 years ago is not the same today. There are folk persistently maintaining the normal of 1976, but fortunately there are enough folk with a deeper understanding of the processes that have moved normal forwards.

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

What is a Trainer?

I know what I am, as a trainer. But does my view of “A Trainer” coincide with, or even overlap with yours?

A Cue or not a cue?

With thoughtful planning and a good understanding of the relevance of antecedent selection we can teach the dog the skills of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding the bones of the exercise. This skill is critical to being able to distinguish between distractions, which are just cues for an alternative reward opportunity, and cues which signify a guarantee of success.

When we train a dog it grows

Most training starts from necessity. Management is a necessity but it usually benefits all parties by a reduction of conflict. Are they expanding their skills to benefit us or for their benefit?

Heartbeat of living with dogs

I like to regard a “teacher of dogs” as someone who meets dogs in their world and teaches them how to be their best whilst living alongside us in our world.

The choice of lure

Luring teaches trainers essential skills. We learn how to use suggestion and guidance to shape behaviours. We learn how to explain dynamic movement in the cues from our hands. In combination with reinforcement, luring has without doubt, been one of the skills I value most as a trainer.

Top Training

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.

Preparation

Preparing before you train and the final check list

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers

Luring: Hand lures

Learning hand-lure skills, Collect the food, engage, follow, feed.

Duration: sustaining movement

Continuing and maintaining a specific movement

Cue Seeking

Being an active learner and seeking opportunities for more rewards

5 Comments

  1. Shona Moon

    Just want to learn as much as I can to become a better teacher and dog guardian.

    Reply
    • K Laurence

      Exciting times!

      Reply
      • Amy

        How would you teach a dog to push a ball for treibball without a nose target? ( Mine trys to push with an open mouth and I’d rather not damage teeth or ball!)

        Reply
        • Kay Laurence

          I don’t teach treibball …. for that reason.

          Reply
  2. Monica

    Thank you for consistently stepping out of the”commonly accepted, good enough, “ to allow us to look with fresh eyes and new perspectives!

    Reply

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  1. Target Training for Horses: Hit or Miss? | The Summer 2020 IAABC Journal - […] Laurence, K. (2018) Nose Target? No Thanks! Learning About Dogs Blog […]

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