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.

Key Reading

The Right Bed in the Right Spot

Resting and sleeping are not necessarily the same state. Good sleep where we feel safe and comfortable is important for us all.

Play Health Check

When we look at play or food delivery as an ACTIVITY we share the same mindset as the dog: is there pleasure to be experienced?

Since the Dawn of Dog Training

The old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right” and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.

Back to Basics?

The word “basic” is often derided as synonymous with “shallow,” but in its origins it is the very opposite: foundational, profound, supportive.

The Whole of The Dog

We cannot divide training into compartments of fast recalls, or sit for greeting, or loose leads as everything we ask of the dogs is interrelated.

Not Today and Not for My Sheepdogs

Standard protocols of extinction, impulse control, counterconditioning are quickly grabbed off the shelf as satisfactory solutions. These solutions are unlikely to help your collie, your sheepdog as the focus is heavily on suppression of who they are and why they live.

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

The Cost of Cherrypicking

When we admit that the ideas we’re sharing are derived from the work of others, we demonstrate our own commitment to learning

A Family of Multiple Dogs

Another addition is not just an extra bed and bowl. It is important to build a home that is healthy, content and well-balanced.

A Road to Nowhere

When familiarity is stripped away we seek recognisable signposts that will take us back to comfort and security. This is survival instinct. It is worth listening to as it keeps us alive.

Top Training

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

One dog watching

The other dog working
or ….how to train the spectators to quietly rest and watch whilst you work, play, teach a single member of the group

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

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

8 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
  3. Rose

    Very interesting.
    I have taught nose targets but my best dog wouldn’t do it she just whisker touched.
    The whiskers can be as sensitive as the noses.

    Reply
  4. April

    I have a puppy that just started training and they are teaching “nose touch”. I also have an autsitic daughter, for whom a dog nose touch is a big problem, so we had already been training the puppy to NOT nose touch. As soon as I got home I started looking into alternatives. Now I know “nose touch” is not so great for the dog, either. Thanks to this article, I have an alternative, “chin rest”, that will be better for the dog and my daughter!

    Reply
    • Kay Laurence

      I am so glad you have found a way forward that is good for everyone.

      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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