4 min read

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.

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.

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.

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.

TARGET FOUNDATIONS

Learn target acquisition (it is not as military as that sounds!) through shaping and luring and teach: chin target, stationing, the visual follow, and paw isolation.

EarlyBird Discount 15%, plus Members discounts

2 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

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More articles to browse and enjoy:

What can’t you teach with a target?

Targets are, by essence, pro-active openers. They are not used to associate something to keep away from, but something to seek and respond to. Targets are gateways to rewards and are greeted with enthusiasm and confidence.
Targets are often a lifetime of language or they can be a temporary step to a future cue. What they should always be is thoughtful, pro-active and for the welfare of the learner.

Treats for life?

The whole collective of rewards, or reinforcers, serves a purpose of ensuring that the tasks just completed keep getting completed. The task may tolerate a lapse of memory, but you will soon find that door smacked in your face if you stop acknowledging the courtesy offered to you by a stranger, friend or acquaintance.

When you lose something

The moment the alarm sounded, Dolce was nosing the blankets off me and, unless cued otherwise, would nose me until I got up in a fit of laughter. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

Stop doing that ….

Can we an effective Cease That Behaviour? Absolutely. We can teach that positively, without harm, and we should teach them the skills of stopping that and doing this instead.

One day you will love him again

The puppy that you adored, could do no wrong, is now a living horror story. We want to use positive reinforcement, and our mind focuses on the success of what is not happening. But reinforcement attaches itself to something happening, not an absence and cannot select for a multitude of different things that are being reinforced.

Nose Target. No thanks

Nose target is a popular behaviour taught to many dogs, and other animals. It seems easy to teach and have practical application, but it is often not such a pleasant experience for all dogs. There are many other options available that give the same practical benefit, without the unpleasant extremes.

Clean Training

Clean training is about really clear communication between two different species. Both listening and learning during the interaction. An exchange that leaves no doubts, no confusion and no uncertainty. A check list for clean training.

Release cue or stay cue

Many of us begin with teaching sit or down, and this is one of the earliest experiences of training with reinforcement. From this point forward we are setting a pattern of the delivery of reinforcement. It needs questions to be answered before we embark. Is the sit, or down, going to be a terminal behaviour, or a temporary position?

What is important … ?

… when your dog is sick and fearful? If you have a dog who is sick and fearful you can feel lost and alone. The weight of opinion, expectation and information can be overwhelming. What is right? What is true? What is best? Throughout this journey I have allowed my ethics to guide me. The individual who is Merlin is at the heart of every choice I make.

Think carefully

We cannot presume a cue is a reinforcer unless we can shape a new behaviour using that cue as the marker. Read carefully. Think carefully. Consider multiple perspectives. Sometimes it seems easier to let someone else do the thinking for you and just copy, but we need to become thoughtful trainers.

Get in touch

2 + 15 =