Clicker Training Guide
Part 3: Target Training With A Clicker

Target training with a clicker is very easy and fun. Every time I teach this skill to dogs they go crazy about it! I don't know what it is, but they love to target. Maybe cause it is something easy, and yet it can be incredible useful to advance other commands.

You already know how to Charge the Clicker, you can also clicker train your pet using Free Shaping, now it's time to introduce your canine friend to a target! A target is nothing more than your hand or an object that your dog has to touch with his nose.

This technique will speed the training because you will be using it as a prompt to lead your dog in the right direction. As I mentioned before, dogs love to target and some fearful dogs will relax around strangers if they are asked to target.

You can teach your dog to couch any object with his nose or even his paw...or any part of his body. Nose to hand is the easiest way, I recommend you start with it and then move on to target other things.

Make a Target

You can use anything as a target. Start with one thing, like your hand but then use several different things to help your dog learn the command "touch" better. If you teach a dog to "touch" your hand, and then all of sudden ask him to "touch" something else, he most likely won't be able to do it. They can't generalize the concept as easily as humans do. That is why it is important to practice target training with a clicker with several objects. But only move on to the next one after your dog has learn one.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Your hand
  • Your fingertip
  • Any long item such as a wooden spoon or a pencil
  • Laser pointers are great!
  • Paper shapes you can stick anywhere. Post-it notes are great for this!
  • Make your own homemade circus target with a long wooden kabob stick and a Styrofoam ball glued at the top. Paint it with flashy colors!
  • Eventually your dog will learn that "touch" means touch whatever I point to...so anything can become your target!
Target training with a clickerYou can use the pal of your hand or a fist.

Target training with a clicker: "Touch" Command

Step 1: Get your dog to touch an object

Courtesy of blumenbiene.

To start with target training with a clicker, your pet needs to touch the target for the first time. You will use Capturing.

Get yourself ready with clicker in hand, treat bag nearby and your target.

Move the object a little bit to call your dog's attention to it. Most dogs will get close to it and smell it. If this happens....Click and Treat!

If your pooch is not getting near the target try rubbing some food on it so it smells good!

Repeat this sequence many times:

  1. Present the Target.
  2. Dog touches it with his nose.
  3. Click and Treat!
  4. Move it to a different location.
  5. Dog touches it with his nose.
  6. Click and Treat!
  7. repeat...

Your canine friend is ready to move on to the next step when you present the target (at least 10 inches away from him) and he touches it 80% of the time (8 out 10 times you present it).

Step 2: Cut down on treats!

Next for target training with a clicker, we need to make things a little bit harder.

You will only click and treat 7 out 10 correct touches! The 3 you are not rewarding with a click and a treat can be rewarded verbally (Marker Word) or physically (petting).

The idea is to get the animal used to the fact that sometimes he won't get a food treat but other times he will! This will keep your dog guessing and trying harder and harder each time.

Your dog is ready to move on to the next step when he is still motivated to touch the object even though you are only giving a food reward 7 out 10 correct times!

Step 3: Add the command "Touch"

Now with target training with a clicker it is time your dog learns to respond to the verbal cue.

  1. Clearly say "Touch".
  2. Click and treat your dog's next response (You will Click and treat for every good response!)
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 several times!
  4. If he does the behavior without you saying the command- Ignore it!
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 until your pet is only responding after you say "Touch".
  6. Once the behavior is on command, stop using the clicker. Use a marker word instead (that way you don't need to carry the clicker with you everywhere!)

Your dog is ready to move on to the next step when you say "Touch" and he touches the target 80% of the time (8 out 10 times you present it).

Step 4: Cut down on treats!

Now it's time to cut back on treats. Reward only 5-7 out 10 correct responses. Start slowly, first only missing 1 out of 10, then 2 and so on.

Step 5: Use a different target!

So far your canine friend only knows that "touch" means to touch with his nose a specific object. We want him to start learning that touch means "touch anything I point to or I present to you!"

To do this you will repeat steps 1-4 with a different target!

Then do it again with yet another one!

Repeat with different targets until you see that your dog is "getting it".

Your dog understands the command "touch" when you present a NEW target and he touches it 80% of the time (8 out 10 times you present it).

Hand made target stick for clicker trainingPhoto courtesy of Outer Banks SPCA Volunteer. At the shelter they look for different ways to enhance enrichment for their dogs. This is a hand made target with a clicker attached to it.

Step 6: Make "Touch" reliable

Dogs are really bad at generalizing a concept. This means that when you teach your pooch to "touch" at home, he might not understand that touch means touch anywhere or in any situation!

The solution: target training with a clicker in as many different places and as many different circumstances as possible.

Read "How to train a reliable dog command" for detailed information.

Use "Touch" as a prompt

You are now ready to use targeting with a clicker to teach your dog many different behaviors!

  • Use targeting instead of Luring!

Instead of using a food lure to move your pet around and get him to sit, down, spin or sit pretty use a target! Your dog can now eagerly follow it, so move your dog around with it!

Shaping can sometimes take a lot of time, specially if your dog is not an expert! Use a target to get your dog moving in the right direction or ask him to touch a particular item you want him to learn about.

Fade away the target while putting the behavior on cue

Target training with a clicker is simply a tool to speed up training. Once you get the behavior you want going you need to fade away the target and put the behavior on cue!

Read the article on "Target Training Technique" for more information.

Troubleshooting Target Training with a Clicker

  • I have to get the target really close to my dog for him to touch it!

Your canine friend must get close to the object himself! I know it is hard to sit and wait for him to approach the target, but if you move it closer to his nose, you are not sending the right signals! All your pooch will learn is that if he sits long enough, you will bring the target to him and give him a treat when he touches it! What a deal!

Be patient, you can always use Shaping and reward your dog for getting closer and closer to the target!

  • My dog bites me every time I offer my hand to touch!

Some dogs are a little over excited about this game and may use try to touch you with their mouth open. If this happens, simply say "Ah-Ah" and take your hand away. Offer it again but approach slowly, AS SOON AS your dog approaches with his nose click and treat! You must catch your dog touching you, before he opens his mouth.


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