Right on Target

headdownQ. My first agility dog, a Schnauzer called Elvis, always missed his contacts. I have a new Schnauzer puppy, Poppy, and I don’t want her to follow in Elvis’s footsteps! I’ve been doing my homework – reading about different training methods and quizzing different agility handlers. She loves the clicker. What target behavior on the contacts do you recommend?

A. There are a number of target behaviors that you can teach Poppy while she is a puppy. All you need is the lid from a tube of chips or cookies, your clicker and lots of treats. When Poppy is older and starts learning the agility obstacles, she will be a step ahead. She’ll see her lid at the bottom of the A-frame and know exactly what she is supposed to do when she reaches it. These are my favorite target behaviors… (click below to read more)

Peck and Go Hold the lid in your hand and teach Poppy to touch it with her nose on a command like “touch” or “Target”. Slowly lower the target to the ground and continue to click and treat when she gives a nose touch. Practice pecking in different places. The kitchen, the yard, the parking lot at agility training. Will Poppy run to the lid and peck it? Excellent. Try running on the left and right with Poppy to the target. She has to get accustomed to seeing you running by her side. What about if you run ahead of her? She still must peck and catch you up. No peck, no reward. Finally, if you command when the lid is in your pocket, will Poppy start pecking the ground like a chicken? Good! Quick click the pecking action and give her a treat.

Go to sleep You can also train Poppy to lie down and put her head on the lid. If she already has a nose touch, tell Poppy to lie down and place the target between her front legs. She will touch it with her chin as it is nearly impossible to touch it with her nose in that position, so click and treat. By withholding her click and reward, you can slowly extend the time she has her chin on her target. Teach Poppy a command like “Head” or “Chin” and get her to hold this position until she hears a release word. Dogs look so cute, as if they are about to say ‘night, night’. Get her used to you running on either side or ahead. And fade her target. Will she put her chin to the ground when it’s no longer there?

Teach Poppy both the “peck and go” and the “go to sleep.” When you start agility training in earnest, you’ll have a choice if you decide to ask for a target performance at the bottom of the contact. You’ll never be able to take your lid into the competition ring, but if at any time you think Poppy is not performing well, you can reintroduce it to your training program.

Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
Visit Mary Ann at http://www.aslanagility.com/

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3 Comments on “Right on Target

  1. My 3.5 year old Mini Poodle and I have been learning agility since June. She is doing very well and we’ve already competed in one NADAC trial with success. However, she’s getting fast and starting to blow contacts. Could the method you outlined above for puppy contact training also be used to introduce the contact for an older dog?

  2. Very timely advise since I have a new puppy. I will start some target practice since I plan on a stopped dog walk.