Using Targeting for Backing and Laterals

Shari & Jace

by Shari (Carolina Canine Freestyle Guild, NC)

Primarily I use capturing and free-shaping for teaching Jace’s freestyle behaviors. However, with backing and lateral movements Jace often offers these behaviors with such enthusiasm that he ends up going every which way. I am having difficulty getting him to perform these movements consistently and in one of the reference positions (e.g., heel or front). My lack of skill in teaching behavior this way is a large part of the problem, but over time neither of us has improved.

Although it’s fun to watch Jace zoom out moving backwards or sideways, the unpredictability of the direction he takes makes for a significant challenge in putting the behavior on cue, performing it in the context of a reference position, and adding it to the choreography. Jace already knows how to move backwards and laterally, but I thought maybe I could use a target to get these behaviors a bit more predictable.

For the lateral, I started by teaching Jace a left shoulder target to my right hand. Once he understood he got the click for touching his shoulder to my hand, I slowly increased the distance he had to move. Soon he was moving laterally into my hand. I clicked poorly and a little early on the last move, but it does show Jace crossing his front and rear feet as he moves laterally.

When I stood up it was difficult to lean over and move laterally while trying to get him to target my hand. So, I transferred the hand target to a fly swatter. This was done in small increments by putting the fly swatter part in my hand then slowly inching my way up the handle. Soon he was targeting the fly swatter with his shoulder.

Sky is helping me with the rear foot target for backing before I try it with Jace. Jace flies backward so fast I am not sure I will be able to be accurate in clicking to teach him the target. I used a crate pad on a matted floor so there is contrast in the floor surface. I set Sky up in front of the target. I clicked and gave him a cookie each time one of his rear feet touched the target. Soon, he was backing up a several steps.

The key to success in using targets is to ask for very small movements (e.g., ¼ inch) to the target at first, then slowly increase the distance. Sky’s rear foot target gives a rough idea on how to slowly increase distance to a target. If at any point the dog is not successful, go back to where the dog was successful and again slowly increase the distance to the target.

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