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The Simplest Trick in the World

One trick to rule them all!

What if I told you that you can teach your dog sit, down, come, roll over, loose leash walking, polite greetings, go to bed, stay/wait, position changes, husbandry procedures, every good manners behavior you can think of and a million and one different tricks all using one behavior that is so absurdly easy to teach it doesn't even feel like a skill at all. Plus, you can even use it to exercise your dog. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Nose Targeting

Nose targeting is teaching your dog to touch their nose to your hand or an object. That's it! Simple right? But when you teach your dog to touch their nose to your hand, you open up a world of possibilities. Here are just a few off the top of my head (and believe me, I could keep going...):

-Come towards me to touch my hand, thereby walking away from the pile of deer poop.

-Come towards me to touch my hand, thereby removing you from a tight area where a toddler was creeping up on you and your bone.

-Target my hand while we walk past this excited barking dog so you are focused on me.

-Target my hand instead of jumping up and chomping my arms and pulling my clothes when I come home.

-Target my hand into position onto a bed, stool, table, or platform or off of Grandma, the kitchen counter, the couch, or a park bench.

-Jump through this hoop to target my hand.

-Target this obejct across the room and hold your nose on it while I open the door.

-Target the end of this stick while perfectly aligned with my leg for an obedience ring heel.

-Target these nail clippers so you have a happy association with them.

Targeting is often the first behavior taught to zoo animals. It opens up a line of communication and it lays the groundwork for hundreds of other behaviors that trainers and keepers use to keep animals healthy and enrich their environments. Here's a video of a dolphin targeting a hand, a foot, and a ball!

Getting started

To teach your dog (or dolphin) nose targeting, start with a handful of treats in one hand. Rub something nice and smelly on the fingers of your other hand and hide them both behind your back. You can use a clicker for this behavior, but I find it easier to use a verbal marker since both of my hands are occupied. My verbal marker is "YESSS!" and it marks a behavior just like a clicker.

Hold out your smelly hand a few inches from your dog's nose. When they sniff it, mark with a YESSS!/click and give them a treat from your other hand. Hide both of your hands. Again, bring out your smelly hand a few inches from their nose. When they sniff it, YESSS! and give them a treat from your other hand. Gradually move your smelly hand a bit further away from your dog's nose, requiring them to take a step or two to reach it. When they're really giving you deliberate bonks on your hand, you're ready to add a cue. Say the word you'd like to use, "Nose" and hold out your hand. Just as before, mark and treat when they touch it with their nose.

Apply it to new situations

Once your dog has caught on the to game, you can up the ante and ask for more. Ask for "nose" over a longer distance, or when you're around mild distractions. Build these up into stronger behaviors so your dog will whip around and come bound towards you to touch your hand on cue, regardless of what they might be up to. Below is a video of me and my dog playing a recall/fetch game using nose targeting and corn cobs.

Ask your dog to "nose" up and off of obejcts like park benches, beds, or platforms. Ask them to "nose" through your legs, under a table, or over an obstacle. Gradually, you'll mark them for jumping rather than touching your hand and fade out the target altogether. This leaves you with a new behavior that you can put on cue!

Below is a video of my dog's finished "over" behavior without a target used at all.

Below that is my dog's finished "weave" behavior with targeting faded out.

Have fun with it!

Nose targeting is a really easy way to give your dog some exercise indoors. Ask them to "nose" at the top of the stairs and throw a treat to the bottom. Then they have to run back up to target your hand, and run to the bottom for their treat. No stairs? No problem. Just use the largest room in your house or your longest hallway.

Here's an iguana named Gus having a blast and getting exercise with his nose targeting practice:

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