A favorite training tool of mine is the pole target. There are many commercial target poles available for purchase including fold-up poles, rigid poles and retractable telescoping poles. There is even a telescoping pole complete with a built in clicker for the individual who wants to use the clicker training method. Target training has been very successfully used with all animals, domestic and exotic and is used in zoos and aquariums, as well as domestic animals like dogs, cats, horses and parrots.
There are three general types of targets; stationary, hand, and pole (moving) targets. The pole target is very useful for teaching dogs many things and I tell clients to consider it an extension of their arm.
Examples of behaviors that can be taught using a pole target include:
Walking beside you
Leading the dog away from something or towards something
Leading a dog into a crate or kennel
Teaching sit and down without bending
Teaching twirl, crawl and other tricks
Helping with agility
In my volunteer work training assistance dogs and holding therapy dog classes, I have found the target pole very useful in teaching dogs to walk within a certain proximity to things like wheelchairs, and to go under a table and lie down. The target pole can also be used to help teach dogs to switch lights on and off.
For some purposes the target pole will be ultimately faded and for teaching something you want to fade you would choose a telescoping pole. Target poles provide directed movement of the animal. Teaching a dog to follow a pole target is fun and easy. Following these steps will help you teach your dog:
Hold the pole away from your body to your side and your dog will have a very natural curiosity and approach to touch the end with his/her nose and as soon as that occurs praise/click and treat.
Repeat 3 times. Now overlay a cue when you do this by saying something like “touch”.
The next step will be to hold the pole and cue “touch” and as your dog approaches move a few (3) steps so that your dog has to follow the pole to touch it. Praise/click and treat.
Gradually increase the distance a little bit every day and do not over-do it. You want to stop while your dog is still interested.
Now test and see if your dog will follow the target pole and go into a kennel or crate, walk next to you, be guided onto his/her place or bed.
Tricks and fun things:
Cue your dog to “touch” and begin to move the pole in a circle and name this “twirl”.
Teach your dog to down and then with the tip of the pole on the floor directly in front of the nose cue “touch” and move it just a little away from the dog and your dog should move towards the pole while in the down position. Don’t go too fast or too far to start and name this “crawl”.
Teach your dog to follow the target pole under a table to lie down beginning for very short periods of time and be sure to praise/click and treat. Very gradually work up to being able to drink a beverage and eat something small like a cookie. Continue from there and soon your dog will lie under a table like an assistance dog.
Debbie Winkler, CABC, CPDT is the owner of Humane Domain in Sykesville, MD. Debbie is an animal behavior consultant, trainer and educator with a career spanning more than 25 years. Debbie can be reached at 410-549-1135 for questions or to schedule a training session.