A target is any object that an animal must touch with any part of its body. Often, target training can help in shaping many behaviors. You may remember my post on husbandry? In it I had Lucas trained to touch and keep his nose on a target (a tennis ball on the end of a stick) in order for me to be able to clean his wounded ear. Or perhaps my post on Incompatible Behaviors? Where I had Lucas touch his nose to a target (a wooden heart on a stall wall) so that I could safely walk into his stall with food.
A target can not only help in daily life with an animal, but it can also help in shaping new behaviors. As an example, a target like a ball at the end of a stick can help train an animal to turn in a circle. They learn to touch the ball with their nose and you slowly shape that into following the ball around. Eventually, you can phase out the target altogether, because well, the animal eventually catches on and doesn’t need the aid of the target.
Targets also help animals like dolphins, when learning new jumping behaviors. Sometimes the stadium will hang a large buoy or ball way up in the air. The dolphin is trained to touch this ball. It’s a tool to help it know exactly where and how high it needs to jump. Eventually, the trainers remove this ball and the dolphin performs the jump without its presence. Ever see a trainer send off a dolphin to perform a
jump and notice someone else tap the water at a certain location? Or throw an ice cube at a certain point in the tank? This is a target as well. It directs the animal to know exactly where it should perform the behavior.
Even your hand can be used as a target. You don’t need any fancy tools. Teach your dog to give you a high 5? That’s a target behavior. The dog has learned to touch your hand with its own paw.
© Semi Charmed Life
This post is part of the A to Z Challenge