Teaching a dog to ‘target’ your hand or something in your hand gives you an exercise that can help a fearful dog practice behaviors, like approaching people, more easily. In this video you will see how I used targeting to help Sunny practice coming to me, which was not an easy behavior for him to perform. In exchange for getting a frisbee tossed Sunny was willing to come to me, even when he still was not able to come to me in other situations when called. Targeting is part of the play for Sunny.
Here is another example of teaching a shy dog to do something, in exchange for a treat. In this case, some processed cheese goo licked off my finger. It’s a way dogs can learn to communicate with people.
The video below shows how I took hand targeting to the next level by asking Sunny to target the hands of people in exchange for a treat. In one of our last obedience classes he was able to target the hand of everyone in the class, including a man and young boy, both of which are humans he is not comfortable with. Sunny is not forced to target people’s hands, and once he touches them he can back away from them, receiving his treat from me. NEVER encourage your dog to approach someone to target or for a treat if they show any reluctance to do so! Targeting is a game for Sunny.
I use targeting in a variety of ways. I used it to help Sunny practice the behavior of approaching me. I use it to introduce new objects to him or to get him to be in a certain position. I also used it to help desensitize to hands moving around his head or toward him.
Triggers are whatever scares or upset a dog. Sunny’s main triggers are people and that includes my husband who Sunny has lived with for years. Food rewards are not as important for Sunny as play rewards are, so my husband uses frisbee tossing to help Sunny feel better about having him around.
Nibbles is not comfortable being handled. Here is how I used desensitization and counter conditioning to change how he feels about hands reaching for him.
In the following video you’ll see how Sunny has learned to be more comfortable with my niece Sarah. By putting Sunny in situations in which he has fun things to focus on like running in the woods or chasing sticks, it is easier for him to be around people. It is important to notice that Sunny has a choice to move away from Sarah if he wants to. He is not encouraged to do anything that appears to increase his anxiety around people.
Nosework is a great way for dogs to use their brains and learn new skills and develop more confidence
In this video Sunny’s comfort with our neighbor has increased, aided by a high value food reward.
Before being able to come when called Sunny learned to wait for me to go to him so I could put a leash on him.
Sunny survived a 477 dog hoarding site discovered after the hurricanes in 2005. I met him at Camp Katrina but did not realize how fearful he was until he arrived at my home in Vermont. I believe that Sunny was born at the hoarder’s compound and was not handled by people for the first year of his life.