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Having your dog understand a nose touch is a powerful tool that can be used to accomplish a variety of things. It is particularly useful with fearful, reactive and rambunctious dogs because it gives you a way to safely interact with the dog to remove them from furniture or get them out of undesirable situations, to distract them in stressful environments and to help them meet dogs or people in an appropriate manner. Many agility competitors will also teach their dogs to do a nose touch to a “dot” which is typically a plastic lid from a yogurt container or something similar. This makes for excellent contact training on the A-Frame, Teeter and Dog Walk. If your dog is reactive and/or aggressive, please see a reputable trainer who understands clicker training for help with your dog.

Your goal with the nose touch is to have your dog touch the palm of your hand with their nose. To accomplish this simply hold your hand a few inches away from your dog’s nose. Most dogs will have a natural inclination to reach their head forward and sniff your hand. When they sniff your hand, click and give a treat with your other hand. Once your dog consistently reaches out and touches your hand with their nose after you have clicked and treated a few times, begin moving your hand and getting your dog to follow it, eventually ending with a touch.

If your dog begins mouthing your hand, it means you are clicking and rewarding too late and your dog is becoming frustrated as a result. If your dog begins to do “phantom touches” where they do not quite touch your hand, you are clicking too soon and should wait until your dog accurately touches your hand before you click. The fussier you are with this exercise, the more accurate your dog will be with their nose touch! You can even get specific as to what part of your hand you want touched.

Once your dog can easily follow your random hand movements, you can label your dog’s action. We simply call it “touch” but as with any verbal cue you can call it whatever you would like. You can also give it different labels when you use it in different situations.  You can use it to get your dog into “heel” position next to you and to help teach them to walk next to you by holding your hand at your hip and getting your dog to follow it as you walk, clicking and rewarding when your dog is nice and close. You can also use it to safely get feisty fidos off furniture. To do so, first get the dog to follow your hand up onto the furniture, click and reward, then get them to follow your hand target off the furniture, click and reward. If your dog enjoys guarding the furniture, this will be effective but you must make sure you have built up a significant reward history with the nose touch before introducing it in these situations because it will have to outweigh the value of the comfy couch, bed or chair. You should spend at least three weeks working on developing a solid nose touch before using it in this type of situation.

The nose touch is also effective when dealing with reactive dogs who do not like encountering strangers (people and other dogs) on their walks. Once you have built significant value for the nose touch in a low distraction environment, you can take your show on the road and start to use it to distract your dog from incoming strangers if they have a tendency to meltdown. To do so, simply ask your dog to touch your hand the instant they see an incoming stranger, before they have a chance to react and then calmly get them to follow your hand target in the opposite direction, across the street or up a nearby driveway to create distance between your dog and the offensive passer-by so your dog will be more comfortable. You can then continue to ask for a nose touch as the person and/or dog is passing by to help keep your dog happy and calm. If your dog does have a meltdown they are simply too close to the thing they don’t like and the next time you will know to provide them with more distance. Gradually you should be able to get closer to the stranger and your dog should be able to stay calm because they will associate the stranger with a fun game of hand targeting.

If your dog is a bit shy with strange people or dogs but not reactive, you can use the nose touch to help boost their confidence by giving them a new way to interact with strangers. You can label the nose touch as “go say hi” and instruct approaching strangers to present their open hand to your dog. Your dog should approach, touch the stranger’s hand with their nose and when you click, come back to you for their reward. You can also experiment and see if they will take the reward from the stranger so your dog will develop even more of a positive association with their new friend. When you are dealing with a new dog, preferably one who is confident and calm, you can instruct your dog to “go say hi” and then place your hand near the hind end of the dog to help your dog perform a polite meet and greet. Again, once you click your dog will likely come back to you for a reward so if your dog presents some lovely greeting rituals on their own, do not interrupt it with your clicker. Eventually, you can fade your hand target out of the situation and simply ask your dog to “go say hi.”

If you are interested in learning more about why targets are so effective, there is an excellent section in Karen Pryor’s recent book “Reaching the Animal Mind” that discusses in detail why targets work to help animals cope with stressful situations.

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One of the greatest challenges clicker trainers face is making the technique palatable to the average dog owner. Most dogs seem to get it right away. A few well timed clicks paired with a valuable reward and it is easy to get a bouncy, pouncy pooch to sit calmly and focused next to you. On the flip side, most people take years to learn the intricacies of timing, reward schedules and all of the terminology that accompanies research that dates back to Pavlov’s dogs.

Since the inception of the Clicker Leash Co., our primary focus has been to boil clicker training down to concepts that can be understood and applied by the everyday pet owner in five minutes or less. We have attended numerous trade shows and expos where we have been competing with countless other products and dog training techniques.  Often we have 30 seconds or less to get people’s attention and peak their interest before they move on to the next tantalizing booth.

We have found the key to reaching most people is to stay away from the jargon that we and other fellow “dog geeks” (we use the term affectionately and with pride) love to throw around. We have broken the years of science down into a few simple concepts. “If you like it, click it” is one of our favourite phrases that we use to explain how to use a clicker. Instead of taking hours to explain the four quadrants of learning theory to people, we sum things up with this one pivotol sentence. The concept is simple and it is catchy so it will stick in people’s heads much easier than positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. We try to use lots of real life, human examples when we explain our training methods so people can quickly visualize and relate to what we are saying.

We also focus on the emotional aspects of clicker training. Let’s face it, this is why most people fall in love with the technique. It enriches the bond people share with their dogs. Because it is such an effective training tool, clickers make people feel a great sense of pride in their dog. Clicker training builds respect and trust into our relationships and this is key to winning people over from dominance-based camps. Dog ownership is evolving into dog parenting and people are looking for ways to train their dogs without using fear and harsh corrections.

Please leave a comment and share your ideas on how to quickly and effectively relay the benefits of clicker training and positive reinforcement to the average dog owner so we can all learn from each other. Together we can make dog-friendly techniques mainstream and relegate punishment and dominance-based methods to a corner of the past!

The queen of clicker training, Karen Pryor, released her new book “Reaching the Aninal Mind” yesterday and the launch garnered her a spot on Good Morning America. Kudos Karen! If you missed the show you can watch it here.  Karen demonstrated clicker training with a bouncy five-month-old Golden Retriever puppy who had been recently adopted by one of the show’s staff members. She worked with the puppy for ten minutes the day before and taught it a nose touch on her hand, explaining that this was a foundation behavior that could be used to get the pup to go wherever you would like without using force. She had the puppy jump onto the couch and then jump off (it was very good at jumping on her too!).

We are happy Karen got the exposure that she did for clicker training but we would have liked to have seen a clearer explanation as to how people can incorporate it into their everyday lives and all of the benefits that come with this method like the enriched bond it forms between human and canine, the speed with which animals learn, the safety of clicker training and the fact that you don’t always have to use food treats to reward the dog. The host even made a comment about all of the treats and the dog getting fat. In our opinion, this is one of the greatest obstacles for clicker training. People who don’t understand conditioned responses and the fact that you gradually eliminate your rewards when you use clicker training argue that the dog isn’t working for the person, they are just working for the food. It is important that people know they can use ANYTHING the animal wants or needs to make clicker training work for them and this point was not driven home. If you control the resources, you control the dog.

Could Karen have won over a lot of dominance-based trainers and people who love dog whispering by explaining that a clicker helps them control the resources in their dog’s life thus making the person important to the dog? We have found that when you use clicker training, you become the gateway to wonderful things which helps instil a great deal of respect between you and your dog. Hopefully this is just the beginning of clicker training’s journey into the mainstream and as we all get more practiced at speaking with the media we will be able to clearly get our key messages across and make an impact on the general dog owning public.