Targeting. Part II.

Turning the Targetting Game Into The Go-Out.

Originally appeared in the August 1998 ESAA Newsletter

At this point in your training, Spot should be running to the target in a STRAIGHT line, eating the treat from the target and then immediately getting another treat from you. There are two reasons for you to be meeting the dog at the target with a treat:

  1. To keep Spot from turning and moving back toward you.
  2. To keep Spot from vacuuming the floor.

If Spot is weaving or searching for the target, you have increased the distance between him and the target too rapidly. To solve the problem, decrease the distance and continue building it up at a slower rate. Use the same remedy if the dog is not "marking" the target. When you are getting good distance go-outs Spot consistently, you are ready to proceed to Step 4.

Step 4. Adding the Turn and Sit.

Adding the turn and sit is relatively easy. Send your dog to the target as usual following from behind with a treat in your hand. As the dog nears the target, have the dog get the treat on the target. You need to time your approach so that you are about two steps from the dog when he finishes eating the treat. Immediately, use the dog's name (this should cause the dog to turn toward you) and give your sit command. Reward the sit with the food treat. If necessary use the food as a lure to get the sit. The position of your body is important. You need to give the dog enough room to turn completely around but not be so far that the dog is able to move away from the target toward you. When the dog is turning and sitting on your verbal command without any luring or physical help, you can slowly increase the distance that you are from the target when you give the sit command. The dog should not move away from the target toward you before sitting. If this happens, repeat the exercise decreasing the distance you are from the target when you ask for the sit. When the dog is in the sit, go give the dog a treat. Remind the dog to stay in the sit until verbally released. Continue to SLOWLY increase your distance from the target until you are not moving from your original position. Thoughout this whole process, you are still telling the dog to get the treat before you sit the dog.

Step 5. Incorporating Variable Rewards.

At this point you need to start removing the food reward from the target. Sometimes there will be food on the target and sometimes there won't be food on the target. The first time you don't put food on the target, you need to follow the dog to the target. As the dog approaches the target, don't give the "get it" command. Instead, tell Spot to turn and sit. You will be right there to reward the sit because you do not want to give Spot the option to search for the food. Again slowly increase your distance from the target (you should be able to use larger increments this time). Vary how often you put food on the target. Remember to give the "get it" command any time you want the dog to eat food off the target. When you can consistently get the dog to go in a straight line, turn and sit on command without you moving, you are ready to move to Step 6. If you have a dog that insists on grabbing the food off of the target despite your commands, put your food in a food tube (one of the aquarium tubes I talked about a while ago). The dog may snatch the tube, but he cannot self-reward. If he grabs the tube, take it from him, drop it back on the ground and have the dog turn and sit. Go back to the beginning and send the dog. When the dog turns and sits on command, give him your treat and then reach down, pick up the tube and allow him to eat the treat from the tube. Hopefully, before long the dog will learn that only when he follows your instructions will he earn a treat.

Step 6. The Hidden Target

Once the dog has learned to go in a straight line and turn and sit on command, you need to make the target invisible. My target is always available (out of sight) during a training session even when the dog is competing in utility. This allows me a mild correction for a dog doing a short or off-line go-out. If Spot makes a mistake, he can be taken to the target and shown that he could have earned a reward if he had not made the mistake.

To fade the target, go back to following your dog. Place a baited target directly in front of the dog but obscured from the dog's vision. The target can be obscured under ring matting, by pushing it down under the surface of the grass, or by switching to a target that the dog can't see at a distance (say something transparent or colored the same as your working surface). Send the dog, follow him out and do the turn and sit as close to the target as practical without the dog being able to see it. Do not let the dog search for the target. Give him a treat then release him to get the treat off the target. If the dog doesn't go in a straight line, help him by taking him to the target and showing him the treat. Make sure the target is again out of sight, go back to your original starting point and try again. If necessary you can help the dog build confidence by making the target only partly obscured and making it smaller and smaller on successive go-outs. Once the dog has the idea, you do not need to let him get a reward from the target each time. Do the out of sight targetting until you can do a full go-out without moving from your original position. Eventually, you should bait the target only very occasionally. You should wean off the treats that you give the dog for the sit. On a full length go-out, after the dog has turned and sat, always go-out to him. Sometimes he may get a treat for the "sit stay", sometimes he will get just praise and petting, sometimes he may get to play with a toy. The dog should not move from the sit until you release him. Be very unpredictable in how you end the exercise.

You should not incorporate the go-out into any other exercise until it is proofed and polished. Next time, I'll talk about proofing and other things you can do with the go-out. Have fun.

Direct suggestions, comments, and questions about this page to Arlene Courtney,
Last Modified November 4, 1998