What is a target stick?
Target sticks are dog training tools, and they can be anything from a wand or laser pointer to a brightly colored neon one you buy at the pet supply store.
They are always used with some kind of marker, whether it’s a clicker or verbal one, such as the word “yes.”
The basic premise is that you use the target stick to get the dog to focus, using positive reinforcement. One she focuses, and makes contact, with the stick you can use it to teach her basic commands or more advanced, fun and innovative tricks.
Appropriate for all breeds, target stick training can be fun for the entire family. Be sure, however, to teach your kids that it’s a training tool and not a plaything. Especially with those neon ones, kids may be tempted to wave and throw them, but then the dog will see it as a signal to run, jump or mouth.
Sometimes circumstances will make it difficult for a person to use the target stick, for instance, if the owner is wheelchair-bound, or has trouble holding both the target stick and the clicker. In those cases, obviously teaching commands with hand gestures are more desirable.
Here are some basic guidelines:
• Timing is everything! Once the dog makes contact, immediately click or say “yes.” The treat should come no more than a minute or two later. “The biggest mistake people make is the lack of timing,” said Certified Dog Trainer Shelby Semel who specializes in positive reinforcement training.
Semel continues: “If your timing is off once or twice, it’s easily correctible. But if you’re off more than 5 times, the dog will get confused and the sessions won’t be successful.
• As in all training, keep sessions short. Two or three minutes will do.
• Keep a stick and treat handy so you can add some impromptu sessions to build confidence and reinforce learning.
• Observe the dog for signs of understanding such as a happy, quick tail wag, bright eyes or a big doggy smile.