Other than clickers themselves, target sticks are one of the most versatile training aids available. With a target stick you can teach your dog to move to particular locations, into cars, over jumps, retrieve objects by name, close doors, switch on/off lights and of course heel work (even to music!).
What is a target stick?
A target stick is a long lightweight stick, usually made of aluminium. For ease of carrying, they are also usually foldable or extendable.
What are the basic principles of target sticks?
A target stick provides one of the most effective training tools available. The principle is that once you are able to train your dog to touch the end of the Target Stick, you can then easily train them to follow the target stick. Once they can follow the Target Stick, you are well on your way to being able to complete many other training exercises.
What else do I need to consider before starting?
If you are not familiar with clicker training, try reading our article What is Clicker Training before continuing. As usual keep the training sessions to 3-4 minutes and repeat several times a day. Ensure you have your Clicker and plenty of training Treats in your Treat Bag so that they are close at hand.
Where do I start?
To start, rub some food on the end of the target stick and encourage your dog to sniff it. The second they do, click your clicker and reward your dog. Repeat this a number of times and your dog will soon learn that touching the target stick will result in a small treat. For this exercise, try to avoid verbal commands and be patient. You will be amazed just how quickly they will grasp this simple exercise.
Once your dog has grasped the basics, practise moving the stick above the dogs nose, below its nose, then click and reward if their head follows the direction of the target stick. Further practise moving the target stick left then right. Now practise moving the target stick away from the dog a little, click and reward when they take one step forward to follow it. Further the exercise by practising holding the target stick above your dog’s head so that they have to reach upwards to touch it.
The next step is to string a number of movements together before they are clicked and treated. Omit the click if your dog mouths or touches the target stick side rather than the end.
What else can I do with a target stick?
Now that your dog is able to follow the target stick, you can use it to teach other behaviours. You can use it to teach your dog to navigate obstacles and agility training. Use the target stick to teach your dog to walk correctly at your side or in the parade position for the show ring.
You can use the target stick to lure your dog to specific objects and introduce names for those objects. These can be anything from specific toys to the TV remote control. You can even transfer the behaviours to other targets such as yellow sticky notes or an Alley Opp.