Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ask the Dog Trainer:
Target Train to Solve Problems

Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA, CDBC
Refrigerator Snuggles for Xena

Dear Michael: I just wanted to touch base with you about your recommendations for Sarah and her fear of the refrigerator. She won't walk by it!

Thanks, Michelle S.

Thanks for your question, Michelle. Fear usually has one of two sources. 1) Unfamiliarity with the person or thing the dog is afraid of or 2) Some sort of bad prior experience with the thing or person. Regardless of the cause, your solutions are the same.

First, decide whether or not you really need to teach Sarah to conquer her fear of the fridge. This may seem silly, but give it some thought. I have a client dog who developed a phobia of his water and food bowl. That’s serious because the dog has to drink and eat to survive. Does Sarah really need to pass by the refrigerator? If so, let’s solve the problem. If not, let it go and watch to make sure the fear doesn’t spread.

Remember this when you begin training. Sarah should always have the freedom to make choices. Don’t force her to walk by the refrigerator and certainly don’t drag her past it. Instead, you’ll be incrementally reinforcing her for taking one, then two, then three steps, and so on. Clicker training will really come in handy here.

Here’s how you turn the task into a game. Teach Sarah to touch a flat object you can place on the ground. I sometimes use the lid of a Tupperware container. This is called a target and the process is called target training. Each touch of the object results in a click and a treat. This quickly becomes a fun game for the dog – touch; click; treat. Once Sarah gets hooked on the game, place the object a bit nearer the fridge. Touch; click; treat. Yay! Repeat the game with the target a little further down the path past the appliance. Eventually you’ll place the target at the end of the path and Sara will run right by the fridge to touch it. In the meantime, remember to keep the training sessions short and be patient.

Fear of appliances and objects in the household is not terribly uncommon in dogs. They’re foreign and often make strange sounds. These sources of fear are less common in humans. I sometimes wish I were more afraid of the refrigerator. It’s the bathroom scale that really scares me.

Houston Dog Trainer Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA, CDBC is the Director of Training and Behavior at Rover Oaks Pet Resorts. You may reach Michael at the link for a personal consultation, or write to him at our Ask the Dog Trainer Column @ Michael's advice does not replace an actual consultation with a qualified trainer.

Check out Michael's Archives Page, or these recent articles:


Jen said...

Great advice! Target training has so very many uses, and I intend to get going on it with Elka.

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