Clicker Training Shoulder Targeting

I often think of targeting as a simple exercise. It’s one of the first skills I teach the horses when clicker training and it works great for teaching other behaviors. Usually, I think of targeting as a dog or horse touching their nose to something. However, there are many different ways to expand on targeting to teach advanced skills and to make our animals more aware of their bodies.

Ginger and I recently began working on a shoulder target. This means she targets her shoulder onto an object. For now I’m using my hand, later we’ll expand to a target stick or some other objects. It’s been a fun learning experience so far. I’ve kind of been making up what to do as I go along, as I’ve never done this before.

Here’s a video clip of where we were yesterday, Day 3. We have a pretty nice loop going, she moves so her shoulder touches my hand, I click and throw the food, she finds the food and then moves back into position. (This is loopy training for dogs!) Several times in the video I move my hand out a bit farther once she gets into position, asking her to move into my hand a bit more. Sometimes she is almost forceful about pushing into my hand. Today was the first day when she really seemed to “get” that it was about touching my hand, rather than just standing in a particular spot.

Training Log So Far

Day 1

I originally started with a target stick. However, the target stick I chose is a tennis ball on a stick and she only wanted to bite and play with the tennis ball! Bad choice on my part. I decided starting with a hand would be easier than an object, especially since with my hand I can feel how hard she is pressing against me.

After we ditched the tennis ball, I started with her letting me touch her shoulder while she was in a down. This was actually hard at first. Ginger gets very energetic during training and was not keen about me touching or petting her. She also assumed my hand heading towards her was some sort of cue and kept throwing behavior at me, sits, downs, bows, you name it! So, having her in a down helped her settle a bit and figure out that all I wanted to do was to touch her shoulder. Then we repeated this with her standing.

Day 2

Started where we left off, with her standing in front of me, letting me touch her shoulder. I decided I wanted a movement cycle. I though this would help her get the concept faster than if I tried to teach it with her standing still. I originally began by throwing the treats behind her. She started staying farther away from me, as this was closer to where the food was being delivered. So, I switched to throwing the treats to my right side. Wrong side! Since I wanted her moving into my hand, I realized throwing the treats off to my left was the most logical. This did take a bit of coordination to master at first!

By the end, she would collect the treat and then return in front of me. She wasn’t particularly paying attention to my hand. However, she’d shift over a step or two more if I withheld the click.

Day 3

Yesterday she really started putting pressure on my hand when she returned. In addition, if I moved my hand away a bit more, she’d continue moving over until she found my hand. The food delivery part of our loop is still a little messy at times–she’ll sniff around looking for the treat if she doesn’t see it immediately.

Has anyone else worked on body targeting with their dog (or horse or other animal)? Any suggestions or tips? Or, any ideas for interesting or fun tricks to teach? I’d love to hear your feedback or experiences if you’ve tried something like this.

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  • I had forgotten all about this exercise Mary but I did it with my Jack Russell at some point. And my experience was almost identical to yours. 🙂 I'll have to play with it today and see if he remembers it and if I remember how far I went with it. I have no idea what made me think of doing it originally?

  • debbiedavidson

    This is a great exercise. I've always wanted to use this to teach my dogs to find “heel.” I'm glad I actually saw a good video of this in practice. You've inspired me to teach this shoulder target with my dog's right shoulder. My question is, how does one transfer this to targeting the handler's left leg?

    By the way…when I started teaching my puppies targeting at 6 weeks, their idea of fun was to grab the ping-pong ball at the end of the stick and run away with it. I switched to a mallet used to play a xylophone and sometimes a drum stick: both have small balls fixed to the end and cannot be removed. They work perfectly.

    • I'd teach it with a hand or target stick first.

      Then, you could transfer it from the target stick to other things, including your leg.

      That would be my best guess of how to do it.

      If you try it, let me know how it goes! I'd be interested in knowing if this works well for heeling, or what you learn while trying this.

  • That is sooo cool! Thanks for sharing!

  • The failure to discriminate issue comes up with animals who see the trainer as the SD. Show up and the animal will offer a string of behaviors it knows.

    When working with elephants I found this to be the case with one of them who was highly responsive.

    Consider setting up a cue for the dog to remain still and focus on you. Reinforce, “just being a dog” and 'standing still paying attention” then when you do introduce new behaviors, the animal will know how to focus and not see you as the SD.

    Using a specific training target that does not resemble toys is also a good idea…LOL but at least she associates training with fun!

    • I'm afraid I've become a cue for “throw behaviors until Mary clicks for something.”
      At least Ginger isn't an elephant!

      We've been working on a default behavior of her standing up. No cues given, just her standing looking at me. Pretty hard at first, she kept trying to offer different things. It's been a good experience to work on. Once we get standing under control, we'll start adding some basic cues back into the standing sessions.

      The real issue is that I've taught her a bunch of tricks, but none of them are under very good stimulus control. So, time to get our stimulus control under control!


  • Julie

    I've been working on the same thing with my dog and blogging about it too. Have a look at my post when you have a chance.… i was thinking of using a target stick for the back paws. I'm also experimenting with a Keep Going Signal.

    • Hi Julie,

      Thanks for commenting. I'm heading over right now to check out your blog post!