How Animals Learn- Part 3: Putting it in Practice

We are going to teach a nose target using both a classically conditioned tool (marker word/clicker) and operant conditioning. 

The last two Learning-Portal posts went into some depth about Classical and Operant Conditioning. Check them out if you haven’t already!

Classical and Operant Conditioning in Practice- Teaching Nose Target

Here is a way to teach a nose target behavior:

1. Present a flat hand towards your dog and wait for them to investigate.

2. Mark and reward as soon as their nose makes contact with your hand.

3. Continue to mark and reward each time the nose makes contact with the hand. (about 4-6X)

4. After a few successful repetitions, hold your hand further away, so that your dog has to take a step in order to make contact.

5. Practice in all directions and with both hands so your dog understands all the variations.

Classical and Operant Conditioning in Practice- Teaching Nose Target

One of the ways to effectively build behavior with your dog is through targeting. This can be a nose target, where your dog follows your hand or another object closely with their nose. Or you can teach your dog to target using another part of their body such as their paw or rear feet.

It’s a great way to quickly build new behavior without your dog becoming fixated on the rewards, which are out of sight while you’re training. You can also use targeting to encourage your dog to move from one location to another or step onto the scales at the vets.

As with all skills, progress at your dog’s pace and don’t be afraid to make things easier if they are struggling at any stage.

Teaching your dog to target your hand and other objects with their nose is great for keeping your dogs attention around distractions, and building more advanced behaviors later.

Quick tips:

-If your dog struggles initially, you can always rub a treat on your hand to get them interested and help them succeed.

-If they don’t, do not touch their nose to your hand. Bring your hand up and wait 2-3 seconds before bringing it down flat again.

Note: The click/marker word is the classical conditioning while actually learning the cue (flat hand coming down) and behavior is operant conditioning. 

Now you have used what you learned!

And if you missed the last Learning-Portals, go check them out to get a better understanding of Operant and Classical Conditioning!

Did you know that I use this in behavioral and physical rehab all the time? You may not even notice it in our sessions because I modify based on the individual and situation.

When I write these posts with “instructions” on how to teach something, I want to be very clear that there are many different ways to do what we are doing. The difference is there is better and worse ways based on the situation and need.

In the dog training world it can get confusing for some of us who think outside the box naturally to be given step-by-step instructions that seem oversimplified. But these are simplified to give the safest general understanding. I can quickly modify in a session with my background, training, and practice. But modifying without the background understanding can be fine…or dangerous.

That is why I have put the time to create these Learning Portal Posts. I want all animal guardians, like you, to have the opportunity to learn how to best communicate with their individual companion. If you have questions about your specific situation, let me know and we can work on it together. Just email tulsarehabvet@gmail.com with your question and maybe even a video of your most recent training session.

*Important*- If your puppy is struggling with nipping hands, do not play this game until that behavior has resolved (seek help if needed). If your dog is still nipping/biting hands, do not play this game and seek a certified behavior professional. This may not seem serious to you, but it is important that this behavior does not continue into adolescence and adulthood.

Written by: Dr. Emily Hall, DVM, CCRT, CPAT-KA