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In our Element…

Aaron on Tailgate

Car curiosity

I’ve heard it over and over again. Several times, in fact, from countless sources: friends and colleagues, professional trainers and folks who spend much of their day thinking like a dog.

Mostly we’ve chatted in and around the the twitterverse, occasionally by phone, and sometimes…every once in awhile, face to face over coffee or chocolate bars, Chimichangas or Maine Lobsta.  And they’ve all said the same thing. It must be true… It is true.

Deb “@fearfuldogs” Jacobs said it a thousand times. Hilary “@FangShuiCanines” Lane and Barrie “@barrie” Lynn mentioned it on numerous occasions. Deborah “@boulderdog1” Flick uses it all the time with her shy dog, Sadie. And it’s a standard technique in the training toolbox of Irith “@TheSophDog” Bloom, Mel “@MelzPetPals” Freer and Jenny “@wholedogcamp” Yasi. Nancy “@gooddogz” Freedman-Smith even demonstrated it for viewers on a local television station in Portland, Maine.

The car office

The car office

It’s called targeting and it’s proved to be the best way to help Aaron gain confidence and establish trust in a world that can be a bit scary at times. It was ridiculously easy to teach…in fact, I started nose targeting the day after Aaron arrived. Quite simply, I held my hand out, palm facing him, fingers down. As soon as he moved toward my hand to sniff (what dog won’t do that?) I softly said, “Yes!” and gave him a treat. In the beginning, for the first session or two, I didn’t even ask Aaron to touch my hand. Remember how shy he was those first few days? I couldn’t even look at him, and I didn’t place any expectation that he’d make physical contact. By the third day, however, he had gained enough confidence to make nose to palm contact and that started us down a very successful road to coping with scary situations using this simple tool.

I nose targeted with Aaron to ease the pressure of scary things like going up and down the stairs, over doorway thresholds, in and out the back door. Targeting has been the key to getting Aaron to move forward on a leash. Ouch! That was a difficult one for sure! And, as you’ll see below, targeting was the key to building confidence in the process of moving in and out of my Honda Element. It took awhile. Two weeks, actually. I began acclimating him to the car by parking in the backyard and leaving the doors open. Then I played targeting games with all the dogs in the vicinity of where the car was parked. And, as the days wore on, we moved closer and closer to our goal: jumping into the car. One day I even set up my office in the back of the Element, complete with laptop and afternoon coffee.

The video below was recorded about 3 weeks ago. I no longer need to use nose targeting and treats to entice or reward Aaron for climbing in and out of the car. In fact, I phased out food reinforcement fairly quickly after he learned the behavior. Now we simply jump in and out of the car crate like any other dog. Ha! How cool is that?

Though the video is a bit “wobbly” in the beginning I didn’t edit those first few seconds because I want you to see Aaron’s initial curiosity and body language as he is approaches the car. He moves kind of like a fox, doesn’t he?