Teaching our dogs a front foot target behavior is fun and easy. It’s one of the basic skills taught to movie dogs, it’s useful for agility, obedience, and working dogs, and it’s a great rainy day activity.
We’ll use a really easy target for the puppies, so they can tell by sight and feel when their front feet are on the target.
Prompt (preferably with voice/body) the puppy’s front feet onto the target (use a rubber bucket, large book, large plastic lid, etc.). Click and reward (or just quickly reward) for feet up, and feed five or six treats while puppy’s feet are still on the target. Prompt puppy off the target, do not reward for leaving the target. Repeat three or four times, and preferably until less voice/body prompting is necessary.
Preparation is key to success in this activity. Be ready with clicker in hand (optional), pre-loaded treats, and know exactly what and how you are going to reward before putting down the target. Do five to ten reps in a row, then take a break. For puppies that are in a rhythm and are stepping straight back up on the target after being called off each time, quickly fade the prompting and begin to watch for and reward the puppy for offering to step up on his own.
- prompt the entire behavior (until no longer necessary)
- click the instant both feet are up (optional)
- reward in position (feed while both feet are)
We are getting the behavior by using prompts. The puppy has no reason to “get on” so we encourage him with our body language. Once he is on, we are then building value for the behavior of getting and being on by using rewards. This gives the puppy a reason to want and choose the behavior in the future. Within a short amount of time the puppies should be offering the behavior without being prompted because we have built its value.
Being able to see when a behavior has been rewarded so much that it has value to the puppy is an important training skill for you as an owner. Watch for that lightbulb moment – it will look like puppy “gets it”. So fun!