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Paw Target: A Fun Behavior for Everyone

Your pet gets to exercise his or her brain.  In the process, you can develop a simple paw target into a useful behavior and/or a parlor trick!

Positive Reinforcement Builds the Paw Target Behavior

Use the mantra, “Reinforce the behavior you want.” Practicing your positive reinforcement skills helps make this is a good training exercise for you as a trainer, as well as for your pet.  Click as the paw hits the target; as the result of that click (and the behavior that made it happen) your pet gets a treat. Give the treat over the target to make efficient use of the power of Association.

This video shows you how to get started teaching the paw target behavior. You can extend it to a tap light when you are ready.

Anything Can Be a Target!

Plastic lids, old CDs, duct tape on a piece of cardboard, and many other things make great targets to help you and your pet get started.  Begin with the target on the floor. When your pet understands the behavior, move the target into different orientations.

Working the Puzzle of the Paw Target

It’s a little like working a puzzle – for you and your pet!  The puzzle for you is how to present the target in a way that your dog or cat is likely to touch it with a paw. You may have to try a couple of different things.  The behavior may be an accident at first; he may just walk over the target! If so, click and treat and you’ll be on your way. Be patient while your pet figures out what to do, even after that first click and treat.  The power of behavior science is at work!

This training exercise doesn’t require much physical effort, so it’s perfect for dogs who are recovering from an illness or injury. During recovery, your pet needs activities to keep him or her from getting bored, and the paw target behavior may be a good option.

When I said paw targets are for everyone, I meant it!  Cats can learn to use a paw target behavior to help you around the house.

Start the training simply, just like I described it above, with your target on the floor.  Build it carefully, adjusting placement of the target into different orientations.

If you don’t need help with cabinet doors or light switches, you can create all sorts of fun parlor tricks from the paw target instead!  Have fun with this behavior.

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