If a dog has been taught to be aware of different parts of his body (can move that body part towards a target or hold it on a target when asked), he can work on movement through understanding rather than through guesswork when a new behavior is initiated by the trainer.

Body Targets

I train my dogs actions and behaviors from many different fields of training. These include obedience, agility, tracking, nosework, retrieving, freestyle, and specialized movie behaviors.  I decided that I wanted the dogs to be body aware of the following targets.

Note:  An intermediate bridge is very useful in helping the dog understand new concepts.  This bridge is a continuous audio signal that the trainer uses to guide the dog towards the "correct" action, behavior, or movement that he is learning.  It is used BEFORE the goal behavior is reached and helps guide him similar to a game of "hot/warm/cold."    The terminal bridge ends the behavior.

Unlike training techniques I've used in the past, the use of bridges and targets allow me to explain moves and behaviors to my dogs more quickly and more fully in a conversational way and with what seems to be a greater understanding on their part . . . especially since they have a foundation of knowledge to draw upon.

Moving Syd closer to the sock-um toy by targeting her hip with a target stick.

1. Nose
2. Chin
3. Teeth
4. Mouth
5. Head (top of)

11. Chest (front)
12. Hips
13. Fanny (under tail)
14. Rump (above tail)
15. Tail

Target stick touches Jyah's right hip and his hip follows the stick -- backing all the way around my body.

How to begin:

I had already taught and named the dogs' nose and feet before learning about body targeting, so I began by teaching the 'hip' target first.  Once the dogs got the concept of moving a body part to my hand, they quickly realized what the idea was -- isolate and move that body part "towards." However, I found that while the dogs got the concept of moving a body part to a target fairly quickly, it took time and experience for all the neurological pathways to form in the right place for the moves to become automatic.

Sydney targets her feet on mine as I walk or dance.

At this point, I began using a 36" dowel pin (instead of my fingers) as a target for many of the behaviors I plan on teaching my dogs. I also started having them target known body parts to other targets, i.e. a wall, another dog, another part of their own body, etc. Once the dogs get the concept of moving body parts to a target, I began having them hold a body part on a target using the intermediate bridge to keep it there. The intermediate bridge is used in the learning stages and does not need to be applied once the dog knows that particular behavior. Although, I sometimes use it as a reminder and also, sometimes as a secondary reinforcer when I see the dog needs a bit of guidance.

When she is in position, I target her stifle to lift it in a boy-dog marking position.

I "freeze" her in position with an intermediate bridge.

Jyah targets mouth to cup - -

By teaching the dogs to respond to  touch on different body parts, I have ceased to have breakdowns in training because I can go in, select the part that needs fixing, and re-work that part of the behavior. 

Using an intermediate bridge, whether teaching a new movement or fixing an old one, gives the dog feedback at every step of the way. Coming from 'clicker' training, where we were told that the click is all the information the dog needs, fully utilizing the intermediate bridge has been challenging for me to incorporate into my training.

I still have a lot to learn; however, fluency will only be attained by my gaining more experience as I continue to integrate these concepts into my training.

Sydney targets Jyah's nose with her foot.

and his eyes target my hand.

Finished trick: "Take a drink."

Left: Using target stick to ask dogs to target each other's feet.

Right: Shaking hands -- held with an intermediate bridge.

Left: I'm asking Sydney to target my fingers at her hip while having her target her other hip to my knee.

Right: I've transfered Sydney's nose to her own left hip (target) and am asking her to hold it there by using the intermediate bridge.

Teaching a dog to respond when various body parts are touched/cued is part of foundation training -- the same type of foundation training that teaching the alphabet is to a child.   You can teach a child to speak by teaching individual words, but the child has a much better education if you teach it the alphabet and how to form words from the letters. Similarly, if we teach a dog his body parts, we can teach him to form new behaviors when we indicate the part of his body that will be used to form a behavior.

Body targeting was probably first used as a maintenance tool by exotic animal trainers/keepers who taught their animals to present and hold steady a body part so that blood and urine samples could be drawn, feet and mouth health checked, and various parts of the body worked on.  A few people in the dog training community saw these techniques and thought they might be useful in their own training programs . . . not only for health management but for training other types of behaviors. 

I first saw body targeting as a dog training tool at a seminar in 2003 when I met Sassie Joiris, a professional dog trainer from New York City.  Besides competing in several dog sports, Sassie also trains her dogs for movie and commercial work.  Her Norfolk Terrier Stamp has appeared in numerous movies, TV shows, and commercials and has titles in several dog sports.  Sassie uses a number of techniques to train her dogs . . . body targeting is one of these.

 Stamp has been trained with bridges (an intermediate bridge and a terminal bridge) and targets from the time Sassie acquired him as a puppy and is fluent in responding to body targets. 

 In media work, the dog has to be able to take cues from a distance.  Sometimes a director will have to change a shot that the trainer has prepared the dog for.  Using body target cues, Sassie can often verbally tell her dog (as the shoot is in progress) to isolate and move a particular body part in a direction other than where he had originally been trained to put it.

1) Have the dog in an informal Stand/Stay. (I started by kneeling by my dog's side.)

2) Using the pointer and index fingers together, gently push the dog's hip until you feel him "give" under the pressure -- while saying "Hip."

3) Quickly move fingers off the hip slightly -- 1/8th of an inch -- to where the dog's hip will naturally realign itself -- as you begin an intermediate bridge.

4) As soon as the dog's hip touches your fingers, give the terminal bridge ("Yes!" or a click) and reinforce.

5) Continue doing this in incremental distances until the dog is actually moving toward your fingers voluntarily.

6) Through a series of progressive trials, the dog will come to understand that isolating and moving that body part towards your hand is the goal.

6. Throat
7.  Neck (back of)
8.  Ears
9.  Eyes
10. Shoulders

16. Ankles
17. Front Feet
18. Back Feet
19. Hocks
20. Stifles

The dogs and I are having so much fun with Bridge and Target! Here, I've asked both dogs to target their chins to the ball -- which Jyah is doing correctly. Sydney didn't want to look Jyah straight in the eye so she decided to put her own spin on things and put her left foot on top of the ball and her forehead against the side of the ball.   Funny girl!


An example is when Stamp was hired for a print commercial. For the shot, he was supposed to lie on his back with all four feet in the air. Sassie used bridges and targets to train Stamp to do this behavior. When the production company was shooting the shot, the director suddenly noticed that Stamp was an intact male and that the cute tummy-up pose notably displayed this. Sassie was able to verbally direct Stamp to twist his hips to one side, thereby neatly hiding his gender - and the director got the shot without having to wait for the behavior to be retrained.  

Click on Stamp's picture to see (verbal) body targeting.

In the video of Stamp, notice that he has been taught the *names* of various body parts.  When I first began teaching my dogs to body target, I also named the parts; however, I seldom now use names for the type of training I do.  In the video of Sydney, notice that she is "body target aware" and will respond to a light touch or a light tapping on a body part, moving that part towards a target stick (or my hand).  I use body targets to position my dogs or to make them aware of a body part that will be used in teaching a new behavior.  

Click on Sydney's picture to see (touch) body targeting.

As a note of interest, once my dogs learned to move three of their body parts towards a target, they almost automatically moved any other body target towards a touch or would keep it in contact with an object.  

The reason I use touch rather than the body part name to teach new behaviors is that it saves me and the dog confusion since whatever body target I am using to teach a behavior will be integrated into the new behavior -- which will then have its own name cue.  

For instance, in the above video of Sydney, I'm using a target stick to cue her to "swing," a freestyle move.  Rather than use the word "hip" to cue her to swing her hip around from one "heel" position to the other side, I tap her hip with a target stick leading it around from left to right and back again.  When she is doing this smoothly, I use the cue word "swing."  Had I used 'hip," that would have become the cue word for the swinging behavior, and it would be confusing if I then wanted to use "hip" as a cue to teach the "slide" (the sidestep in the video) or "wheel" (backing around me), both of which I taught with a hip target.  (There are various vidoes on this site that show these finished behaviors.) 

Since each body part is basically taught using the same principal, I will use the hip target to explain how I taught my dogs their body targets.   The reason I didn't start with the easier targets -- nose, chin, and feet -- is because I had already taught the dogs to recognize cues for these before I learned about body targeting.

Teaching "hip"

Jy targets his cheek to my hand.

It's easy to teach a dog  to "say her prayers" by using her feet to target the bed and her nose to target my hand..

Finished "prayers" behavior held with the intermediate bridge.

LEFT Jyah is beginning to move towards my right hand which is tapping his left shoulder. I am also giving an intermediate bridge.
MIDDLE -- Jyah continues to moves towards my hand -- targeting his shoulder to my hand.
RIGHT -- Jyah comes to the wall which becomes his new target.

For the finished behavior with the cue of "Lean against the wall, put your head down, cross your ankle", see photo Bridge and Target

SHOULDER TARGET -- I'm tapping Sydney's shoulder and 'leading' her into a flat position.
As long as she's moving towards my hand (target), I give her an intermediate bridge.
She gets a terminal bridge when her shoulder is flat on the floor.

FOOT TARGETS -- Here Jyah is to step on each circular target. I give him a "Wait" signal after each step.

THREE MORE FOOT TARGETS -- shots taken from Jy's movie, "The Wizard."
Also notice Jy's head position which is taught by having him focus his 'look' on an object.

CHEST TARGET -- Sydney moves her chest towards my hand as I give her an intermediate bridge.

OBJECT TARGET -- Sydney is to continue looking at a target (object) that I've shown her. I hold her on the target object by using an intermediate bridge.

Aside from "training sessions" where I typically use touch,  I name body parts in non-training situations using much the same process that mothers use to teach language to their babies. That is by talking directly to and pointedly focusing on my dog with loving attention. I talk slowly and address the dog in such a way that there is no doubt I'm talking to that dog and to no one else.

An example might be as follows:  While looking at my dog with a friendly expression, I put my hand on his ear (drawing attention to this body part) and say, (slowly and with a somewhat exaggerated facial expression), "What an adorable EAR you have!  I'm going to look in your EAR now.  Good boy to let me look in your EAR."  I'm gently handling the ear as I speak so there is no doubt in the dog's mind about which body part I'm discussing.

Along with body parts, I also name things in my dogs' environment.  I use words to identify activities and objects.  This does not teach cognition directly, but most dogs can learn to identify the word with the object or activity by association.

It is no more likely that my dogs can learn the intricacies of the human language than it is for me to duplicate the workings of their marvelous olfactory senses.  However, what I think my dogs can do is understand the tone and the intent of what I'm saying and I think they can learn a significant number of words by how I associate these words within their natural world.  

We as humans have a responsibility to understand and respond to the verbal and body language of the dogs with whom we share our lives.  Similarly, the more we can teach our dogs to understand human terms, the more comfortable and rewarding is their relationship with us.