Who would ever have thought the lonely little foot target could be such an important tool in teaching our dogs so many behaviours and concepts? But just how helpful are they? Well, it depends on the type of foot target and what you’re using it for.
Let’s consider a couple of basic foot targets and some corresponding behaviours they can assist you with. This will by no means cover everything, but it gives the novice or beginner trainer a clearer understanding of when they might use a specific type of FOOT TARGET.
The PERCH – commonly round, approximately 4-6 inches high to start, depending upon the size of the dog, and usually large enough to allow your dog to stand comfortably in a natural stance with their two feet side by side. When I say comfortably, this means your dog does not have to worry about falling off the perch as they move around on it but not so large that precision of position isn’t available or maintained. Too large and the dog will try to sit on it, too small and your dog will not be able to pivot because their paws don’t fit.
The perch is used to teach our dogs rear-end awareness, whether from in heel position or in being able to swing their butts to line up center front as the handler, with the dog facing them, moves around the perch. If the perch is in heel position, it’s usually on the left and the handler and dog move counter-clockwise. Don’t move clockwise with the perch unless, of course, you have the perch and dog set up on your right – then it’s perfectly okay.
A stand on the perch is the most common default position. This is mainly due to the fact that, when a dog tries to sit with front feet on the perch, they are often unable to maintain a nice tuck sit – their feet splay outwards to avoid the round edge of the perch that is in the way. It’s also not a great option to use for center front recall work as, again, the physical shape does not lend itself to prevision and the dogs will often try to swing into heel. Aside from rear-end awareness and precision of place in heel, the perch can also be used to teach a send out/distance work and it can easily be faded down in size – any other position changes are not as easily accomplished until you have lower or flat perch heights.
The RECTANGULAR FOOT TARGET – a good size for this foot target is 2” H X 4-6” W X 8-10” L – again dependent on dog size (height can also be higher but not much as target becomes tippy). Versatility is the name of the game with this foot target. The nature of its physical dimensions encourages the dog to stand, sit or even down in a straight manner. If their front feet are planted on the foot target the only – well generally – the only position they will be in is straight. If too far angled, their feet would come off the target. If you’re working fronts the dog would be straight, if working heel position the dog would be straight.
The rectangle shape – narrow – lends itself very nicely to a variety of positions whether default or not: sits, downs, stands. It can be used for either the front or rear feet as an ideal anchor when doing distance work or position changes where specific mechanics of movement are required. Because the narrowness of this foot target does not infringe on a tuck sit, it can easily be added to a front as a means to fade down from a long or sit platform. Working position changes in heel are also easily accomplished as the front feet remain magnetized to the target, helping the dog to remain straight through the position change mechanics. If used within a short heeling run, it can be an option to add for halts in heel position for those dogs who may be having a little difficulty with position.
For distance sends with position changes, the rectangle foot target hits the mark. Especially if it’s at the lower 2” height. Your dog can easily step on and turn to face you and accomplish any position change you’re looking for without too much infringement on their mechanics.
The SQUARE FOOT TARGET – yes, square and generally a size no larger than your foot length on all 4 sides is perfect. (phonebooks, if you can find them, work perfectly). It can be anywhere in height from 2-4 inches. Why square? We concentrate so much on teaching our dogs rear end awareness that we often forget to teach them about how OUR body will move on those left turns we do in heeling. We use the square foot target as a way to convey handler footwork and body movement for left turns (right turns if you place the foot target on your right).
The square foot target can precisely break down how the handler would most likely do their left turns. It helps to keep the handler from leading with their right foot, even stepping into their dog. It also allows for single or multiple left turn reps. If used within a short heeling pattern, it can be used to teach both handler and dog the mechanics body movement and foot placement.
In addition to conveying precise position, the foot target, when heavily magnetized, becomes a very valuable anchor when you begin adding distance or duration to exercises. The heavy reinforcement history assists with anchoring our dogs to a “happy place” and conveys the concept of remaining in position whether we add distance, duration and distractions. Even those dogs who may be concerned can quickly find the fun factor.
Foot targets, vertical targets and platforms in general can add a huge boost to your training, communicating precise positioning to your dog in an often faster manner than without them. This is why, in TEAM, we teach you how to best utilize the equipment to teach a myriad of behaviours and concepts. We want you and your dog to stretch and build your options no matter which sport you’re undertaking.