Nose Targeting: a Very Useful Foundation Skill
Goal: Horse nose targets one object on 2 cues (the object is one cue)
Targeting is a useful tool for her horse to know. You can use it to lead him around, teach him to move his body in ways he never though possible, teach him tricks such as bowing, send him ahead of you through gates and into stalls and trailers, pick up his feet, stand stationary, retrieve objects off the ground while you are in saddle, come when called and much more! We typically start with teaching a horse to nose target our hand and a stick, but once he understands the more common target points, he can learn to target with other parts of his body as well, such as feet, shoulder, hips, rump etc.
Targeting can also be used to help train him not to be fearful of specific objects.
In Post 5, you learned how to shape a nose target to your fist. Here’s how to do it a little differently with an object.
Nose Targeting An Object
Many people start training this behavior with a traffic cone or similar sized object such as a plastic milk jug, inverted plant pot or an old soccer or basketball.
Ideally, if you start with an object that is new to him, you will have his interest and it makes your job easier. If he has cones in his pen, remove them for a few days before trying this with him. Otherwise use a milk jug or other object.
Make sure you do not progress too quickly (do too few repetitions at each level) or you will find the behavior falls apart (he misses it, mouths or bites it etc) when the horse is more excited or with higher level of distractions. If you find this does occur, go back to the start and retrain and do more repetitions until he is confident and focused enough to do the behavior correctly.
If this is the first object you have ever encouraged him to actively touch, you will need to shape the nose touch. This ‘touch’ is the beginning of him being able to explore novel objects and the beginning of shaping many other behaviors so it will become a ‘default’ behavior for when he is presented with new objects, especially if he has not been taught many other behaviors with the clicker.
Be ready with your treats in a pouch, clicker in one hand, and object (cone) in the other hand. Timing is important when your horse is first learning what you want. With your horse standing in front of you just at the edge of arm distance (or your and his personal space), and off to the side slightly so he can see it, present the cone by bringing it from behind you. You want to mark and reward any small behavior that will end up with him gently touching the object with his nose. As soon as your horse looks at it, sniffs it or even touches it gently with his nose, c/t. Remove the cone from his sight and try again. The first few times, he may only sniff it, or he may lick it etc. Click only those behaviors that lead to his nose making contact with the cone.
He’s Biting the Cone!
If he bites at it, do not click and remove the object from his sight. Try again. This may be an indication he is excited about the object, be generally aroused or later on in training, he may think you are wanting him to offer a different behavior (such as biting it) if you are withholding the click after he touches it. If he continues to bite it, end the session and try again later when he is calm.
If he persists in biting it, you need to present the cone in such as way that he can only lightly graze it with his nose and make sure you c/t before he bites it. You may have to present it at an angle so just the tip is available, present the wider bottom end so it is too wide to bite or maybe present it from a direction (above, or to the side) where he is less likely to bite at it. Experiment with your horse to see what works.
If at any time, he gets excited and starts biting the cone, remove it, calm him down and try again. Go back to basics if he keeps biting it.
Once he is confidently nose touching the cone, you can start presenting it in slightly different directions. A useful tool here is to ‘work the clock’ in a small circle in front of your horse. Start with the cone at 9 on the clock face and work your way to 10, 11, 12, 1, 2 and around to nine. Using this method, you have tried all possible directions he may be asked to reach in later training sessions.
Next time around, make the circle a little bigger diameter so he has to reach a little. Again, a little bigger.
Keep working your way out from a center point (his nose) until your arm is stretch out straight as you present the cone.
Next work down towards the ground, In small increments, lower the cone towards the ground so your horse has to lean down to touch it. Eventually you can place it on the ground. Now you can add distance place the cone one step in front of your horse. Can he move to it and touch it? Move it 2 steps etc.
How about Nose Targeting a Ball?
Video from modrono's channel on youtube.com
What Else Can We Do?
A follow-up nose targeting behavior (or some teach this first if their horse is gentle with his mouth and calm with food so there is no risk of getting bitten) is to teach a nose touch of your hand so you don’t have to carry a target stick for training short-reach behaviors such as leading. Use your hand for the target and repeat the same procedure as nose targeting an object. Your horse will likely learn it more quickly as once he realizes that your hand is just another object to touch, all the same ‘rules’ apply. Just be sure to not use the fist or palm-up open hand cue you used for ‘food Zen’ or your horse will be confused and not want to touch your hand. A vertical palm facing the horse and fingers pointing to the ground is different enough that your horse will notice.
Targeting Helps Overcome FearsThe process of interacting with unfamiliar objects can change fears into confidence with some practice. The horse is focussed on doing a behavior (nose targeting) with the object, instead of being fearful of it and stays in operant mode. Start with nose targeting other objects near the object of fear. If there is nothing to target, use your hand as the target object. Move closer until the target is touching the fearful object. Eventually you can directly nose target the object of fear.
In this video, the riders target other objects such as trees and stumps as they apporach the scarey vehicle. Eventually the horse nose targets the vehicle itself.
Video from markkcpt's channel on youtube.com