Dog News

Zombies and DIY target sticks and training

by Nancy Freedman-Smith

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As a Mom to three human kids and 2 dogs, I am no stranger to putting various costumes together for Halloween. This year Beck was a flame retardant polyester Snake and posed for pictures for 5 minutes and got a lot of treats. My two older kids stayed home and gave out candy , while my youngest was a Zombie Cheerleader, complete with a detached arm that held her goodie bag.

trill paw hand

Halloween can be a pretty wasteful time, and lots of stuff from All Hallow’s Eve ends up in the land fill. I am all for re-use, and recycle and up cycling and all that. The snake costume has been worn around here by one of my kids going on 8 years, and the Cheerleader outfit came from Goodwill.  Keeping that in mind, I give you…

Zombie arm target stick training!

trill and liz hand up pretty


Full credit goes to our young rescue dog Beck, who was watching me intently when I took the arm out of the bag to show my 10 year old daughter when she got home from school on Halloween. Beck leaped straight up in the air and touched his nose to the palm of the detached arm. Good dog! I taught him that! Wow…talk about generalizing!

Beck has learned the awesome skill of hand targeting. Instruction on how to teach your dog targeting can be found at the bottom of this post. Beck is being trained in many venues, including Freestyle. Freestyle combines heel work and tricks to music, and  I have been using a target stick to introduce him to more complex moves that are further away from me.

trill and liz jump hand
In hind sight, I should not be surprised in the least that my dog would jump up in the air and target the zombie palm with his nose, but to tell the truth I still kind of am.
Beck serves to remind us that our dogs may be learning and working all the time and that we better be careful what we are teaching them He also  reminds us that we don’t need to always buy buy buy when we already have.

If you don’t have a zombie arm hanging around, you can make a target stick out of an old radio antenna. You all remember those right? Just take an old telescoping  antenna and glue a small cat tennis ball at the end and wala. Instant target stick.

Still, using the zombie arm appeals to me to no end.

peeper and live hold hand resized



Why teach targeting.

To teach your dog to touch his nose to your hand is one of the most useful things that you can do. So useful in fact, that I can’t even list all the uses here in this limited space. Target training teaches your dog:

*To be operant. They learn they have to do something to get something.

*An alternative behavior. It can be instrumental in helping your fearful dog, or reactive dog.

*foundations for service dog work, freestyle, and agility and tricks. Things like, come to this side, weave through my legs, jump over my leg, jump through the hula hoop, under the table, can be easily taught.

Really that is just the tip of the iceberg.

*Recall!Lots of dogs will target an outstretched arm even after they have ignored our recall. Dogs are more visual than oral. When taught properly, hand targeting seems like you have magnetized your dog’s nose to your hand.

piper through sit stay

















How to teach your dog to hand target

Step 1

Put a small bit of food under your thumb, and leave your hand at your side. Encourage your dog to investigate by looking at your hand, and possibly taking a step or two backwards.

Mark the nose touch with a click or verbal marker like yes and quickly reward dog with food in hand.

Do this step about three times. You may try just rubbing your hand with food to make it smell “good then C/T (click/treat)

Step 2

Repeat above without food in the target hand.  You need to get away from food in your target hand as soon as possible.  Be  sure to give your dog a treat every time she nose touches your out stretched hand and deliver the goodie quickly.

Step 3

Name the behavior as the dog is doing it.

Step 4

Give the dog a verbal cue along with your outstretched hand. As a general rule, don’t ask the dog for any behavior unless you re willing to bet me 20 bucks that your dog will do it on the first cue.

Step 5

GRADUALLY add distance and slowly vary where your hand is when your dog touches it. The rule of thumb is don’t make it harder for your dog until it seems that your dog’s nose is magnetized to your hand and they have aced that same distance 10 times.   Targeting is fluid. Don’t ask your dog to stay first in the beginning and try to keep them standing and moving.

Step 6

Reward your dog by dropping a goodie on the ground. When your dog is done eating, your hand should be in target position. This game can also become “go get it”, and is a wonderful game to play when the weather is foul.

Please remember that you should  always “go back to kindergarten” and make it easier for your dog if they get confused.


Once your dog understands the concept of hand targeting, you may want to try teaching your dog with a target stick. It is taught the same way as listed above, and you may of course use a DIY a zombie arm, a telescoping antenna, or just about anything else you have laying around. I upcycled the small telescoping light weight curtain roads that my house came with and they telescoped and already had a small ball at each end. Cooking utensils like long spoons and plain wooden dowels all work.

prat and deb go for hand

















Some behaviors you may want to teach with a target stick may include:

*go through my legs

*leg weave

*circle my body

*go around an object

*distance work from your body.

You of course may want to purchase a target stick. I use Karen Pryor’s Click a stick, and it has a clicker built in.

Nothing wrong with using a little tape of glue and adding a clicker to your home made target stick. After all, we only have so many hands right?

Special thanks to our dog models and their awesome humans. Deb and Pratchett the fabulous Italian Greyhound, Liz and her two wonderful dogs, Trill the ACD x rescue and Peeper the Aussie.

Nancy’s blog is sponsored by Doggy Loot.
Check out the deal of the day, every day!

BONUS use for Zombie Arms!

Arms are on sale at party and Halloween stores right now.  Pick them up for your rescue or shelter to use as assess-a  hands to help test for resource guarding. 

Beck demon eyes 11

And thanks to Beck for being my bestest zombie dog muse.

beck snake 2

And the very bestest flame retardant polyester snake evah.