Using Restrained Release to Teach a "Go To Target" Behavior

I love shaping as much as the next trainer — but I occasionally come across a dog who does better with luring and prompting (including my own young dog, Levi). So I combined a few concepts I've seen elsewhere and used what I'm calling "Restrained Release" to teach him a targeting behavior.

What concepts? 

Well, I'm making use of opposition reflex here in much the same way we often do when teaching a restrained recall — holding the dog back and encouraging them to pull forward leads to a naturally dynamic and enthusiastic behavior. I'm also using a location specific marker ("Get it" means food out on the floor) and combining those things with the visual prompt of the food being consistently delivered on the target. 

This is the method I typically use when starting a new dog in Treibball, since it's quick and it builds an interest in searching out the target that can then carry over nicely to going out and around a ball to find their target even when they can't see it.

​Photo shows Levi and I working on a restrained recall at FDSA Camp a few years ago. Photo credit Great Dane Photos.

Getting Started with Restrained Release

Equipment Needed:

1-4 small targets (anything about 4x4 inches will work) - Yogurt lids, cut up yoga mat, duct taped phone books, etc all work. You want it to be a bit bigger than your dogs paw — obvious for him to see on whatever floor you have in your house, and unlikely to slip on that floor.

For my video examples, I used a small piece of cardboard.

What to do:

To use this method, you will start with your dog close to you and place your target on the floor nearby (within arm's reach). Hold onto your dog's collar, and then place a cookie on the target. Release your dog to go get the cookie.

Here is my very first session working on this with my then-2-year-old English Cocker, Levi. 


You'll notice a few things here.

First, I'm saying "get it" as I release him. That just tells him there's food on the floor and he can go get it — talking at this point isn't really necessary, I just tend to talk to my dogs a lot. Later in the process, I will switch from "Get it" to "Target" which is the actual cue i will use for go to your target.

Second, my cookies and my target are a similar color. While I can't say for sure, I do think this helped me when it came time to begin to fade the cookie prompt. You'll see this in the next video.

Once your dog is quickly and easily going to the target (I recommend doing at least 2-3 sessions, each about 10 cookies long), you can start fading the cookie.

To fade the cookie we're going to "ping pong" back and forth — so the first time we try this, we'll warm up our dog with a few reps with a cookie present, then do a rep where there isn't a cookie and we just tap on the target. When your dog gets there, mark that (you can click, or mark verbally) and then get that cookie in there fast!

In the video below you can see Levi runs toward the target, realizes there's not a cookie on it and pauses, then says, "Well what if i…" and goes to it anyway! So I mark and get that cookie in there as fast as possible!

After that, I do another rep with a cookie present, then try again without it. We'll alternate this. If your dog is struggling, increase the number of reps with a cookie present (for example, maybe you do 2 reps with a cookie, 1 without.

Still struggling? 3 with a cookie, 1 without. Still struggling? 4 with a cookie, 1 without. Etc. Until your dog is starting to get it!

If your dog is doing well, then you can begin to do reps without a cookie back to back (2 reps without a cookie, 1 rep with a cookie… and gradually build up the number of reps without a cookie). 


Problem Solving: What If You Have a Big Dog?

If you have a big dog, and are having a hard time with this, there's an easy way to make your life easier… use a door! Any door in your house is fine. Simply slip the handle of a leash around the handle on the "outside" of the door, clip your dog to the leash — then place your target out of their reach, place your cookie, go unclip your dog and let them get the treat. Repeat.

When it comes time to fade the cookie, make sure you still use the same system, and remember to tap on the target!

Using the door lets you worry a little less about strong dogs helping themselves to the cookie while you're still setting up. 

E192: Helene Lawler - Loopy Listening
E191: Julie Flanery - "How do I train that?"