I love this video by Emily Larlham showing the power of teaching a dog the touch cue. This is one of the very first behaviors I teach any horse I work with. It creates the ultimate environment of attraction where the animal moves towards something that feels good, rather than away from something that feels bad. It activates their SEEKING emotion. (Dr. Jaak Panksepp)
I first teach the touch cue using a target stick, then I teach them to target the back of my hand. This has probably been the single-most valuable skill I’ve labeled for my horses. For instance, instead of having to motivate them from behind (waving of arms, shushing, tapping with whip) say to walk on a trailer, or move out of my space, I can simply hold out my hand or target stick and say touch, and my horse gets to move towards something with eagerness, and happy anticipation rather than moving away from an irritant or aversive.
Once my horses became ‘touch’ savvy, is when I began to experience and feel the contrast between attracting my horse into a behavior or forcing. Soon I began to see with my horses that even a benign tap on the hindquarters to move them more quickly through a gate was ‘repelling’ them. Now I can stand in front of them with my hand outstretched and invite or attract them where I need them to go. Their attentiveness, softness and enthusiasm to interact with me is much higher when they are moving toward something to touch rather than trying to avoid being touched.
Then, the exciting part is that they can learn to touch and target other objects with both their mouth and hooves which has made my life so dreamy and easy with my herd. More about this attractive easy dreaminess next time…..