Basics of Teaching Them to Press:
- Never force a button press. Let them try it on their own.
- Keep their nails short for stability and comfort.
- Throw a party for every press! Celebrate successes to build confidence and understanding.
- All presses are valid, regardless of the body part used (paws, noses, cheeks, and even bellies!)
- Choose a motivating concept for the target training button. Keep reading to learn more about target training.
- Use tapping fingers technique to attract attention to the button. Tap near or around the button to get your learner to watch and listen.
Strategies to Get Them Pressing:
- Enticing Movement:
- Use enthusiasm and movement to get them interested. Try sliding the HexTile back and forth, or waving your fingers around the HexTile and button. Let them sniff and touch the button, and praise them for any interest. Be excited!
- Strategic Placement:
- Place the button in an accessible and enticing location.
OUTSIDE example: Place the OUTSIDE button right in front of where your learner will step to stand in front of the door you usually let them out of. If needed, open the door a bit so they move forward to sniff at the outside air. If you’ve placed the button properly in their path, chances are they’ll press it eventually. When they do, celebrate and send them outside.
- PLAY example: Dance your flirt pole, rope, or other toy over to lay atop the PLAY button. They might activate the button when they go for it! You can lure with a toy just like you would with a treat. Place the button in front of one of their paws about a natural step distance away from where it is now. Hold, move, or toss the toy in front of them slightly farther than the button to possibly cause them to step on it. You may have to remind them to “get” the toy however you normally would. If they like tug, you can also entice them to hold onto a toy and help them walk over the button by leading them across the button’s position until it gets activated.
- While it’s possible some learners won’t connect the fact THEY activated the button (even if it was by accident) with why you got so excited, these activities are still worth trying because many will catch on.
- Formal Button Target Training
- Button target training teaches your learner how to press and lets them practice pressing a button repeatedly in a focused way.
- It also helps build a positive association with buttons which encourages exploration and experimentation.
Button Target Training
Button target training teaches your learner how to press and lets them practice pressing a button repeatedly in a focused way. It also helps build a positive association with buttons which encourages exploration and experimentation.
Practice button target training if your learner:
- shows no interest in pressing buttons themself
- is an established button presser who needs to practice technique or precision
Different types of button target training help with different things.
Target training refers to teaching a learner to touch something. In the button teaching community, button target training includes methods to:
- Teach learners to press buttons on their own
- Increase interest and comfort in pressing buttons
- Refine pressing technique
- Improve pressing precision and eye-paw or eye-nose coordination
Step-by-Step Button Target Training
Quick training terms
Target: The post-it note or button with a post-it note on top of it
Mark: A word like “yes” (or a click) that instantly and clearly tells a learner they’ve done the right thing. It’s a more precise way to teach behaviors because it's immediate and signals to the learner that a reward is coming.
Jackpot: Giving greater amounts of a reward or a higher value reward in response to the learner’s awesome effort or performance
Cue: The word and/or motion you use to ask the learner for specific behavior.
Pro Tip: Reward “in position.” When delivering a treat for a target touch, always hold the treat reward on the target itself. This will connect the reward to the position you want and can lead to more committed and firm presses.
To prepare: Choose the concept that is most motivating to your learner and record your word for it on the target button.*
*We refer to the TREAT button as your learner’s target button in the following exercises. However, while target training, you can substitute their word for whatever your learner’s strongest motivator is. If that’s tug, record “play” or “tug” on your target training button and play for 10 seconds to reward instead of giving a treat.
You will need:
- Your target button
- Many small treats
- Mini post-its*
*Blue or yellow post-it notes are ideal because learners can see these colors. If you have regular-sized post-its, you can always cut them to size. They should fit on the button without covering it entirely.
Part 1: Start by teaching “target”
Pro Tip: Rub a yummy treat over the post-it note to make it more interesting. Switch to a fresh post-it once they’ve learned to touch it.
- Place the post-it in the center of your hand.
- Say “target.”
- Extend your flat hand out, holding it a few inches in front of your learner’s nose.*
*Know your learner. If putting something close to their face causes them to move away, hold it farther away so they will investigate it on their own terms. Moving the target slightly away as they lean forward can get them to pursue the target more insistently.
- Encourage them to investigate the post-it. Try pointing or tapping with the other hand to draw their attention to it.
- If they touch it on their own, mark it and reward with a jackpot!
- If they sniff it, you can gently shift the post-it to make contact, then mark immediately upon contact (timing is important) and reward.
- Repeat Steps 1-4 until they have learned that “target” means they should firmly touch the post-it.
- When your learner is consistently targeting the post-it note in your hand (i.e., getting it right more than 80% of the time), stick the post-it on top of your TREAT button. Holding the button in your hand, repeat steps 2 and 3.
- If they actually activate the button, mark, and reward enthusiastically with a jackpot. Repeat at least 8-10 times before moving on to Part 2.
If your learner touches the post-it, but not hard enough to activate the button, ask them to target the button again. This time, use your thumb to help them apply pressure when they touch to make sure the button activates. Once the button is activated, reward! With enough repetitions, they learn rewards only appear if the button is audibly activated.
- If your learner seems confused, return to steps 1-4 for a few reps before placing the post-it note on the button. It’s okay to go back!
Part 2: Teach them “target” means press the button
- Hold the back of your hand flat on the ground with the post-it button in your palm face up and say “target.” Ideally, your learner will attempt to press the target button, even though your hand is on the ground. If they don’t, lift your hand only as much as it takes to get them to press the button as they were before. As they catch on, gradually keep asking as you move the target lower and lower to the ground. Mark and reward every time your learner successfully activates the button.
- Once your learner is reliably targeting the button in your hand on the ground (on cue), you can remove your hand, and ask them to target the button on the ground by itself. If they press the button when you say “target,” mark immediately, and reward with a jackpot. Repeat at least 8-10 times.
- Pause for a moment after these repeated repetitions of asking for target. See if they’ll take the initiative to press the button on their own. Give them a full minute– check your phone or look around to feign distraction.
- If they do press it, mark and reward them with a jackpot! This is an awesome way for them to learn they can press buttons on their own. Keep going and reward them every time they press the button on their own without you saying anything for as long as you’re both comfortable. Get at least 10 reps in if you can.
If they aren’t ready to try pressing on their own without being asked, that’s okay too! Keep practicing it on cue! Button target training, even if it’s always on cue, will help build positive associations with buttons. Frequent modeling and sufficiently interesting or motivating buttons choices should lead your learner to begin exploring the soundboard on their own eventually.
Button Target Training for Precision:
Target Issue: Learner is struggling to control which button they’re pressing or doesn’t seem comfortable fully utilizing all the buttons on their soundboard.
Be sure you have optimized your learner’s soundboard button layout so they can comfortably reach each button without activating unwanted buttons. See Planning Your Soundboard for details.
Button Target Training for Technique
Target Issue: Learner claws, digs, bites, or otherwise tosses the button out of the HexTile.
You will need:
- A HexTile
- Target button with a post-it note
- Many small treats (opt for less exciting ones for this exercise)
- (Optional) a piece of rolled tape to secure the HexTile to the floor
- Practice the classic button target training game.
- Ask them to touch the target button.
- If they claw or otherwise displace the button out of the HexTile, calmly say “oops” and replace the button without giving them a treat so they can try again.
- Repeat asking them to touch the target button.
- You may want to remind them by saying “easy,” “be nice,” “be gentle,” or any other word or phrase you use to ask your learner to interact carefully with something.
- Keep your energy level as low as possible while still responding to them. Speak softly and soothingly, slowing your words and movements down to help bring their energy level down to a more manageable level.
- For “heavy paw-ers,” you can ask them to press while lying down or slightly raise the HexTile off the ground to increase the difficulty and discourage exaggerated scooping motions with their paw.
- When they interact with the button carefully (or at least less aggressively), mark and reward them while maintaining low energy if that’s what they need. Only reward your learner when the button remains in place in the HexTile
Pro Tip: If TREAT or PLAY are too exciting for your learner, choose a less exciting button to work on, like SCRITCHES or a WATER modeling mini-game. If they are really struggling, make sure they’ve gotten enough exercise to get excess energy out before trying again.
ALWAYS reward your learner no matter what part of their body they use to touch the target or press a button!
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