3 Ways to Train Almost Any Trick or Behavior
Updated: Apr 28
One of the best ways to be a great trainer for your dog is to understand the three main ways professionals train behaviors using positive reinforcement: Capturing, luring, and shaping! (Don't worry too much about the terms, just remembering the concepts is key!)
Capturing is catching a behavior when it happens naturally and rewarding it!
This is great for behaviors that your dog does on his own, like giving you eye contact, lying down, barking/howling/speaking, or even sneezing!
To capture a behavior, wait for it to happen and then mark it and reward your dog. (Mark means to say "yes" or use your clicker.)
You can put your dog in a situation where he's likely to do the behavior you want, too. For example, to get him to howl, you might play a video of other dogs howling!
Once your dog starts repeating the behavior, you can put a name to it. Just say your cue word before your dog does the behavior. (So, for example, if your dog is readily howling when you start the video, say "Sing it!" right before you start the video.)
You can also just "capture" behavior you like in certain situations and never name it. "If You Like It Then You Shoulda Put a Treat On It" is a great example of this.
Luring is using a piece of food like a magnet to guide your dog into the behavior/position you want.
Luring is great for behaviors that involve body movement, like sit, down, stand, jump, spin, sit pretty, etc.
Luring also lets us teach our dog TWO cues: A hand signal and a verbal cue.
Whenever we teach a behavior with luring, we follow 4 steps:
1. Lure the behavior with food and a hand signal
2. Hand signal with no food
3. Verbal cue and hand signal
4. Verbal cue only
Shaping is rewarding bigger and bigger steps toward the goal behavior.
This is a great choice for more complicated behaviors or ones that your dog is getting frustrated with. Good examples include rolling over, stay, and even "bring me a soda"!
For example, some pups won’t lie down all the way when lured. Rather than waiting for the full behavior and frustrating our dog in the process, we reward steps toward the eventual goal. So, we reward our dog for just moving his head downward, then for bending his elbows, then for lowering his body, then for a full down!
Here's how to use shaping to train your dog to "roll over":
The key to getting a great roll over is how you use your hand to lure your dog. (Yup, this is luring AND shaping!) Use your treat hand like a magnet for where you want your dog’s nose to go. Start with your dog in a down, take your treat hand from her nose and slowly move it toward her shoulder. It should feel like you’re trying to get her to touch her nose to her shoulder. Reward her for any head turning at all at first.
Your first goal is to get your dog to flop over onto their hip and to roll onto their shoulder.
Now, we’re going to try and get our dog rolling. Use the same hand motion as before. Your dog should flop her hip over and roll onto her shoulder. Now, keep that hand close to her face and rotate it up over her head, not too high, and encourage her to finish the roll.
You can give treats every few seconds for any progress she makes.
Keep luring and treating until your dog makes it all the way over. When she does, throw her a mini party!
Once she’s rolling readily, you can give her treats only at the end of the roll.
You can also add a hand signal by gradually moving your hand further away from her body when you make the circle. Eventually, the hand signal becomes a pointing finger “rolling” in a circle!