Though your dog may take five minutes to find a piece of ham that landed on their head, they possess a truly sophisticated mind, capable of learning an incredibly wide range of skills.
Your dog can learn almost any trick, so long as they are physically capable, motivated with a reward, and you communicate clearly by using the right training technique for the task. Most tricks can be taught with one of three core dog training techniques: luring, capturing or shaping.
What Is “Luring”?
Luring is when you guide your dog by holding a treat in front of their nose. The most effective way to use luring is to use the food lure to steer the dog into the desired position for the first few attempts, then transition the luring motion into a hand signal, and then add a verbal cue.
It’s important to fade out the food lure as soon as you can, or the dog will only perform the behaviour when they have a treat in front of their nose.
Luring is probably the most popular dog training technique. Beginner dog trainers may depend on it heavily, while advanced dog trainers aim to avoid it when possible.
You’ll typically use luring to teach “sit,” and “down,” and to teach your dog to use agility equipment like weave poles and ramps.
Luring is similar to targeting, in which you would teach your dog to follow your hand or a target stick. With targeting, the food only appears after the performed behaviour. As with a clicker, a target is only used while teaching a new trick.
What Is “Capturing”?
Capturing is when you teach your dog to perform a natural behaviour on cue. You simply wait for your dog to perform the behaviour without any prompting or guidance from you, and mark and reward them immediately afterwards.
For example, maybe you love the way your dog stretches after a nap, and want them to do on the cue, “stretch!”
You’ll keep a few treats on hand and wait for your dog to stretch. As soon as they do, you’ll mark the behaviour by clicking with your clicker (or using a verbal marker like, “Yes!” or “Good!”) then give them a treat.
When you consistently reward a behaviour, your dog will perform it more often. When you notice your dog is stretching in front of you to get the treat, you can start to add a hand signal and/or your verbal cue.
Capturing only works with behaviours that your dog does on their own. You can “capture” your dog when they sit, yawn, stretch, scratch, tilt their head, bark or sneeze. It’s best to start with a super simple, common behaviour to help your dog understand that they’ll be rewarded when they perform a behaviour that you like.
What Is “Shaping”?
Shaping is when you break down a behaviour into easily achievable steps, and reward your dog for making small steps towards the desired end result.
For example, let’s say you want to teach your dog to step inside a box. You would put the box on the floor and reward your dog just for going near it. Upon receiving an easily earned reward, your dog will be motivated to receive another. You’d raise the bar for the next treat by waiting for your dog to put one paw inside the box. Then, you’d hold onto the treat until your dog puts two paws in the box.
With shaping, your dog is able to make progress at their own pace. A common mistake people make with luring is using food to make their dog move out of their comfort zone too quickly. If you were to use a treat to guide the dog into the box before they have had time to feel comfortable stepping into it, they could become stressed and may even become afraid of the box.
Shaping does not always have to have a concrete end goal. You can also use it to work with your dog to develop new tricks. Let your dog get creative by rewarding them for any interesting behaviours that they may offer.
Shaping is an advanced dog training technique that requires excellent timing and observational skills. Do it incorrectly, and your dog will get frustrated and confused. It’s crucial that you reward tiny steps towards the end goal, and reward at frequent intervals, while giving your dog enough time to use their brain. It helps to watch videos and work with a trainer, in-person, to develop a knack for timing, and learn to understand your dog’s body language so they are always excited to work, rather than frustrated.
Let’s Reach Your Training Goals!
Learning about the different core dog training techniques is just the first step. Now, you’re ready to make a plan to reach your goals, and use what you’ve learned to develop your dog’s skills. Your relationship with your dog, their physical and mental abilities, and your ability to communicate with them will determine how you can best use these techniques.
An experienced, positive reinforcement dog trainer is your best resource for assessing your dog’s skills, avoiding frustration, and making training enjoyable for you and your dog every step of the way.
Contact Healthy Houndz to find out how we can help you and your dog reach your goals and beyond – whether you want to train your dog for agility or obedience trials, nosework, or just a few clever tricks to challenge their mind.