Capturing, Luring, Targeting, Shaping!?

When it comes to teaching a dog new behaviors you have several options. You can capture, lure or shape. You can also move the dogs into the desired position or punish the dog when it’s NOT doing the desired behavior (making the correct behavior pleasant because of the lack of discomfort/pain). However, I don’t agree with the last two ways of training a dog and won’t go into detail about them here. I assume you have already read about clicker training either here or elsewhere and understand the principles.

C&T= click and treat – but it doesn’t have to be a food item, anything the dog (or cat or ferret) finds rewarding can be used.

When you capture a behavior you C&T when the dog performs a behavior you want to «teach» the dog of its own accord. Of course most dogs know how to sit, for instance. But when you want to teach them a cue for this behavior so that they can do it when you want them to you have to first show the dog that sitting is a behavior that can pay off and then you can teach the cue.

Start off just sitting around waiting for the dog to do what you want to capture. Or, if you want to capture several behaviors just click the first one the dog performs. Let’s use SIT as the example. Have your clicker and some good treats available. Whenever Fido sits – C&T. In the beginning you’ll likely see some confusion after the first treat while Fido wonder what caused the C&T. Perhaps (s)he’ll come over and try to get more treats from you that way. Just ignore all attempts of getting the treats until (s)he performs another sit, then C&T. Soon the connection between the sit and the C&T will become apparent and the frequency of sits will increase. Feel free to throw the treats to make sure (s)he gets back up. That way Fido is in the position where another sit is possible. I hand feed treats when I want the dog to stay in the position and toss the treats when I want multiple repetitions. Once this concept is understood you’ll be able to train frequency and duration on the same behavior without causing confusion.

When your dog is able to sit right back down after ingesting the treat it’s time to start adding the cue. At first you add it right when the dog is sitting and then gradually start saying it before the dog sits. If the dog does not sit after you’ve said SIT – lower your criteria so you don’t risk diluting the cue.

Luring generally refers to the technique of using a treat (or toy) to tempt the dog into doing something. For a sit you will generally move the treat up and behind the dog’s face causing it to reach for it and sitting down will often be a side effect. Bajas was trained with this method and it’s absolutely possible to teach many things this way. You then have to wean the dog off the lure, though, which with very food motivated dogs can be tricky as they’ve only focused on the food and not on what they were doing at the time. Some make it a little easier for the dog by C&Ting for the correct behavior.

I no longer use the lure method. In my opinion it’s more trouble than benefit in most cases as things like a sit or down are so easy to capture. Also – I want my dogs to be polite when I have a treat or fun something. When I have a new toy in my hand, or my sandwich I don’t want the dogs to try to get it in any way. Therefore it seems counter productive to reward a dog for trying to get a treat from my hand, which is the principle of the lure. I do, however, use targets for some of the behaviors where others might use a lure.

A target is… well (duh) anything the dog has learned to target. Hand targets (palm, finger, fist) are common, as are target sticks and mouse pad targets. When using targeting instead of a lure we’ll generally use something the dog will touch its nose to rather than a mouse pad target. Once the dog knows to bump the target with his/her nose (s)he will follow the target stick/hand as a more traditionally trained dog will follow a lure, and this way you can move a dog into a desired position.

So what’s the difference? Two important differences between targeting and luring:
1) The target has initially been shaped so the dog is following the hand for a very different reason
2) There is no distracting food treat to fade out, making the fading of your helping target much easier than fading a lure

Now this is the most fun one! When we shape we divide the desired behavior up into many tiny fragments and gradually work towards the intended goal. One of the first behaviors I shaped with Gummi was walking into an old car tire and sitting down. I put the tire out on the lawn and C&T’ed him for looking at it, then walking towards it, then sniffing it, stepping on it, going into it and eventually sitting down.

Shaping opens up a world of opportunities and is really fun both for you and the dog. It really makes them think, which can help tire out an energetic puppy! Shaping does require you to be precise with your timing of the click. It’s also important to be able to break the behavior down into small enough pieces so it’s possible for the dog to make a gradual progression towards your goal. With a little practice you and your dog will both become better at the process. These are among the reasons it can be good to start out with some silly tricks – that way the pressure is off and you can just have fun and learn together.

You can also shape different targets like mentioned in the targeting section above. For me the palm target was the easiest to begin with as it wasn’t possible for Gummi to get my entire hand in his mouth.. LOL! Hold out your palm – your puppy will most likely look or sniff at it as it’s most likely already associated with treats! C&T for all interest and gradually for nose touches. Once your puppy is reliably bumping his nose when you take out your palm you can gradually increase the criteria by requiring him to keep his nose there for longer. Now you can use the target for many different things – like instead of a lure! Or to make sure puppy comes all the way to you when you practice recalls. As a bonus most dogs LOVE their hand touches so this will most likely make the recall even better.

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