How to Teach Your Dog Something New
To teach your dog to do something specific on cue, you need to get your dog to do that particular behavior, and then reward it. The actions you reward are the actions your dog will repeat. The tricky part is getting your dog to do the behavior in the first place! There are 3 main ways to do this: luring, shaping, or capturing.
The most common way to lure is to put a small piece of food right on your dog’s nose (close enough that he can lick it) and move the food in the direction you want him to go. Where the nose goes, the rest of the dog follows.
To lure your dog into a “sit,” put a treat by your dog’s nose and slowly drag it up and over her head. Her nose will go up and her bottom will go down. Say “yes” to mark the behavior and give her the treat to reward her for sitting. Keep using treats to lure your dog into sitting 5 or 6 times. Then, try using the same hand gesture, without food in your hand. If your dog is able to successfully sit, say “yes” and give her a treat reward from your other hand. The gesture now becomes your hand signal for “sit.” If your dog cannot complete the action, you’ll need to continue to lure her with a treat in your hand a few more times.
Shaping means rewarding approximations of a behavior, and then building on that until you get to your end goal. It is like learning to swim. You don’t start by doing laps in the ocean – first, you learn to blow bubbles through your nose, then practice kicking and correct body position, and finally you put it all together. This is shaping.
Say you want to teach your dog how to lay down on cue, but luring hasn’t been successful. First, you would reward the dog when her head goes down toward the ground; next, for bending one front elbow; then for bending both front elbows. Finally, working your way to rewarding only a full down positon.
This is a passive way to train a behavior. Basically, you wait for the target behavior to occur naturally, say your marker word (“yes!”) and reward it. For example, your dog is getting up from a snooze and does a yoga-like doggie stretch. If you say your marker word and reward with a treat every time you see your dog do this stretch, your dog will figure out that he gets treats for stretching and start to offer the behavior. You can then start adding a verbal cue (“Bow!”) and get your dog to take a bow on cue.
What to use when?
Luring, shaping and capturing are all positive reinforcement training methods and you can mix and match depending on your personal preference and what you’re trying to accomplish. Lure if you want to train something quickly and want to repeat the behavior several times in a row. Shaping is a great way to teach more complex behaviors. It can take more time, but it also makes your dog use her brain and will tire her out. Capture when you want to train a behavior that is difficult to lure, but that your dog offers on her own, unprompted.