Four Major Training Methods


There is no "one Way" to train any dog. Each method will have advantages and disadvantages and a good teacher will learn to try all methods and find the best that works in all different situations for each individual dog.


Capturing is rewarding a target behavior without luring it or prompting it in any way, but simply waiting for it to occur ('catching it in action'). Reinforcing an animal in the act of performing the complete behavior. Capturing is good for adding a cue to a behavior your dog already offers naturally. One example is catching a dog yawning and reinforcing it every time it happens and putting the behvaior on cue.

Capturing - Pros

  • It is a safe method to train the behavior.
  • Easy for novice trainers to use it. Timing doesn’t have to be very precise..
  • Since the dog is already displaying the ‘end behavior’ it is a fast way to instill a behaviors..

Capturing - Cons

  • The training is always dependent on the dogs willingness to perform the behavior and the chances of the trainer being present at the time. The trainer must have a bridge signal and reward present..
  • Must always be alert to "catch" the behavior.
  • Marker must be very precise.
  • Must have reward ready at all times.
  • Many times we don't have the pleasure of rapid repetitions.


Shaping is a conditioning paradigm used primarily in the experimental analysis of behavior. The method used is differential reinforcement of successive approximations. It was introduced by B. F. Skinner with pigeons and extended to dogs, dolphins, humans and other species. Shaping, or as it's formally known, “shaping by successive approximations,” simply means breaking down a behavior into tiny increments, and reinforcing the dog at each incremental step until you've achieved the full behavior.

Shaping - Pros

  • By breaking down harder or "complex" behaviors into smaller steps makes more difficult behaviors likely to be accomplished
  • Can be less stressful for dog and human because there are way more small successes.
  • No prompt to fade out.

Shaping - Cons

  • Harder for new teachers to know when to raise the criteria, plan for next reward-able target approximation.
  • Must always have precise timing.
  • We use lots of rewards so we must learn to portion them and keep the dog motivated throughout the steps to final behavior.

Free Shaping

Shaping, or as it's regularly known, “shaping by successive approximations,” this simply means breaking down a behavior into tiny increments, and reinforcing the dog at each incremental step until you've achieved the full behavior (end goal). That is, the trainer does not prompt any responses, but rather waits patiently for the approximation and provides reinforcement whenever it occurs.

Luring | Prompting/Luring

Luring simply involves using a food reward to guide the dog into the desired position or behavior. Example: place a piece of food by a sitting dogs nose and start luring him into a down position. Training using a lure is called luring.

Luring - Pros

  • Because a lure elicits a behvaior it speeds things up.
  • We can turn a prompt into a cue. (e.g. hand signal)
  • This is an easy choice for beginners because it is easy to see and understand how to execute.

Luring - Cons

  • The prompt becomes part of the cue therefore it can be hard to fade out for beginners.
  • It is important to know the value of the reinforcer for each dog because they can be more focused on the reward than the targeted behavior.

Prompt | Shaping with Prompting

Prompting is anything using physical (minimal amount of assistance) to help a dog perform a behavior you want so you can reward it.

Prompting - Pros

  • All shaping and prompting advantages with the benefit of helping the dog to the final behavior.
  • Good example is teaching a dog the down cue with luring the dogs nose down to the floor and using the letter L formation to get a dog tho lie down. Rewarding small approximations to a successful position.

Prompting - Cons

  • The cons will be the same as for shaping and prompting methods.
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