by Angelica Steinker


1. Shaping

2. Prompting

3. Capturing

4. Observational Learning


Shaping – the process of training your dog by rewarding a very small part of the end behavior. Gradually, over time, you will require more of the dog until you have ‘shaped’ the goal behavior. For example, you want your dog to wave. You start by clicking and rewarding the dog for shifting her weight off her left paw. Next, you click and reward the dog for lifting the left paw. Next, you require that the dog lift the paw 2 inches. Finally you only click and reward if the dog has lifted her paw to eye level. At this point, you add the cue ‘wave.’

Dog howlingPrompting – the process of training your dog by using some sort of physical prop to get the goal behavior. You will be using your hand target, a stick, and other objects to help create the goal behaviors. For example, to teach the dog to spin in a circle you can first teach the dog to touch her nose to the end of a stick. You can then simply use this stick to teach her to spin by slowly moving the stick in a circular motion. The dog will want to follow the stick in order to touch her nose to it, and you will have gotten the spin that you wanted. Once you have the entire spin, add your cue. Gradually fade the stick by shortening it and then only using your hand. Eventually you can fade your hand movement and only use the verbal cue.

Capturing - is the easiest of these three methods. It only requires good observational skills and good timing. Capturing is simply clicking and rewarding your dog for a behavior that she frequently engages in. In order to capture a behavior you must be able click and reward it several times a day or ideally within the same training session. Avoid attempting to capture behaviors that only occur on an infrequent basis, the result is likely to be a very lengthy process.

Observational Learning – is the process of one being observing another and then imitating the behavior to gain access to a reward. Dogs can learn from humans via observational learning if a human touches a target, a dog that has a history of training, will likely also touch that target. Likewise dogs will mimic the same body part so if you touch the target with your hand they likely use their paw. If you touch the target with your nose they will likely touch the target with their nose too.  

Reward Delivery

Generally it is a good idea to use food for positional tricks or tricks that only require small movements such as paw and nose targeting. Tricks that require faster movement may require rewarding with a toy or a tossed piece of food. Either way both the timing of the reward, when you reward, and the delivery of the reward, where you reward, are extremely important. The reward delivery needs to support the behavior you are training. If you are teaching ‘wave’, the dog is generally asked to sit before waving. Click while the dog’s paw is in the air and then very quickly give the dog her treat while she is still sitting. Failure to do this could result in you losing both your sit cue and your wave trick. You get what you train, not what you want!

Two Types of Behaviors

Before you teach your dog a trick, decide if you want the behavior to have duration or just be a moment long. If you are training your dog to sit in a cart and then allow a person to pull that cart, you will need an on/off switch for the sit behavior in the cart. The dog sits in the cart, until you release her. Other tricks, such as left (dog spinning in circle to left) do not require an on/off switch; the dog simply does the behavior and is clicked and rewarded.

It is recommended that tricks like ‘wave’ be taught with an on/off switch. The cue wave signals to the dog to raise the paw. The cue ‘okay’ releases the dog from waving, and signals that the trick is over and she can lower the paw.

Nose and Paw Are Connected

It isn’t magic, but it can seem like it, because when you click and treat a dog for nosing a target and then you suddenly stop, the dog will usually use her paw to smack at the target. The same is true in reverse, if you repeatedly click and reward a dog for targeting with her paw and suddenly stop, the dog will usually nose the object.