Karen B. London
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Turning A Dog’s Behavior Into a Trick
“Capturing” behavior is part of training
Marley learned high-5 in one session--He's a natural!

One of the secrets to teaching dogs tricks is starting with what they naturally do. If the dog has a tendency to perform a particular behavior, then it will be easier to make that a cute trick that is performed on cue than trying to get her to do some behavior that is not part of her natural repertoire.

The term “capturing behavior” refers to reinforcing your dog for performing a behavior that she does on her own so that she will be more likely to do it again in the future. Once your dog has figured out which behavior is the one that causes you to give her a treat, it is time to start introducing the cue that you will use to tell her to perform that specific behavior.
For best success, try capturing behavior that comes so naturally to your dog that she does it often. You can then reinforce it often, which makes the process of turning it into a cute trick that she does on cue both faster and easier. You may have to fine tune the behavior to get the trick to be perfect, but you still start by capturing a behavior that your dog already does on her own.
A dog who tends to use her paws a lot naturally is a great candidate for high-five, wave, or shake. Dogs who tend to creep when lying down or even when they are supposed to be in a stay are easy to teach to crawl. Dogs who rest on their backs with their legs in the air are already doing a behavior that many trainers call “belly up.”
Spinning on cue is easiest to teach to dogs who naturally go in circles when they are excited. (However, I don’t like to teach this to dogs who spin and spin when they get revved up because I’m worried it will develop into a habit that they will have trouble stopping.)
Part of training is teaching a dog to perform a certain behavior and another part is teaching them to do it on cue. If your dog already exhibits the behavior, then all you have to do is capture that behavior and put it on cue, which means that your work is already partly done before you officially start the training.
Have you taught a trick based on a behavior your dog already does?



Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Amy | May 2 2011 |

Capture method is how I taught my dog "bummer." I say bummer, and he puts his head down on his front paws.

Submitted by Liz | May 3 2011 |

I taught my dog to "take a bow" by clicking and treating every time he got up from a nap and stretched. After he was stretching to get that click, I paired it with a visual cue (I take a bow), then the verbal cue "take a bow". People LOVE this trick!

I also taught him how to high-five (raising my hand from "shake"), then to "wave bye-bye" (moved my hand away from his paw when he tried to high-five). very cute tricks for him to show off.

Now I'm working on getting my little one to "shake" on cue. She swims once a week and loves to be wrapped up in the towel after so I'm using that as my reward and working on a visual cue (shaking my hand). Next will be an on-cue sneeze!

Submitted by Veronica | May 3 2011 |

Oh! That makes a lot of sense! Romeo puts his paws over his head and down his ears like he's smoothing his hair, whenever he is excited that I've come home. He does it while he's on his back, though, so this might take some doing...

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