Methods of “Getting Behavior”: Capturing

There are a variety of methods a trainer can use to "manufacture" a behavior to which a cue is eventually added. This week, I figured...

Casey Lomonaco  |  May 24th 2010


There are a variety of methods a trainer can use to “manufacture” a behavior to which a cue is eventually added. This week, I figured I’d discuss five common methods of “getting behavior,” introducing a new technique each day.

Today, we’ll talk about one of the easiest and fastest ways to train a new behavior, capturing.

WHAT IS CAPTURING GOOD FOR?

Capturing is good for adding a cue to a behavior your dog already offers naturally. Going into a crate, lying down, sitting, yawning, lip licking, sniffing, recalls, appropriate heel position, eye contact, “play bowing,” and even sneezing are all examples of “capturable behaviors.” Even “going potty” can be put on cue!

HOW DO I DO IT?

To “capture” a new behavior and add a cue, think of your clicker (or other marker of choice) as a camera – you are “taking a picture” of the desired behavior. For instance, if I wanted to train my dog to lie down on cue, I would:

  • Begin my training session in a low distraction/boring environment. The bathroom, for instance.
  • Bring a good book, a clicker, and treats my dog likes.
  • Read my book, keeping an eye on my dog through peripheral vision.
  • Wait for my dog to lie down.
  • Click as my dog is lying down.
  • Toss my treat far enough away from my dog so that she has to get up to retrieve the treat.
  • Go back to reading my book, wait for another down.
  • Click as my dog is lying down, tossing my treat to reset for another repetition.

While I am normally a fan of short training sessions, for an exercise such as this a longer session may be recommended, particularly for very excitable dogs. Generally, a session like this may last for 15 – 2o minutes. Once you have a few successes under your belt, take a break and resume training the next day.

In addition to these structured training sessions, you can practice capturing and reinforcing offered downs in other situations. You may want to have treats in various rooms of your house so that you are able to quickly reinforce uncued offerings of the goal behavior.

Next time we return to the bathroom, I will use the same steps as in the first session. After a few sessions of practice, you should notice your dog begins to offer the “down” position more rapidly.


WHEN DO I ADD A CUE?

In clicker training, we don’t add a cue (word, hand gesture, or other signal) to a behavior until the dog is offering the behavior reliably. The best time to add a cue is when your dog is repeatedly getting up from the down position to retrieve her reinforcement and immediately offering the down again. To add a cue, you will:

  • First give the cue (we’ll assume you’re using the word “down”) AS THE DOG IS DOING the goal behavior.
  • Click the dog for lying down. NOTE: When you begin adding a cue, some dogs may offer a slightly hesitant version of the previous behavior – they may partially lie down or lie down slowly. It is important that you reinforce even these hesitant responses to the cue initially. Your dog is trying to make a connection between this new word and her behavior. Once your dog has made the connection, she will begin offering more confident downs. (This often takes as few as three or five repetitions, less for a clicker savvy dog and more for a less confident dog.)
  • Practice giving the cue as the dog is offering the down for the first 10 repetitions.
  • Begin saying the cue right before your dog lies down. Most dogs will slow down upon returning to the owner after retrieving the treat. Watch for this slowing of forward movement, and say the word “down” as your dog halts in front of you.
  • Begin saying the cue even earlier in the sequence – right after your dog eats her treat but before she returns to you.
  • Begin practicing “down” in other rooms of your house.
  • Proof the behavior for all aspects of fluency that may be important to you. For more on different aspects of fluency, check out my article for Karen Pryor Clicker Training,Everything You Wanted to Know About Proofing But Were Afraid to Ask.

Pros of Capturing:

  • It’s easy!
  • It builds confidence in dogs.
  • It improves your timing with the clicker.
  • It improves your observational skills as a handler and your ability to look for and reinforce desired, offered behaviors.

Cons of Capturing:

  • If you and your dog are new to capturing, the first few behaviors you teach with this method may proceed slowly. (BONUS: A clicker-savvy dog can pick up new cues for captured behaviors quickly. Mokie and Monte are both clicker-savvy dogs, and it often takes less than ten clicks for me to add a cue to a newly captured behavior.)
  • Timing is everything! Really, timing is everything in any training technique you use, but capturing in particular relies heavily on good timing – remember to click for muscle movement, as your dog is performing the behavior in question.
  • You have to be prepared and ready to mark offerings of the desired behavior! For this reason, it is advised that even handlers using a clicker condition an additional, verbal marker.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the next technique, targeting!