Methods of “Getting Behavior”: Molding/Modeling

Opinions are like food bowls - every dog owners' got one! I am no different. To be certain, of the techniques we've discussed this week,...


Opinions are like food bowls – every dog owners’ got one!

I am no different. To be certain, of the techniques we’ve discussed this week, I prefer certain techniques over others. Often, my decision is dependent on what the dog will respond best to. I’ve used all four of the previously mentioned techniques with a great deal of success working with a number of dogs.

The final technique, the one we will discuss today, is my least favorite training technique discussed in this series – modeling/molding. This is a technique that many trainers employ with a great deal of success, but it is one I have never found cause nor reason to implement working with my own dogs or those of my clients.


Molding is, essentially, coercing a dog into a desired position. Many trainers “mold” a down by stepping on the dog’s leash so that it is so short the dog is pulled into a down position through force applied to the collar. Trainers may mold a sit by attaching a leash to a dog’s collar and pulling the leash upward as they either a) push down on the dog’s back quarters (!!! more on this later) or b) apply pressure to the dog’s rear stifles (knees) until the legs fold under in a sit position. A trainer may jerk a dog into heel position using a prong collar. In the following video, we see a handler jerking the dog into heel position by applying pressure via the prong collar and also pushing the dog into a sitting position.


  • Modeling can work very quickly.


  • Opposition reflex – dogs, like people, have an innate and instinctive tendency to resist pressure to try to maintain balance. If I tried to push you down, without even thinking about it you would react in an effort to maintain your stability/upright position. If you push on a dog’s hips, he pushes back. If you pull on his leash, he pulls back. Opposition reflex is instinctive and reflexive, and is not an operant (reasoned) response.
  • Hip/joint damage – as an ber-conscious Saint Bernard mom, hip and joint damage is always a concern. Repeatedly applying pressure to a dog’s joints to force him into a sit position is likely not conducive to optimal joint health, especially when this technique is used with puppies whose joints are still developing.
  • Hands on training – often, molding produces very reliable responses when the handler is right next to the dog and lethargic or non-existent responses at a distance. If the dog learns to rely on handler guidance for the position, he will be unwilling, unable, or unlikely to offer the behavior when the handler is not able to physically force him into position. If your dog knows “sit” means “yield to pressure on my rump,” you have no behavior when you are too far away to physically prompt the dog.
  • Dogs generally don’t like it.

Certainly, I do know some trainers who use molding techniques which are ostensibly less aversive. For instance, a trainer wishing to teach a dog to paw at her nose may apply a piece of tape to the dog’s nose and then click when the dog swipes at the tape to try to remove it from her face. This is probably a faster way to manufacture the “paw/nose” behavior than shaping, but is no faster than teaching the behavior through targeting if foundation target training is in place.

This week, we’ve reviewed five different ways to manufacture behaviors so that we may add a cue. These techniques can be divided into two categories: offered behaviors and elicited behaviors.

Capturing and shaping techniques allow trainers to add cues to offered behaviors – the behaviors are not prompted, elicited, but are offered freely, either in totality (capturing) or incrementally (shaping) by the learner.

Targeting, luring, and molding are all variations of prompting – with these techniques, the handler is manipulating the dog into the correct position.

Both offered and prompted behaviors can be taught to fluency provided that the handler is dedicated and consistent in implementation of all training protocols. Without question, there are pros and cons to any training technique. For assistance in finding a behavior professional who can guide you through the various techniques and give you feedback as you develop your training skills, check out our blog on how to Find the Right Behavior Professional for Your Dog.

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