Capturing in dog training is just one of several methods that can be used to "get behaviors." Because training a dog should be fun and should aim to creating a foundation of trust, empathy and mutual respect, the best training methods entail no fear or intimidation.
Capturing can be particularly useful for shy, tentative dogs or for a new puppy who needs to learn some basics.
It is also one of the easiest ways to train for the novice owner because there are no prompts or food lures to fade.
So let's discover more about capturing in dog training, how it works, its advantages and disadvantages and when this training method can be particularly useful.
What is Capturing in Dog Training?
Capturing in dog training entails rewarding spontaneous, natural behaviors as they unfold. In a sort of way, I find it's similar to the art of taking pictures, so to say, so I like to compare it to the art of photography when explaining it to my clients.
When you hold a camera, you "capture" moments in present life that you like so that you can take a look at them later.
When capturing in dog training, we are marking and rewarding desired behaviors our dogs perform the moment they happen in hopes of them repeating in the future.
If you can take pictures, you can train your dog by capturing. All you need to do is to observe your dog, wait for the desired behavior to happen, and then "mark" it with the click of the clicker or a verbal marker such as "yes" followed by a treat.
The click of the clicker or verbal marker "yes" works in a similar fashion as the shutter button of the camera. It informs your dog that this is the exact behavior we want and that a treat is on its way.
The treat helps "store" the behavior in the dog's brain (sort of like a memory card) so that it ultimately becomes more likely to repeat in the future.
Examples of Capturing in Dog Training
Need some examples on how to use capturing to train a dog? Here are a few examples.
Since we are rewarding spontaneous behaviors as they unfold, it can sometimes take a bit of time for the dog to perform them, but we can sometimes use a little bit of help to make them more likely to happen.
How to Capture a "Down"
If we want to capture a "down," we can simply coordinate the time when this is more likely to happen with our training sessions.
So a good time would be when we exercised our dog or went on a walk and our dog is a tad bit tired. We can therefore sit on the couch and wait for our dog to lie down spontaneously.
As soon as our dog lies down, we can then mark the behavior with the click of the clicker or verbal marker "yes!" followed by a treat tossed on the floor.
The treat toss is meant to "re-set" the dog so to make him get up and therefore increase the likeliness for him to lie down again so we can capture another down.
Alternatively, we can also capture a down by sitting on the couch with the dog on leash next to us. Sooner than later, he should grow tired of standing up, so as soon as he lies down, we can mark it and reward it with a treat tossed nearby.
How to Capture a Play Bow
Another example of using capturing is to train a dog to take a bow. In this case, we will be simply waiting for the dog to take a bow spontaneously, such as when the dog wakes up first thing after taking a nap or when he invites us to play with him.
Even in this case, we can coordinate our training session with when our dog is likely to get up from a nap or when he's in the mood for playing.
Upon taking a bow, right the moment those elbows touch the floor and the dog's rump is in the air, we would therefore click the clicker or use our verbal marker "yes!"
As with capturing a dog to lie down, we will then toss the treat at a distance so to "reset" the dog and hopefully increase the likeliness for the dog to perform another play bow.
Advantages of Using Capturing
Capturing is a training method that offers several advantages. As mentioned, one big advantage is that it is really easy to implement for the person doing the training. All you need to do is wait for the behavior to occur and then be ready to mark it and reward it.
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Since reinforced behaviors tend to strengthen and repeat, at some point you will notice that your dog will start performing the behavior more and more.
From spontaneous, the behavior therefore starts becoming more and more purposeful, which means that at some point you'll have the chance to put it on cue.
How to Put Captured Behaviors on Cue
Putting a behavior on cue simply means naming it so that your dog associates the behavior with the specific word.
You can put a behavior on cue by simply naming the behavior right the moment your dog is about to perform it and then marking and rewarding it.
So in the case of capturing a down, you will start saying "lie down" the moment you notice your dog is about to lie down. Once those elbows and rear touch the ground, you can then mark and reward.
Helpful For Dogs Who Need Space
Capturing is also advantageous for certain types of dogs. Sometimes, you may stumble on shy dogs who have a bit of space issues and cringe if you loom over them or place your hands near their faces as it's often needed when training dogs through another training method known as luring.
Using capturing, you can keep a certain distance from the dog and the dog can learn to perform the behavior because the behavior has overtime accumulated a history of rewards.
At the same time, courtesy of reward-based methods such as capturing, the dog's confidence levels may rise and the dog may learn to trust more the caregiver as he or she becomes a source of rewards. A win-win!
Helpful For Training Certain Behaviors
Last but not least, capturing works well for training certain unusual behaviors that can otherwise be difficult to get, such as a getting a dog to shake his fur, tilt his head, stretch, sneeze and even yawn!
Did you know? Capturing is a wonderful tool to use when trying to teach a dog to go potty on cue. Here is a guide on how to train dogs to go potty on command (cue).
" The neat thing about this method is that it is particularly useful in teaching the dog to perform activities that are difficult or impossible to enforce." ~Stanley Coren, Psychology Today
Disadvantages of Using Capturing
There are not many disadvantages in using capturing for training dogs, but the few are worthy of mentioning, so to know what to expect.
It May Take Some Time
One main flow of capturing (depending on which behavior is desired) is that it may take some time for the behavior to occur spontaneously.
Some people refer to capturing as tedious as "watching paint dry," but as mentioned, we can keep track as to when certain behaviors are more likely to unfold so to take advantage of these times and coordinate them with our training sessions.
It may also sometimes take a bit of time for the dog to realize that, "every time, I perform this exact behavior, I get rewarded."
The dog may not be sure about exactly which behavior he's being rewarded for so he may start offering certain behaviors as if asking "is this what you're looking for? or it it this one?" If it is not, one should just ignore it, but if it is, it's imperative to make a great deal about it, by marking, praising, and perhaps, even giving a jackpot of treats!
Carrying Extra Gear
Another disadvantage of capturing is that if you're looking for cutting-edge training, you will have to carry the clicker and treats around with you for some time, but the good news is that this is only in the initial stages of learning. Why?
For the simple fact that you don't want to miss out on the opportunity to mark and reward spontaneous behaviors unfolding when you least expect them such as out of the training context.
So simply carry a treat bag on your belt and put that clicker on a lanyard around your neck or a wristband around your wrist, so that you'll never miss out an opportunity to reward!
Limited to Spontaneous Behaviors
Last but not least, a disadvantage of capturing is that it's limited to spontaneous behaviors, and therefore, can't be used to train dogs certain complex behaviors such as stacking rings, getting a tissue paper out of a box or placing toys into a basket.
The Bottom Line
As seen, capturing is a great training method that can be used to train dogs to sit, lie down and perform a variety of obedience exercises. It can even be used to train certain tricks and train dogs to go potty on cue.
Capturing can also be used for behavior modification as in the case of capturing calm behaviors such as lying down rather than pacing around or capturing those pauses of silence in between barking in reactive dogs.
While there are just a few disadvantages in using capturing to train dogs, as seen they can easily be overcome by using some effective strategies.