Skip to main content

Dog Word of the Day: Capturing

When it comes to dog training, there are several methods that can be used to "get behaviors." Because training a dog should be fun and 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, 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, it's similar to the art of taking pictures.

When you hold a camera, you "capture" moments in present life that you like so that you can then look at them later. In capturing, we are marking and rewarding desired behaviors our dogs perform the moment they happen.

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 a click of the clicker or a verbal marker such as "yes."

The click of the clicker or verbal marker "yes" works in a similar fashion as the shutter button of the camera. It informs the dog that that is the exact behavior we want and that a treat is on its way.

Examples of Capturing 

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 sometimes use a little bit of help to make them more likely to happen.

For instance, 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. To increase the likeliness for the dog to lie down again, we can toss the treat at a distance so the dog must get up to get it.

[otw_is sidebar="otw-sidebar-1"]

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 the dog must get up to get it and hopefully increase the likeliness for the dog to perform another play bow.

blue pitbull puppy

Capturing can be used to train puppies!

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.

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, by simply naming the behavior right the moment your dog is about to perform the behavior and then marking and rewarding it.

Discover More

trailing dog

Research Unveils Whether Dogs Smell Their Own Urine

Whether dogs smell their own urine is an interesting query that is worthy of investigating. Dogs are fascinating creatures, they live in a world of smells which makes us wonder how they must perceive the world around them. New research frequently unveils interesting findings on a dog's ability to smell, let's discover the latest!


What's Up With Dogs Digging Holes All of a Sudden?

With dogs digging holes all of a sudden, you may be wondering what they may be up to, and most of all, what is causing this whole new fascination with dirt. In the dog world, there is digging and digging, and therefore, to get to the root of the problem, you'll need to take an investigative look at what exactly drives the behavior.


What's a Snipey Muzzle in Dogs?

A snipey muzzle in dogs is something to be aware of, especially if you are planning to breed dogs or enter the show ring business. Even if you plan to use your dog as a hunting partner, you should be aware of snipey muzzles and how they may impact your dog's ability to perform the tasks he was bred for.

Capturing is also advantageous for certain types of dogs 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. 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! 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 and even yawn!'

" 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


Disadvantages of Using Capturing

There are not many disadvantages in using capturing for training dogs, but one main one is (depending on which behavior is desired) 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, giving a jackpot of treats!

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, so that you'll never miss out an opportunity to reward! 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.


  • The Power of Positive Training, by Pat Miller, Howell Book House; 2 edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Psychology Today, Dog Training Using Behavior Capture, by Stanley Coren, retrieved from the web on August 3rd, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Clicker-training clickers come in various shapes and forms.Taken by Elf | Talk Sept 17 '04 - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons. Transfer was stated to be made by User:Syp. CC BY-SA 3.0

[otw_is sidebar="otw-sidebar-1"]

Related Articles