There are generally three ways to solicit a behavior so that you can mark it: luring, shaping, and catching.
Luring involves using a treat like a guide to help your pet into a desired position. The lure (a tasty treat) is held right in front of your dog's nose and then moved while they follow it. For example, to lure your dog into a sit position, hold a piece of food in front of their nose and slowly draw it upwards angling slightly back towards their butt. The food will draw your dog's nose up and in return also lower their butt. As soon as their rear end hits the floor, click and treat for the sit. After just a few repetitions, you can remove the food and use the same hand motion as before to prompt your dog to sit. Over many more repetitions, you can gradually make this hand signal smaller and shorter to whatever signal you desire for the final cue.
With shaping, you gradually build a new behavior by clicking and rewarding a series of small stages that culminate in a final behavior. Shaping can be a great method for training new behaviors or behavior chains that your pet doesn't do naturally. You start by rewarding the first small behavior that begins the final behavior you are aiming towards. When they have mastered the first step, you ask a bit more of them - requiring them to do the first step and the next small step to earn the click and treat. For example, to get your dog to wave, you might start by clicking and treating when they shift their weight off one paw slightly. Once they are shifting their weight smoothly over several repetitions, you raise your criteria to only clicking when they raise their front paw off the floor an inch. When they have those paw raises down, raise your criteria again to increase the distance by an inch or two before you click. By reinforcing each tiny step, the final behavior is built without any frustration but a lot of enthusiasm :).
Capturing means that you catch your dog in the act of doing the behavior you want (without any prompting). It's obviously a great method for training behaviors that your pet already does naturally. For example, if you are training your dog to lie down you should situate yourself in the same room as your dog and just wait. The instant your dog lies down, click and toss a treat on the ground a few feet in front of them. They'll have to stand up to take the treat which will reset him so that he has to perform the act of lying down again. Continue the sequence of waiting for your dog to lie down on their own, and then clicking and tossing a treat the moment they do. With repetition, your dog will eventually look at you and lie down and at that point you can start putting a cue on it.
Dude, you're getting a cue!
Whether you've used luring, shaping, or capturing to get a behavior you want, your next step is to add a verbal cue. (Refer back to my C is for Consistent Cues entry for tips on cues.) If you've used luring, you'll know you're ready for a verbal cue when your dog is consistently doing the behavior as soon as you give your hand signal. :) If you've used shaping or capturing, you can add the cue when your dog is confidently repeating the behavior, without any other behaviors in between.
Adding the cue:
Adding the cue:
- First say the cue word you'd like to use (say it only once, don't nag!)
- Then use your hand signal or wait for the behavior.
- Click and treat the instant your dog performs the behavior.
After you've added the cue, don't reward the behavior anymore unless you have given the cue first. And remember, be sure to say your cue before your pet does the behavior you want, not at the same time :).