The three most common techniques to train a dog

There are various ways to teach a dog a game or a behaviour. The most common ones are Luring, Shaping, and Capturing. During a training session, I will mix the 3 techniques depending on what I want to achieve and what is required to keep the sessions entertaining for my dog.

For the Tricks for Treats School, some games and tricks are easier trained with Luring and others with Shaping. For some, you will probably require a mix a bit of both


Luring is the easiest technique to train a dog and it is probably the easiest one for beginner handlers. With Luring you can achieve results quite quickly, so it is rewarding for the handler and there is little pressure placed on the dog.

Luring is simply using a piece of food in your hand to guide your dog through the desired behaviour. Your dog, attracted by the food, will follow your hand.

The most common lure used in training is food, but you can also use a toy or anything else you would like so long as your dog will focus and follow your guidance for a long enough period.

Luring can greatly aid the learning experience of your dog and reduce the risk of frustration for both of you as the technique requires minimal problem solving on your dog’s part.

The difficulty with luring arises when it is time to fade the lure as dogs quickly become dependent on the lure to perform the behaviour. Expecting a dog to suddenly perform the behaviour just on a verbal cue is a huge step.

How can you fade the lure?

It is best to start fading the lure as soon as possible during the learning process. There are different techniques to fade the lure:

  • Making the lure less and less accessible and rewarding less often
  • Keeping a treat in the hand you are luring with but rewarding with the other hand
  • Keeping the hand movement but “faking” it with no treat in the hand

Another option is to switch to shaping as soon as your dog understands the basics of the behaviour and mix a little bit of luring with shaping.


Shaping requires your dog to think and concentrate. Shaping relies on your dog trying to solve a problem rather than being shown the solution with Luring. Your dog will need to think and offer different behaviours and you will guide the process using a marker and a reward for each small step that takes the dog closer to the solution. The markers I use are either the clicker or a “Yes” command. In summary, the dog must figure out which behaviour will lead to a reward.

As an example, to teach your dog to push his nose on your hand using only shaping, you would increase the criteria before using your marker the following way:

  • Mark and reward first when your dog simply looks at your hand
  • Mark and reward when your dog brings its nose next to your hand
  • Mark and reward when the dog’s nose touches your hand

The main problem with shaping occurs when the handler tries to progress too quickly with a difficult behaviour; the dog will get confused and frustrated and will give up. As a handler, you need to really help your dog and only raise the criteria very slowly.

You will need to be very patient, observant and have good timing when marking a specific behaviour, so the dog does not get confused. You also need to be very encouraging especially with a dog who tends to have less confidence or less motivation.

Shaping is fun to watch and play with your dog and the technique really helps developing great problem-solving dogs.


Capturing is when you wait for your dog to offer a behaviour naturally and when it does you use your Marker and a reward to indicate to your dog that it has done a behaviour you like.

When your dog understands the principle of “Click” = “Reward” from the shaping techniques, capturing full, natural behaviours can be remarkably effective.

In essence shaping is capturing micro behaviours that slowly progress towards a full behaviour, whilst with capturing you only capture the end behaviour that is offered naturally by the dog.

To capture a behaviour, you need to be both opportunistic and alert. As soon as your dog offers the behaviour you like, you click and reward. In some cases, you may well find it is not a behaviour you wanted to train for, but your dog is offering it and you like it so just grab the opportunity, click and reward.

Do not restrict yourself by only using capturing during a training session; I often use capturing any time during the day when I see my dog perform a behaviour I like.

Two behaviours that are extremely easy to capture are the play bow position and the chin on the floor. With the play bow, I tend to have an idea when during the day my dog may offer it to me, and I just capture it at the moment; Usually this is when my dog wants to get me to play with him.