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.

On it – Luring your dog to put its front paws on a target

The objective of this trick is for your dog to place its two front paws on an flat, level platform or step. For this trick are going to mainly use the luring training technique to achieve this.

To start off with, you are going to be working to get your dog to place its two front paws on a flat, level platform or step.

Some dogs can be wary of new objects in their environment so they may need some gentle encouragement to approach and stand on them.

If your dog is very wary of approaching your chosen object, don’t force the object upon it, be patient. Give time to our dog to get familiar with the object

  • Touch and wipe the object with your hands to increase your scent on the object; You scent should have a comforting effect on your dog
  • Place some treats on the floor close to the object,
  • Place some treats on the object itself to encourage your dog to investigation the object.

We demonstrate how to work this trick in the following videos. Once again, we will demonstrate with two different dogs, Mozzie and Phoebe as it is helpful to see how dogs with different characters respond.

In this second video you will notice that Phoebe is a far more fidgety dog than Mozzie in the first video. A tip to help with fidgety dogs is to feed the rewards to them slowly. This will help to instil some calmness when they have their front paws on the object as they must learn to wait in position to get the reward.

The key aspects to progressing with this trick are:

  • Try to stay as calm as you can when working the trick. This will help keep the arousal level of your dog lower.
  • The object that you use does not need to be tall; it is used just to get your dog to have their front paws off the ground. At this stage, the surface area of the object needs to be sufficiently large for the size of dog that you are working with, so it does not struggle to keep its paws upon it.
  • Keep the reward relatively high up so your dog must lift its head and get the idea that putting its paws on the object will help it access the treat.
  • If the reward is low down, there is far a greater probability that your dog will not step on the object.
  • Do not forget to help your dog understand what you are trying to teach him by marking with a Click or a Yes as soon as your dog attempts to put its paws or even just one paw on the object.
  • Give lots of rewards when your dog has both paws on the object to encourage your dog to stay in this position
  • Give the rewards in front of your dog; you do not want your dog to have to keep turning its head towards you to get the rewards; Its head should be aligned with its back.
  • To get your dog to leave the object, simply use your release command and throw a release treat away from the object so your dog follows it. If you do not have a release command, it is time to introduce one as it is the only consistent way your dog can learn that it is not required to perform the trick any longer. Without a release command your dog will start to have to guess when the trick is over and will become inconsistent.  For example, you can use words such as Go, Break, Free, OK etc. Throwing a release treat is not a reward so you do not need to associate it with Yes or a Click. The release treat it is a lure to get your dog off the object/platform and teaches your dog to associate the word with the release behaviour.
  • In the very first stage of the trick, it is OK to throw the release treat in the same direction each time, but as soon as your dog understands the behaviour start to change where you throw the release treat so your dog learns to approach the platform from any direction the next time you do the trick.
  • When your dog is consistently putting its front paws on the object start to introduce the ‘On it‘ command.