How to Use Capturing to Teach Your Dog New Behaviors
with Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw, Training Advocate

Capturing is one of the handiest uses for a marker. Capturing is simply marking and reinforcing any behavior your dog does on their own. One way of looking at this is - catching your dog being good! Oftentimes we spend too much time thinking about the things we don’t want our dogs to do, and we miss tons of opportunities to reward the behaviors they already do that we like!


Aside from catching our dogs “being good” we can also use this method to teach both practical and fun behaviors. One behavior that I work with pretty much all my clients to capture is eye contact. By marking and treating the moments when our dogs offer their full attention, we can show them that connecting and engaging with us is really worthwhile! This is huge because it’s impossible to ask your dog for any behavior if they won’t pay attention to you to begin with. 


Another example is teaching a “down” (as in the video above). Some dogs are challenging to lure into a down - especially little guys! But ALL dogs lay down eventually. By marking and reinforcing the moment your dog offers a down, they will start to make the connection and offer the behavior intentionally. I often advise my clients to do this when they know the dog is likely to perform the behavior. For example, in the evening, after dinner. Say the family is sitting down to watch a movie together - you can get some treats ready ahead of time. Keep them hidden, so your dog isn’t paying attention to you and keep an eye out for when she lays down on her own. Mark, and toss a treat! Most dogs will then come up to you, seeking more goodies. Just ignore this, and continue watching the movie. When the dog settles again and lays back down - boom! You have another opportunity to mark. Eventually she will put the pieces together and come to you and offer a very deliberate down. This is when you can start adding a cue. 


The video included with this post is from when my dog Muchacho was a puppy! It’s pretty old but it shows how deliberately he is offering this behavior without any prompting. In this video I am beginning to add the verbal cue. To do this, I am saying “down” right before I predict he will lay down - thus setting him up for success. By tossing the treat instead of delivering to him, I am giving him an opportunity to get up, which resets him for another rep. 


Other ideas: capturing a bark to teach your dog to “speak” on cue, capturing the moment your dog stretches after a nap to teach a “bow,” marking a dog for rolling onto their back for “play dead,” and many, many more!


I’d love to see you give it a try! Pick something you know your dog does often and mark it whenever you see it. Tag @pathandpaw in your videos on Instagram so I can see what you’ve come up with!


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