Nancy Kerns: Hi! I am Nancy Kerns, Editor of the Whole Dog Journal. Today I am going to talk about three proven methods for getting behaviors that we can then reinforce and put on cue.
In positive reinforcement training we reinforce the behaviors that we like. Behaviors that are reinforced are more likely to be repeated, but how do we get to the behaviors in the first place?
One way is by using a lure. A lure might be a treat or a toy. Anything the dog is interested enough in to follow and it's used to maneuver the dog into the position you want. Lures are a great way to initially get a behavior, but they need to be faded as soon as possible. This means to stop using the lure as soon as the dog is following your hand into the proper position. If you don't get rid of lure as quickly as possible, you run the risk of making the dog think the lure has to be present in order for him to perform the behavior.
The second way to build a new behavior is to capture it when the dog does it spontaneously. This requires you to carefully observe the dog ready with your marker and rewards so that you can catch him in the act of doing something that you want. This might be something as simple as waiting for him to sit on his own while you are standing there holding treats, click and treat.
The third way to get a new behavior is to shape it by marking and rewarding and approximation of the behavior you want. Rewarding successively more and more accurate representation of the desired behavior. For example, you want to teach a dog to play dead. You use a lure to get him to lie down and you reward that. Then you use the lure to get him to lie flat and reward that. Then you reward only the times that the dog lies flat and holds perfectly still for a second.
When it's clear he understands that's it's lying flat that it's being rewarded, you reward only the times that he holds still for two to three seconds. Once you are aware of the different ways you can get your dog to perform behaviors without using any force whatsoever, you can mix them up and use what you want when you want it.