Raising Canine

Dog Behavior Training – Four Ways to Get Behavior

In previous articles, we’ve discussed the four elements that must be present for learning to take place, and the four stages of learning a new behavior. By understanding these concepts, you’re on the path to learning to become a dog trainer. The next piece of the puzzle is how to actually get the behavior you want and the best dog behavior training methods.

Again, there are four ways to get behavior in dog behavior training (four seems to be a very handy number):

  • Prompts
  • Capturing
  • Physical Manipulation
  • Shaping


Prompts cover a lot of territory. To get a little wonky (and we’ll go much deeper into this in later articles), a prompt is an antecedent stimulus. An antecedent stimulus is simply something that sets the occasion for an animal to perform a behavior. In dog behavior training, we strive to find antecedent stimuli which will help the animal achieve the behavior we’re wanting it to learn, and prompts can be very useful in this regard.

Generally, prompts help get the behavior initially – they give the animal enough extra information to head them in the right direction. However, before a behavior can be considered learned, the prompt must be faded. Some human examples of prompts might be:

  • Teaching a child to read – the child comes to the word “chalk” and is having difficulty, so the teacher might say “ch, ch, ch” which prompts the child to say “ch” and the rest of the word follows because he does understand the “alk” piece, having seen it before in words such as talk, walk, etc.


  • Teaching a child to tie his shoes – here are the “bunny ear” steps to tying shoelaces
    • Fold each end of the lace into a single “bunny ear. …
    • Cross the bunny ears so that they form an “X” in the air.
    • Loop the bottom bunny ear over and through the top bunny ear. …
    • Pull the bunny ears out to the side away from the shoe.
      The child can be prompted at any step, but often prompting is only needed at the first step, and the rest follows easily because it has been done before.

Prompts can be all sorts of things: lures, targets, noises (verbal or physical such as finger snapping), etc.


Capturing is when you reinforce an existing behavior. So, if your dog has a tendency to howl, if you reinforce him when he howls, he’s likely to howl more often, creating the opportunity for more reinforcement. So, as someone wanting to become a professional dog trainer, here’s a handy tip: If you have a dog that is really hard to get into a “down” position (which is not at all unusual, because that position puts the dog in a very vulnerable state), you can simply capture the behavior when the dog is relaxed and decides to lay down. That reinforcement will often get the dog to start laying down more often, and once it’s predictable, you can add in a cue. At that point, you have a dog that lays down on cue, and it happened through capturing.

Physical Manipulation

Physical manipulation means you actually place the animal into position. This is a technique that should be used with consideration. Physical manipulation is an aversive technique, which means that the animal is trying to avoid the pressure being put on him by the trainer. It can be fairly benign, such as lifting a dog’s paw to teach it to shake hands, or placing a barrier next to the dog to teach him to walk in a straight line. Or it can be quite painful and/or unpleasant, such as jerking on the leash and causing a slip collar to tighten around the dog’s neck, or rubbing the dog’s nose in its urine when the dog has had a house training accident.


Shaping is not actually a way to get behavior, but it takes an existing behavior (capturing) and through successive approximations, moves the original behavior toward the trainer’s ultimate goal behavior. Shaping is used in conjunction with one or more of the above techniques: prompting, capturing, or physical manipulation.

In producing my animal training courses and webinars, I try to include techniques that will produce the best online dog training course overall. As trainers, most of the behaviors we train will be shaped to some extent, so it is important to understand this concept in dog behavior training.

That’s it for this article. This is a brief overview of the four ways to get behavior. We’ll go into more detail on each technique in future articles. If you want to learn more, here’s a good course:  How to Get Behavior

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