How do you get started with training? There are multiple ways to accomplish a behavior, and you can choose the most suitable method for each situation.
Luring is when you guide your dog to perform a desired behavior with the help of a reinforcer, i.e. physically steer him to do a behavior. Luring enables to quickly establish desired behaviors, but be aware that your dog can become conditioned to the movement you make when steering him.
Luring with treats, escaping targets in the woods and the so-called luring with your hand are examples of luring where the dog can see or smell the reward before the performed behavior. The difference between luring and operant conditioning is that in operant conditioning the reinforcement only appears after performing the desired behavior.
Timing is important in luring. For example, if the reinforcement appears in the training field when the dog is focused on another dog, he will associate the reinforcement with looking at another dog.
The most common mistake made with luring is that one doesn’t move on fast enough, and the lure becomes a cue. This cue will have to be faded out by performing an extra stage of training.
Different targets, such as touch pads and target sticks can be used to accomplish a behavior. First you have to condition the animal to the targets that are being used.
For example, teaching your dog to move forward or into a marked area is easiest done with the help of a touch pad. Other common behaviors that can be taught with the help of a target are jumps, the use of switches and clutches, presses, jerks, pecks etc. Also in targeting, much like in luring, a dog can become conditioned to the target itself, which then transforms into a cue.
A behavior offered by an animal can, step by step, be shaped in the desired direction. Eventually the desired behavior is accomplished. Initially, it’s possible to reinforce a mere indication of interest in the direction you want, depending on the movement being taught and the starting level. These small steps are then gradually transformed into the desired behavior.
Some of the challenges in shaping can be the trainer’s limited mechanical skills, accurate timing of reinforcement, setting a suitable criterion and the trainer’s ability to control their own emotions even when their wishes and reality don’t match.
The strength of shaping is that the behavior that is being trained does not involve any external factors that an animal could become conditioned to. This way a trainer is able to focus exactly on what he or she is training and the end result will often be better.
Many animal trainers find shaping to be the best way to train a behavior. It is easy to agree with, as long as your mechanical skills are developed to an adequate level.
Capturing is a method with which the animal himself is expected to offer a behavior that is reinforced. When capturing a behavior, the key is to have great timing, much like in shaping. One of the benefits of capturing, though, as opposed to shaping, is that you are able to reinforce multiple behaviors at once. For example, capturing is a good training method to use with dogs’ fur shaking.
Confinement of the environment
Confinement of the training environment helps diminish the amount of choices an animal has, and therefore, steers him into a desired direction. As a matter of fact, in training all behaviors, the environmental impact should be reduced, or with the help of the environment, one steers the animal to perform the desired behavior.
It could justifiably be argued that the environment is a trainer’s most important tool, and by managing it, one can train an animal by adding to the environment or taking away from it, whatever the situation may require at the time.
Molding refers to an animal being steered, for example, by pressing with hands to perform a desired behavior. The downside of this method is that the animal becomes conditioned to the manipulation itself, instead of, for example, a cue that is used.
Do as I do
An animal can learn from an example, i.e., following and copying a behavior.
Achieving a good stimulus control means you have to add a cue to the behavior that is being trained. Under stimulus control, an animal performs the behavior only when he has noticed the cue.
In practice, stimulus control means that:
- an animal performs a behavior once they receive a specific cue
- he will not perform a behavior when receiving other cues
- he will not perform a behavior when the same cue has been given to another individual
- he will not perform a behavior without the cue
Point number 4 does not mean that the animal is not allowed to perform the behavior independently, for example when resting. It means that when he is in training, he doesn’t perform the behavior with the hope of receiving a reward.