It’s September, y’all! That means it is time for our monthly training challenge! There are many ways that we can teach a behavior, but for this training challenge, we are going to focus on capturing!
This month, we challenge you to practice your training skills by teaching your pet a new behavior through capturing!
This is the first segment in our series looking at different ways to teach our pets new behaviors, and for the sake of demonstration, I’m going to keep the behavior the same (go to a spot or bed), but stick around until the end of this blog post for suggestions of other behaviors that you can teach commonly through capturing!
First thing first, what is capturing?
Capturing is waiting for your pet to do the desired action naturally and then rewarding them for doing so. Often, we find that a marker is helpful for capturing.
In this video, Allie shows what capturing might look like if you were looking to teach your pet to put their head in a box:
If our desired behavior is for our pet to put their head in the box, we might put the box down, and wait for our pet to investigate the bottom of the box.
For our example of going to a spot, like a bed, a perch, or a stool, then we would put the object down, wait until our pet moved to that spot, then use our marker, and then deliver something wonderful like a treat.
Now, you may be thinking, isn’t that going to take all day!? And the answer is, yeah, sometimes it can. Both of my dogs have a long history of going to “that thing that is a different texture than the thing that you’re on” and snoozing in their beds behind me while I work, and still, without some additional consideration, it maybe awhile before they go to their beds.
I started a zoom recording to demonstrate what capturing might look like if you were waiting throughout the day for your pet to go to their spot. I sped this video up because, let’s be real, no one needs to see me typing for this long, but this took about 5-6 minutes for Laika to walk over to the bed and lie down.
One of the large complaints that we see with capturing is that it can be a little slow. But, if you’re more like me and patience is something you’re working on, there are some things that you can do to speed up the process.
Observe your pet to know when the thing is more likely to happen
Once you know what you want to capture, consider the different factors that set the stage for that thing to happen.
In order to successfully capture behavior, you really need to know when it is likely going to happen. Some things happen based on the time of day, during different activities, with different people, or in different situations.
You may find that your dog is more likely to bow after they get up from a nap. Or they are more likely to get a toy when you first get home from work. Or they are more likely to smack their lips right after they eat.
For my dogs, if I want to capture them going to their spot, I know it’s more likely when:
- I’m settled and resting. It is going to be a big ask for my dogs to go lie on their bed if I’m moving around the house doing things. We’ll work on that later!
- They have a place that they gravitate toward. Laika would rather stand than lie on the tile. This would go MUCH slower without something cozy for her to lie on.
- I’m working with their natural activity rhythm. Super early morning, mid-day, or after dark are times when they are more often going to their bed on their own accord.
- There is a beautiful sun spot on the floor.
- They’re tired.
Stack the deck in your favor
How you do this is going to be dependent on what factors you already identified and what you’re looking to capture!
If your dog loves lying on hardwood and you get them the cushiest, most plush bed in the world, that’s not exactly stacking the deck in your favor. But, if your pet loves lying and sitting in the sun, then opening the blinds and putting their spot there can help you be prepared to mark and deliver your treat quickly and efficiently.
When teaching various species to go to a spot, here are some things that might make it a little easier:
- The spot needs to be somewhere you can see it. If you want to capture them doing it, you need to know they are doing it!
- Make sure the spot is of reasonable size. If it’s too small, it can be easy to miss. You can always make it smaller later!
- Make the spot easy to get to when you’re starting, putting it in the middle of the floor, or between you and the entry to the room you’re in can be helpful compared to a corner far away from you.
And some final tips for capturing:
- Remember, when we are capturing, we are looking for something that we already see our pet doing. If it isn’t happening already, you can’t capture it!
- Make sure treats are readily available where you will be doing the capturing. This is most effective when the time between your pet doing the thing and the reinforcer is 2-3 seconds.
- You may find a marker helps the process, so if you don’t have a marker signal or cue already, check out this video.
- Think about the things that your pet already does that you’d like to see more of. Those are excellent options for capturing.
Additional tricks or skills to capture
If your dog already has going to their spot down, then here are some other commonly captured behaviors for you to try this month:
- Sit and Down
- Your dog licking their lips
- Putting their head down
- Deep breaths
- Head turns
- Looking at you
- Picking up a toy
- Ear twitches
- 4 on the Floor
- Put your head in a box
- Lying on their side
- Decide what you’re going to teach your dog through capturing! There are so many options when it comes to this, so you can be creative. Just make sure it’s something that your pet already does.
- Consider whether or not there is something you can do to make the thing you are capturing more likely. More repetitions can make the learning process faster.
- Have fun with it! Once you get the hang of knowing what you’re looking for, observing your pet doing it, and delivering a reinforcer, you can do so much with your pet!
- Let us know on Facebook or Instagram what you’re working on! We’d love to see your progress!