Train for Success!

Apply Coupon

Why we use food

Food is known as a primary reinforcer, it is something a dog needs to survive.  Water, shelter, and procreating are also primary reinforcers but the food is undoubtedly the easiest one for us to provide.  Plus, the dogs like it!  It is also easy to carry and handle and we can switch flavors and control portion size easily.

The ABC’s of Operant Conditioning

This is the foundation on which all living creatures learn.

Antecedent + Behavior = Consequence

An antecedent is a cue that signals the animal to perform a behavior. (word, hand signal, environmental signal)

The behavior is a specific task that is performed immediately after the cue takes place. (sit, shake, chase)

A consequence happens immediately as a result of the behavior and will determine whether or not the behavior is repeated.  A pleasant consequence will reinforce a behavior, thus making it more likely to happen again.  An unpleasant consequence will punish a behavior, thus making it less likely to happen again.

For example, if you cue your dog to sit with a hand signal, then they sit, and then immediately get a cookie it is likely that the next time you present the hand signal they will sit again.  However, if instead of a cookie you delivered a shock via an e-collar, the next time you present the hand signal the dog is not likely to sit again.

It seems simple enough, right?  Well not so much.  We still need to go over how to get a behavior, teach a cue, and make sure our timing of the reinforcer is clear enough that our learner understands what made it happen.  We are going to discuss these in reverse order so that all the pieces make the most sense.

Marker Cues

A marker cue is also known as a bridging stimulus, it communicates to the learner that 1) they earned reinforcement for performing a specific task, 2) the earned reinforcement is coming, and 3) how that reinforcement is being delivered.  It may sound a bit complex now but once we break it down it will be much easier to understand.

We are going to take our ABC equation above and manipulate it a little bit.

Antecedent + Behavior = Marker Cue = Specific Consequence

Okay, so you cue your dog to sit with a hand signal, the dog sits, you then say “yes” and present a cookie in your hand, the dog knows it can take the cookie.  Dog’s, like people, have different personalities and enjoy different types of reinforcement.  Some dogs like to take the food from our hand and others would prefer to chase it or catch it.  Using different maker cues to communicate to your dog how their reinforcement is being delivered can keep training fun and exciting.

Clean Loop Training & Adding Antecedent Cue’s

We can also use the delivery of the reinforcement to set our dog up for practicing the next repetition.  So instead of saying “yes” to our dog after they sit what if we say “find it” and then toss the food away from us.  Now, after they retrieve the reinforcement and come back we can ask for another sit and start the sequence over again.  This is clean loop training, where we have set up the environment and our training plan in such a way that we can practice repetition after repetition without unnecessary disruption.

Now that we can predict when our dog is going to perform the next repetition we can add our cue.  After our dog retrieved the tossed cookie and comes back we can say “sit” then allow the dog to practice the next repetition which leads to the mark and reward. And repeat. Now we have a behavior on cue.

Getting the Behavior

There are many ways we can get our dogs to perform behaviors but for this class, in particular, we are going to focus on Luring, Capturing, and Shaping.


Luring is a training method where we use something the animal is interested in, generally food, and use it as a sort of magnet to get our dogs to perform a task.  Then we would mark with a marker cue and deliver reinforcement.  For example, if we were teaching a dog to sit we would magnetize a piece of food to its nose and slowly move the food up and over the dog’s head until the dog leaned back into a sit.  Then we would mark and reward.

Luring is not without its challenges.  For instance, if we do not remove the food lure soon enough the dog may become reliant on the presence of the food to perform the behavior.  Another challenge is that to lure we often need to move our bodies in ways we do not plan to in the final form of the ABC sequence.  For teaching sit, we typically have to bend over and move our arm in such a way that we can lure the dog into position.  So not only do we need to remove the food lure but we also need to phase out the bending over and arm motion.

We will be using luring in this course but our goal is to show you how to use luring successfully.


Capturing is a training method where we set up the environment in such a way that makes it easy for a dog to perform a specific behavior that we can mark and reward.  These behaviors need to be something that the dog is likely to perform on their own such as sit, down, or stretch.

Capturing also has its challenges.  If we were trying to teach our dog to lay down using this method we would likely set up a neutral environment with a nice plushy bed.  But if that dog wasn’t in the mood to lay down we may be waiting for quite a while before we can capture the first down.  And if we were looking for a behavior that a dog is physically capable of but has never shown interest in trying, such as jumping onto an object, we would be waiting for a long time.

Capturing can be a very important step for removing the food lure when using the luring method.


Shaping plays a part in just about every aspect of training as it focuses on marking and rewarding for successful approximation towards a final goal behavior.  However, it can be used all on its own in a similar fashion to capturing.  When shaping we would set up the environment in a way that encouraged our learner to perform a specific task.  However, instead of waiting for the dog to perform the specific behavior in its entirety we would mark and reward any small step the dog took that got it closer to the goal behavior.  In the example above, we would mark and reward the dog for any look or movement in the direction of the bed.  We would slowly raise criteria until the dog got on the bed and then, finally, laid down.

Just like the methods listed before it, shaping also has its challenges.  Some dogs can become frustrated and confused with shaping while others get stuck at offering one-step unable to progress further.

In this course, we will show you how to set yourself up to shape your dog successfully.

Changing Environments

Once we get a behavior on cue it is important to change the environment in which we train to build reliability.  It is believed that a dog needs to practice a new behavior in 3-5 different contexts successfully before they are considered to fully understand the behavior.