Posted by: Linda Trunell | September 9, 2013

Capturing and Free-Shaping with a Clicker

In my post “Getting Started with a Clicker” (September 2, 2013)  I covered charging the clicker and luring a behavior.  You should read that before continuing if you haven’t yet.


If you are not able to lure the dog into the position you want, you can also capture it and click and reward.  For example, some dogs are difficult to lure into the down position.  I find this to be true of a lot of small dogs in particular.  Lying down is a natural position and dogs do it all the time.  If you want to put it on cue you can start by clicking and rewarding when they are lying down – in other words capture it.

Here is a video showing capturing the down by Mindy Cox, B.S.,CPDT-KA (Lucky Dog Sports Club) and Decker the Border Collie.


Another method of teaching a behavior is free-shaping which is really all about allowing your dog to offer behaviors and clicking and rewarding the ones you want.  The click marks the desired behavior – like taking a snapshot – so the dog understands what he is being rewarded for.   This is a good way to teach more complicated behaviors which require several steps and is really fun because your dog has to figure out what the desired behavior is instead of being lured.  You should have the finished behavior in mind before you start and then click and reward each behavior the dog offers which gets closer to the goal.

Read the following tips from Dr. Sophia Yin (from her blog at and then watch the video below and you will see how it works.

Tips on Shaping Behavior and Raising Criteria

Don’t worry if your dog’s not a genius at free-shaping. You’ll learn much more from him than you will from a dog that makes mental leaps and figures things out on his own. Here are some tips.

  • Be aware that the location of the food reward is important. Animals want to orient to the direction of the treat. So if, every time your dog looks at the box you toss the kibble/treat into the box, he’ll quickly learn that the box is something good and he should orient toward it. After that you can deliver the treat when you’re sitting away from the box, but if he gets stuck you can reward a few more times by tossing the treat in the box.
  • Reward a step enough times so he’s sure of what he’s doing is right. For instance, you might reward the same exact step 5 times before you increase your expectations. So if your dog reaches into the box with his head, reward this behavior 5 time and then raise the criterion to reaching into the box with his head and slightly lifting one foot. By rewarding something easy a bunch of times you’re gaining what is called behavioral momentum. If he has lots of success doing something easy at first, he will be more resilient to giving up when it gets a little harder.
  • If your dog starts to get stuck you may need to decrease your expectation before he gives up. Note that sometimes I wait quite a bit of time for Zoe. I can see her thinking and trying to solve the problem and I have first rewarded her quite a bit for the previous step. But when I get the feeling, based on my experience with her, that it’s too hard, I reward something easier a few times.
  • Take a break if needed. Free-shaping can be a big brain strain for animals. So if you stop after just a minute or two and then come back to it even just a minute later, he may do much better.
  • Have a plan or stop to revise your plan if your pooch does something unusual.
  • Have a clear picture of what you’re rewarding in your head. If you don’t, you won’t know what you want either.
  • Practice on people and have people practice with you. Humans have all the same problems playing the part of the pet as dogs do. You’ll have a better appreciation of what the pet goes through if you subject yourself to someone else’s training.
  • Sometimes behaviors don’t have to be completely free-shaped. You can manipulate the environment to increase the likelihood the individual will do something close to what you want so that you can get started. Just be sure you only do it few times and then don’t need it anymore. For instance, if you’re trying to train your dog to head over to a certain part of the room, you can toss a treat in that direction a few times. Better yet, do something that makes them orient in that direction but requires no movement that the dog can see on your part. Or if you want him to turn, say 45°, you can place something he likes such as a toy at 90° to the direction he’s facing. Then as he starts to orient to it but well before he’s turned the 90°, you can click and treat. Once he orients several times, then remove the toy and see if he’ll orient in that direction since you’ve rewarded it already.
  • Stop while you and your dog are still having fun and experiencing success.

Now watch how Vikki Boyd, CCPDT (k9s4happiness) uses free-shaping to teach her Standard Poodle the heel position.



Now grab your clicker and treats and have fun with your dog!

Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,



  1. Reblogged this on theeverydaydogtraining and commented:
    I like the capture method too because it really gets the dog thinking


    • Thanks for the reblog! 🙂


  2. We have to mostly do capture, rather than free shaping because Donna tends to fall back on offering behaviours she already knows versus being inventive and trying to solve the puzzle 😛 For example, I couldn’t get her to get out of her sit position or to move from where she was standing to move to my side for the heel exercise that the video was showing.


    • You can do a combination of luring and shaping to get Donna to try more. If she is sitting or standing, place a treat in your left hand and walk forward (with your back to her). She will probably follow the treat and when she is at your left side, click and give her the treat. If she does that three times with the food lure, try it without. When she is coming to your left side you can click and treat.

      After a few repetitions, walk forward and stop, if she comes to your left side just wait. If you do not click she will probably offer another behavior – maybe a sit. Once she is coming and sitting at your left side only click for that. After Donna is consistently coming and sitting on your left side you start holding the click until she is sitting close and facing forward. You probably will not accomplish all of this in one session but that’s okay. Just be patient, keep your sessions short so neither of you get frustrated. If you are having fun and being upbeat she will, too. 🙂


      • Thanks for taking the time to write the advice. Will try again and let you know the results 🙂



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