Lure & Clicker Training to teach Sit – Advantages & Disadvantages

It makes me so happy to say that Tootsie is doing great. Right now she’s sleeping in her crate beside my desk. The door is open, but she loves it there. The only places she likes as well are 1) being in bed with me, 2) being on the couch or 3) being by herself in the crate in the back of the car. She likes it so well in the car crate that I am actually having to train to leave it. I’m assuming this is baggage from her puppy mill days and that she feels most secure and comfortable in a small, confined space.

She’s progressed so well in so many ways: I’m especially taken with her flipping around mid-air when outside after I call her to come, ears flying like a furry dumbo, her open, happy mouth taking up half of her tiny little Cavalier head. As I mentioned in an earlier post, now that house training is behind us (wheee!), she can be outside off leash as long as I watch her like a hawk and keep her close to the house, she no longer barks to wake us up and produce her dinner, so it’s time to continue work on standard training. We’ve gotten started on sitting on cue, but I thought it would be fun to start her on clicker training at the same time.

I’ve worked on sit off and on, never with much diligence, but she is getting the hang of it. I started with lure training–using the smell of a great treat to ‘lure’ her body into a sitting position. Now that I’m going to start her with a clicker, I find myself thinking about the two different methods of training: luring and clicker training. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but I find that combining the two of them can be especially effective in some contexts.

Luring has the advantage of initial speed: In the case of sit, a la Ian Dunbar, you hold a tiny, tasty treat at the crown of a dog’s head and move it back toward their tail (not up, straight back.) As a dog’s nose follows the treat straight back toward their tail, their body finds it hard to stay standing, and so the hips automatically collapse and voila, your dog is sitting. Bingo, the treat gets popped into the mouth and your dog just got rewarded for sitting. Once you have the behavior established, you turn the motion of luring into a visual signal, and then bring in the verbal cue and start minimizing the hand motion.  (For a more detailed description, see The Puppy Primer.)

Luring also has a disadvantage: If you’re not careful to drop out the lure and the visual signal early on, the movement becomes the cue. You can end up with a dog who only sits when you move your hand, not when you say “Sit.”

Clicker training has the advantage of creating razor sharp precision, which helps you communicate clearly with your dog. It’s a great thing to teach a dog that their behavior can influence your own, and in a good way at that. I especially like that in most cases, the dog initiates the action, rather than you ‘helping’ him or her. However, strict operant conditioning suggests that you don’t do anything to initiate the behavior, you wait until the dog initiates him or herself, then click and treat to reinforce it. But truth be told, I’m not someone who is going to wait for a dog to sit when they feel like it, click opportunistically and then wait again for the next time. Not when I can lure a dog into a sit, get 15 reps into one sessions, and then take over with a clicker once I’ve got the behavior started. I tend to mix methods for actions that are easy to lure and for movements or behaviors that dogs do naturally. I should warn you: some trainers feels strongly that methods should never be combined, but I’m an equal opportunity employer, and so have no problems doing so as long as you know how to use them together without confusing your dog.

[10 minute break while Trisha goes to work with Tootsie]

First I used a lure/hand signal (with treat) to raise her chin and get her to sit down. My hand was just inches from her mouth and head. She responded well, and I repeated it 3 times.  Then I moved my hand 2 feet from her head, moved it with the same motion as while luring her (just farther away). She responded well until I moved my hand farther away. Now my hand was so far away from her head its motion probably  looked like a completely different signal. I stopped there because I wanted to  move on to clicker training.

I “loaded” the clicker with 25 click/treats (small dog kibble, which she adores… she adores bird seed shells for heaven’s sake, so finding a motivating treat is not a problem with Tootsie.).

Then I lured 3 times relatively close to her head (to create a success) and click/treated when she sat. I then proceeded to disappear the visual signal, added the word “Sit” and in 20 trials had her sitting just to the word “Sit.”

Ah, but here’s an important lesson: I noticed that while saying “Sit” I held both of my hands behind my back. Wondering if that might in itself be a visual signal, I moved the position of one of my arms. Sure enough, she looked at me as if completely confused. When I put both hands behind my back, she sat again when I said “Sit.” But the cue that she was responding to wasn’t the word, it was the position of my hands. Easily fixed, I just began moving my arms and hands into different positions, saying “Sit” and waiting up to 3 seconds for a response, and clicking immediately when she responded correctly. By the time we stopped she was sitting to the word sit no matter what I did with my hands.

And then… experienced trainers can predict the next stage…. I moved three feet backward into the kitchen. Now I was in a different room. Tootsie again looked completely befuddled. Easy to fix; just critical to remember that any action, any posture, any context, any location can be a relevant cue to a dog. In just a few trials she was sitting just to the word in the kitchen as well as the living room. We stopped so that Tootsie didn’t become a Tootsie roll sausage and I could finish this blog.  We’ll take it up again tonight and tomorrow, and start on some tricks this weekend. Ain’t training grand!!!

Question for you all: I know that some trainers are true purists, only using one method or the other. I’m a fan of mix and matching, as long as one understands the potential pit falls. You? [And fyi, I haven’t forgotten about following up on the clicker study I wrote about earlier (clickers versus just food as reinforcement): I’m playing phone tag with the author, but I’ll let you know as soon as I know more.]

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie and I have 3 new sheep to work. I don’t like working him on my small ewe flock now, because they have young lambs and huge bags of milk that have got to be miserably uncomfortable when they flap/slap around whilst the poor ewe is being pushed by a dog. Willie and I try to work them slowly and carefully, but there are times it’s just not possible to keep them from speeding up. There’s another reason: Willie has lost a tremendous amount of confidence since his surgery and confinement, and my most aggressive ewe, Barbie, has gone after him and won several times now. I hate having a dog fight a ewe with a young lamb but I don’t want her winning over and over again and continuing to erode Willie’s confidence. So I have 3 new Katahdin ewes with no udders and no lambs. They are flighty and easy to move and will be great for Willie while he builds up his confidence. Jim, Willie and I just split the 3 newbies off and put them in the orchard pasture high behind the farm house. It took split second timing and quarter-horse short stopping by Willie, but we got it done. Everytime I see him slam his forequarters into the ground I wince: cross your paws for him that he’s not lame tonight, I can’t help but worry. I’ll do some stretching as soon as I’m done here and ice him if his shoulder feels hot.

Here are the new girls, as yet not named (though I’m leaning toward Chili for the red one in the middle). Okay, they aren’t bathing beauties, but they will have a good life here this summer and will be perfect for Willie and me to get our paws back into the game. Those of you who work sheep know that the one in the middle is going to be the challenge: see that lifted chin? Oh my!

Here’s a wider shot, showing you the only reason I could get a close shot of the sheep! Good boy Willie.


  1. Kat says

    These discussions and descriptions are very helpful to me. While I am pretty well read regarding different training techniques I am not a professional trainer just someone who wants reliable well behaved dogs and is willing to put in the time necessary to achieve that. I’ve read a lot of things that were from one specific training school or another but it never occurred to me not to combine techniques to find what works for me and my dogs. Ranger was easy, he took in stride my blundering around and trying to figure out what the heck I was doing and what my personal philosophy of training would be. He put up with me constantly trying out new techniques and my rather slapdash mix and match efforts. Thank God for Ranger without my experiments with him I’d be at a total loss with Finna and her myriad issues. She came to us terrified of nearly everything, highly reactive and hyper-vigilant. Add to that the fact that her complete lack of socialization meant she had no idea how to learn. Since looking at us was highly stressful we started with teaching her to sit. I began loading the clicker and then by luring her into position and clicking when her bottom hit the floor–two methods combined from the beginning. Once she had the basic idea that sitting was rewarded I added the hand signal we use and the verbal cue “sit.” The clicker and lures faded away and since Finna had serious issues with impulse control I borrowed from the NILF playbook and required a sit for anything she wanted. When it became clear that she’d figured out that she could trade sits for things she wanted and that she’d grasped the idea that behavior could be a passport to good things I stopped playing by the NILF rules and we started working on learning other behaviors that are part of my expectations for a well-mannered dog. Lately we are working toward a solid and sustained “watch.” She still has a very long way to go to get to my standard of a reliable and well-mannered dog but she’s learned to learn, figured out that her behavior can effect the outcome in positive ways, and she’s considerably more relaxed and less impulsive. There are actually times now when I look at her and realize that there is an awesome dog in there buried under all her issues. Patience, consistency and using whatever positive reward based technique will get me the behavior I want and we may get there yet.

  2. Beth with the Corgis says

    Love the new sheep! And good girl Tootsie!

    I personally mix methods all over the place. I believe you change methods to suit the dog, and I truly don’t believe that one method will work for every dog, or for the same dog in every circumstance. When Jack was a puppy, I used capturing to get “sit” and “come.” I used the natural inclination of pups to sit when they reach you (in order to look for your face) and to come when you crouch down and clap, cluck, or snap fingers to my advantage. This tip came from the woman who bred my parents’ Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Basically you crouch down and clap, and after puppy is running full-speed in your direction, you just start saying “come come come!” in a bright, happy voice. You can later use treats in the same way when pup gets older. Throw in the recall game and by the time pup is 8 months old he has a near-perfect, full-speed recall and from his point of view you haven’t trained him at all. Hearing “come come come” after he is already running towards you easily morphs into having the cue elicit the response.

    I used luring to teach heel (and did it off-leash because he already had bad leash manners). I can’t remember what I used to teach “down” (as in lying down). I taught “excuse me” quite by accident— it was never my intent but I must have unintentionally used the word before putting him off my lap. Now I have a dog who moves out of your way when you say “excuse me, Jack.”

    I used a lure to teach “leave it” but later did throw in some mild corrections when we needed a perfect “leave it” for food on the ground in TDI training. Using just positive reinforcement with a dog that short is hard because unless you literally keep the leash tight, they learn they can make a quick dive and get what you asked them to ignore.

    I used body-blocking to teach back up.

    I also use “no” to mean “that’s not what I’m looking for.” Contrary to what I’ve heard from most clicker-trainers, Jack really appreciates being told “try something else.” It seems to ratchet down the stress level when he’s tossing random behaviors at me left and right. Similarly, I use “whoopsee” if he blows a weave-pole entrance or misses a gate.

    Maddie taught herself to heel by watching Jack (she came to me as a retired show dog with fabulous leash manners but no formal heel). She does heel-work that would make her a star in the obedience ring and I didn’t do a thing.

    Teaching “sit” was very difficult with her because she was trained that “all good things come to dogs who stand” and she would stare intently, sigh at me, and continue to stand when I tried to use the treat to lure her into a sit. I finally taught it by waiting her out. I literally would stare at the sky to let her know I was completely ignoring her and after several minutes (she was very good at standing, bless her) she would figure she should try something different to get my attention and would eventually sit.

    I had to modify luring to get her to lie down. The treat excited her so much that her brain shut down, so I just got her to follow my hand down with no treat. She does throw in some weird ground-slap with her front paws when she lies down and I never was able to separate it out from the main behavior.

    I trained “stay” with both dogs in the traditional manner by starting with micro-stays and working up, adding in some well-timed leans or even the occasional step in their direction if they started to move.

    Maddie had a decent recall when I got her, but I really upped it a notch by putting Jack on a sit-stay, having my husband hold Maddie’s collar, an then calling him and having my husband release the collar a split-second after Jack took off. Since he does full-speed recalls, he brought her along with him. She does beautifully now, but she does go deaf if she’s intent on chasing something like a ball or frisbee. Even a treat waved in front of her nose won’t get her attention, and she’s about as food-motivated as a dog can get, so I think she truly blocks out everything when she switches to visual mode. Luckily the only things she gets that intent on are balls, frisbees, and fleeing chipmunks.

  3. says

    Another lovely post. Glad Tootsie is doing so well & no more potty training concerns (I’m the Ohio coordinator for Cavalier Rescue USA :)

    I always mix it up! I usually start the basics (sit, down etc) with food lures, then no food, but same lure. At this time I add my cue right before the empty hand lure. I use a verbal marker (yes) at the same time. After that is going well, I will do 3 or so more “cue” then empty hand lure, Yes/treat, then the next rep(s) just the cue. I let them digest it & figure out what they were doing & they usually do it within a second or two. IF, they seem stumped, I went too fast, and go back.

    Other behaviors I might totally let them shape & figure out on their own. I also will go back in & use a lured behavior that is being taught & wait for them to do it, say when I have a toy in my hand, just waiting for the sit to happen, then toss the toy.

    Anything & everything as long as it’s fun & the dog is enjoying figuring out the puzzle.

  4. Beth with the Corgis says

    I should add that I get better results with a marker word than a clicker; my dogs get very amped with the clicker. I use the clicker in agility when Jack would rather eat chicken poop than pay attention to me, and I use it for recalls in areas with high distractions. For training in the house where I have their full attention, I find it counter-productive.

  5. Marcy G. says

    I started out long ago training my dog using a variety of methods and I still do.
    Each dog is different and may need different methods to teach them. I’ve stopped using positive punishment for the most part, but I can’t say I don’t ever correct my dog.
    My personal motto is get the behavior, reward the behavior. Usually the dog will repeat what was rewarded.

  6. says

    Tootsie sounds like a treat to work with!

    Elka was the first cue that my Doberman, Elka learned, not because I sat down and thought it out that way, but because it was the behavior that she offered most often on her own. As a puppy, from the first day we had her home, she’d have the darling habit of sitting to watch what we were doing. So, naming the behavior had it learned in a week (or less)!

    Potty training, though, that took longer. My fiance remembers it differently.

  7. Carla Karr says

    Great blog and topic. I too combine both luring and clicking to differing degrees. My one BC became very frantic and confused if I tried to lure him at all. So all of his skills were taught by capturing and shaping behaviors. All my other dogs and most of my students dogs get what ever combination works best for them. You have to be flexible to get the most from your training.

  8. Susanne says

    I avoid lures for behaviors that I, or my clients, can easily and frequently capture. Teaching dogs to down, something that was traumatic 20 years ago, and problematic with lures (for me and mine anyway) 10 years ago, is now super easy using just capturing. We assign capturing sit in week 1 of our regular group class (to give teacher and learner practice learning how to capture) and by week 2 when we assign capturing the down the teams have learned how to capture and name new behaviors and so teaching down is soooooo easy. Something I used to dread teaching in class I now don’t even have to teach, the students just capture it and put in on cue and by the next week the dogs are downing on cue so happily. In week 3 we start capturing fun stuff and each owner gets to pick 1 fun behavior to capture (shake the most common, but spin, sit up, and “the worm” are also common). We have so much fun with capturing and the new trainers learn to observe their dogs for desirable behaviors, instead of reacting to undesirable behavior, to be calm and quiet, instead of chattering ineffectively, and most importantly good timing with both clickers and reinforcements. Huge skill builders. Dogs learn they have control over consequence and over time they become incredibly clever.
    I use luring for teaching polite walking position. Using luring in this exercise is easier for my students then capturing polite walking position.
    We also use what I think would be considered luring when we teach footstep tracking. We place a treat in each foot print for many months. I have not been able to figure out a clever way to capture footstep tracking!
    For the average companion dog trainer the biggest drawback to luring is they accidentally teach the dog that the lure is part of the antecedent for the behavior and so the dog performs the behavior only when the lure is present, this can lead to the belief that using reinforcements does not work and that punishments must be needed to achieve obedience.

  9. says

    Thanks for writing this. I love the holistic approach. Like Terry Ryan wrote, It’s a toolbox. I am a lure/reward trainer, a clicker trainer and a lure reward trainer with a clicker. I can switch back and forth from moment to moment depending on what the situation calls for. Let’s not put ourselves in a box and celebrate all positive effective techniques.

  10. LunaGrace says

    “True purists” tend to be inflexible. Whether clicker or food training, a successful trainer adapts to fit what the dog being trained responds to best – both, either, or something outside the box.

  11. Jeanine says

    I think once you’ve got a dog that sees a clicker and starts throwing behaviors at you it becomes possible to shape a lot of actions only via clicker but I truely don’t see the issue with mixing and matching shaping, luring, capturing, imitation and whatever else works. I’m a visual learner but I have to learn some things kinetically so why shouldn’t dogs learn through whatever method makes the most sense (that doesn’t involve harming the dog, naturally.)

  12. carmel says

    Hi there. Thank you for the amazing blog. You mentioned the “pitfalls” of using mixed methods. I am trying to think of what they are?

  13. says

    I too find that a combination of luring and clicker training works well. I truly believe that shaped behaviors “stick” in a dog’s brain better, but when training the average family dog – time is of the essence and luring is faster! I ask my students to use a verbal marker – Yes! I personally use a verbal marker and the clicker with my own dogs. I find that the clicker is most useful for marking tiny incremental steps or for fine motor movements (more advanced training, Freestyle, Agility). For your basics: SIT, DOWN, STAND luring makes more sense.

  14. says

    As a professional trainer and behavior consultant, I mix and match to find what works best for each client. Just as I give the dogs I work with choices, I like to give my clients choices as well! My newest dog is my Vizlsa, who will be 3 years old in June. For him, I have never used any luring. Clicker training, capturing and shaping along with some targeting. For my own dogs, I will try not to go back to luring at all (but I won’t say never) but I keep it as an option for my clients since they are not always as patient and excited about training as I am!

  15. Kerry M. says

    I use lure more than shaping, but I would like to switch to more shaping, because I think luring just turns off a dog’s brain. Not a problem for very simple things, but frustrating when you add even a little complexity. I noticed this when I tried to lure Huck to go under a bench. I lured this probably two dozen times and then I just sat back and waited to see if he would offer anything close to it. He never even looked at the bench. He just kept looking at the food and me. I felt if I had asked him what we had just done, he would have said, “I dunno. You had food. I ate it. Did something else happen?” I haven’t gone back to that issue yet, because, well, it really wasn’t that important, but when/if I do go back to this, I’ll attempt shaping.

    I lured for probably 95% of Huck”s behaviors, but we shaped the behavior I am most proud of, fetching. Before we shaped this, he would at most run after a toy once or twice if he was really in the mood, but wouldn’t always grab it and had no desire to return with it. Once I brought food out, he had no interest in even looking at the toy, so we started with that, a *click* for looking. Then built on this. He learned it in several sessions over a week. He isthe first dog I ever taught to fetch who started with minimal enjoyment with toys or playing. Yay for shaping!

  16. Crazy Agility Dog says

    Thank you for a very informative post! I think one needs to adapt to the dog, so mix ‘n match is great.
    I rarely use clicker training – for 2 reasons: One, my Sweep is not at all food motivated. Two, the sound of the clicker alarms her.

    Now that I am also doing some work with shelter dogs, I have incorporated some clicker training for them. I think one needs to be creative in adapting the training to suit the animal so that learning is a positive experience for them. If they are struggling with the new thing, I like to complete the training session with something they do very very well so that they always end on an up-note.

  17. Beth says

    Oh, I nearly forgot that I trained Jack to recognize names of toys using a little bit of luring (with the toy) followed by shaping (using a marker word). I started with his favorite toy (the puppy multi-colored keys) and flounced it around til he mouthed it and said “good!” After that I dropped the lure and started our rewarding him for touching it with his nose, then mouthing it, then picking it up, then bringing it to me. All to the request “get keys!” Then the first time he put the entire thing together we had a HUGE praise party. Once he would reliably get keys from another room, I picked another toy and said “Get (name of toy here)”. He, of course, brought back keys. I said “No, those are KEYS. Get (OTHER TOY)! (OTHER TOY!)” and picked up the toy and tossed it. When he grabbed that toy he had a huge praise party again and from there quickly realized that all toys have names. From there he learned each new toy with only one or two repetitions.

    He has also learned “Are you bored?” means “we are going to play and I should wait for her to say which toy we shall play with” just by association.

  18. Margaret McLaughlin says

    Before my free-shaping “conversion” in 2010 I used luring to teach almost everything, & force to teach the remainder (a reliable retrieve). It did work–my dogs learned well enough to earn titles or graduate as guide dogs–but also left me with dogs who waited for me to initiate everything, & who were unable to generalize from one retieve object to another with out at least an ear massage (full disclosure here).
    Lia, who already had her CDXs, has become much more willing to offer behaviors than she was 2 1/2 years ago, but there are still ‘hangovers’. The lured behaviors disappear much more quickly under stress, & she is much more likely to shut down or start displacement sniffing when she doesn’t ‘get it’.
    Re the relative speed of learning i have a couple of suggestions from a very fine KPA trainer. Break the behavior into such small pieces that you can reinforce about 10 times a minute. We crossover trainers too often go for the whole enchilada, & then thee rate of reinforcement is so slow the dog doesn’t learn much. Also, if you are willing to introduce the intermediate step of using a target stick instead of a food lure, you can achieve the same physical result without losing thedog when you try to fade the food. Testimonial–my Flat-Coat puppy, who had no interest in offering me a down, got it in one session of touching her beloved target stick when I put it between her front feet. She is learning her agility contacts the same way. Another advantage is that my posture, from the beginning, is much closer to what it will be in the end in the ring I also use a foot target to teach going-away-from-me behaviors; this avoids the problem of baiting with food, & then having the dog go deaf while she snarfs up crumbs.
    Personally, I am trying to avoid mixing methods. At this point I truly believe that there is NOTHING that cannot be taught by shaping–just things I haven’t figured out HOW to shape yet. I do realize I sound like a zealot–it’s because I am:)
    I have also had a great deal of success using the same techniques with Altzheimers patients. Splitting the desired–by me–behavior into very small pieces, trying to manipulate the environment so that the behavior that is offered will be the one I want, keeping a strictly ‘hands-off” approach–all these have worked very well. I was even able to teach a woman with advanced Altsheimers to follow a string of colored lights back to her bed, using a clicker & M&Ms. Two years later she can still do it, even tho’ she has lost other functions.

  19. Beth with the Corgis says

    Margaret, your testimonial matches what I’ve heard of clicker training, and I have used shaping to teach complicated behaviors (such as names of toys, as outlined above). However, my Jack is SO sharp that he gets crazy when I try to clicker-train and just starts offering so many behaviors in rapid-fire succession that I don’t think he’s really thinking at all. He then gets frustrated and starts whining. Honestly I’ve had really horrible experiences with it for everything except countering something that is highly self-rewarding.

    Any ideas if I’ve done something wrong? I don’t have that problem when I use a marker word, and I’ve done so for years (he’s 5). He seems to place too much value on hearing that click, if you see what I mean.

  20. says

    I also use a mix of tools, luring if I’m in a hurry, capturing with dogs at home, shaping or targeting with my fist whenever I can. I also prefer targeting/shaping or capturing, because it makes the dog think. With capturing, the only bad side effect is that I have dogs throwing lots of behaviors in only one minute, and sometimes they get wired up.
    Beth, try with a less tasty reward. My Schnauzer gets hyped with sausages, I have to use chow or even bread…

  21. Barb Stanek says

    I’m a mix and match trainer with my own dogs, fixing things if I goof them up. I am a lure trainer with my students. I will talk about using a clicker, but have never felt comfortable that I had a group of students who would sustain interest in a clicker. In my opinion, it is a higher level skill to use a clicker. And it takes a certain amount of “want to” on the part of the trainer to use a clicker well. If someone is avid for using a clicker, I will happily teach it. But I’ve never had that in my dog manners classes.


  22. em says

    From the perspective of someone who is not really a trainer at all, much less one dedicated to a particular philosophy, I can say that I mix and match as seems most convenient and sensible to me at the time. We’ve never tried a clicker, mostly because Otis seemed so disinterested in tricks training.

    Otis learned to heel with negative reinforcement/capture reward (I’d freeze in place when he moved out of position, taking away the reward of moving forward, then move again the minute he was back in place, capturing the desired behavior).

    He learned to ‘stay’ with body blocking/reward. He learned ‘down’ with luring, I guess. Walking moves like ‘slow’, ‘wait’, bridge ‘cross’, etc. through a combination of verbal correction/capture/blocking and a heavy dose of his own common sense.

    Fetch was negative reinforcement/capture. I’d throw the ball, he’d lollop after it. When he picked it up I’d watch happily, but when he stopped moving toward me, I’d quiet and turn my face away. If he started moving away, I’d turn my back to him. When he started toward me again, clapping and cheering. It took one session-he is a very sensitive dog.

    Sit was the one exception, oddly enough. I couldn’t capture the behavior since he never, ever assumed that position on his own. He’s tall enough that he doesn’t need to sit to keep his gaze on a person’s face, he’d evidently never learned it as a people-pleasing behavior when a little pup and at the time we adopted him, he was so scrawny and yet so big that the position seemed both unnatural to him and uncomfortable for him.

    His butt never actually touches the ground, even now. His legs are so long and muscular that he can’t actually flex far enough (picture a bodybuilder trying to bend his arm to touch his palm to the top of his shoulder) A full sit for, him means crouching, with his weight on the back of his hocks. He’s learned that it’s effective in getting attention and treats, so he volunteers the position often and now holds it for minutes at a time, but when he was first learning it was the hardest thing for him to do. He’d get uncomfortable and lie down after only a few seconds.

    I think he learned ‘sit’ by luring, though it’s possible that there was some complicated body-blocking going on. At obedience class the trainer advocated tucking an arm behind his back legs (which he hated and was awkward to carry out on a dog his size) but he already knew the cue for sit at that point, he was just tired, stressed, and reluctant. Then, I basically gave up on it- I don’t ever NEED Otis to sit, so if he didn’t like to, fine, a ‘down’ serves just as well. He picked up sit as a go-to behavior on his own, really. Everybody asks dogs to sit, and everybody he regularly met would shovel out the treats when presented with his four-star, chest forward, ears pricked, super-attentive pose. Now, he defaults to ‘sit’ when he wants something, and it warms my heart so see it, silly as it is. I guess I feel like, after all his challenges, the dog who wouldn’t eat and couldn’t sit has finally made it to ‘normal’.

  23. Denise says

    I’ve used all 3 techniques with my current dog but find that the behaviors that were captured or shaped are the most reliable by far. The largest share of his trained behaviors have been shaped. Since I’m not the smartest trainer around, breaking things down into the smallest possible increments sometimes taxes my brain but it’s well worth it. And it’s just so much fun for both of us to let him work it out. I can practically see his little brain smoking sometimes but he’s so engaged and then thrilled when he gets it. It can take longer (but often doesn’t) to get the final behavior but once he figures it out, it’s not going to dissappear, even when we haven’t practiced it for a bit. Capturing has worked well too but the shaping game is such a blast that it becomes addictive. I did accidently capture “wave (wag) your tail” though and the cue has become so well established, it’s almost like he has no control over his own tail – too too cute! I often say it just for fun and it always puts us both in a happier mood. :-)

  24. Amy W. says

    What a timely blog post. I’ve been working to teach my dogs some new tricks. Specifically, I was trying to teach rollover. I tried following the luring method described in 101 Dog Tricks (Kyra Sundance). I can lure them to their side, but no further. I tried to help guide them over, but that went horribly. I’m pretty sure they thought I was attempting an alpha role (yikes!). We have quit all rollover training attempts. If we try again, I’ll stick the capture method only. In the meantime, we’ve moved on to some other tricks that the dogs seem to enjoy learning using a mix of lure-capture techniques.

  25. Laura Anne Welch says

    Good timing for this post. I have a new dog, 11 months old Aussie, and he had no training except, thank goodness, housetraining, when we got him last month. We are working on a recall as well as marking and treating when he looks at me. He has already learned “wait at the door”. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how to get this dog to sit. Right now, I am marking and treating when he does. Luring with the treat over the crown of the head and back just makes him spin, regardless of how I set him up, in a corner, in the middle of the room so he doesn’t feel trapped, etc. He has no physical reason not to sit according to the vet.
    Lat night I saw a glimmer that the capture method may be helping with sit, since he offered it a few times. But, he has a VERY short attention span.

    Any ideas?

  26. Margaret McLaughlin says

    Beth, I’ve accidentally built up that kind of wild excitement myself. What has helped is to make my sessions quite short, & have a clear plan in mind about what behaviors are going to be rewarded–a few reps of something that’s already on cue, like a hand-touch, & then ONLY one small componant of whatever it is we’re working on–if it’s heeling, for example, I might be clicking for nose-off-the-ground, & then the challenge for me is not to click for ANY other elements of heel, no matter how perfect. Later in the session I might switch to clicking for shoulder-by-my-leg, but if that is my tag point, I don’t click for nose-off-the-ground. Dogs can figure out very quickly what you’re paying for if it’s only one element at a time., & throwing multiple behaviors at you will disappear if it doesn’t pay off. You can also set the dog up for success with your reward placement–with my puppy, Nina, even tho’ my criterion for heeling is very low (she gets clicked for being left of my midline) I present the treat where her nose would be if she were in perfect heel position. She’s a smart girl, & she’s figured out that she gets more treats faster if she stays closer, but she is not being lured into position. This also lets you raise your criteria faster, & still keep the reinforcement rate up high enough to keep the dog engaged.
    Hope this helps.

  27. says

    I use what works best for the particular dog. In group classes, it can be a mixture of techniques. For example, we practice capturing certain behaviors as a way of learning how to observe the dog and marking desired behaviors. I also start off with target training because I find that often once the dogs start following the hand or fingers as a target, it is easier to do lure training with the hand as the lure and less reliance on having food in the hand. If I use a food lure, it gets faded out very quickly. Again, targeting is very helpful in this regard.

    I find that with the little dogs, luring for down can be difficult so I often fall back on capturing/shaping.

    I also train my cat and parrot for fun and I have found shaping and capturing to be very effective with these species. I really appreciate the hands off approach.

  28. Janice says

    I am a strong adherent to Terry Ryan’s “toolbox” concept as mentioned by one of your other readers. I’ll admit to not being all that good with clicker training. I am also dyslexic with some resulting poor eye-hand coordination and it took me a long time to put the two together and consider that perhaps the dyslexia was contributing to making the clicker training so difficult for me to coordinate. While I can see its power in other people’s hands, it is just another thing to take my attention off what the dog is doing, so it never works well for me. But I have run into trouble in the past with lure training as well, My very independent Schipperke Raven used to do what I would swear was “what’s in it for me? Oh, you don’t have a goodie to lure me with? Well, then, I’d rather do something else.” Interestingly, he ended up being a very obedient dog and was easy to manage, but you always got the feeling he was weighing the options. Currently my most powerful training tool is the door out to the back yard. I decide when it opens. A dog’s butt needs to be on the floor for the door to open. A dog’s butt needs to stay on the floor until I say so for the door to stay open. I don’t really remember how I added the cues “sit” and “wait” but they seem fairly well generalized by now and can be practiced every time I open the door for the dogs to come in or go out. The timing for the reward is the same as if I used a clicker or treat–my hand is on the doorknob–the dog sits and the door knob is immediately turned–I just don’t have to worry about having a clicker or treat in my hand and figuring out how to hold it all. For a klutz like me, this has been helpful. Of course, I can’t move on to teaching complicated tricks since the door to the backyard is kind of hard to take places, :-) but it has worked pretty well for basic manners.

    I love the feral look of your new Katadins–such an interesting breed. I am still getting used to the idea of people getting sheep for their dog, rather than the other way around. I had sheep for several decades when I finally got my first (somewhat trained) border collie and so in my case, it was definitely a case of getting a dog for the sheep. Or rather, for myself, so I didn’t have to chase the sheep–who can run a lot faster than I can……

    Actually I use my border collie Spring on both sheep and goats and so this is always a challenge. The goats are a lot more like the Katadins you just got–a lot more inclined to run and always looking for an escape route when they do. But up close they are like your ewe Barbie and will try to take on a dog with their horns–so the dog needs to be bold and fast and cautious all together. Spring has a strong eye and sometimes gets “stuck” and this is disastrous with goats, who can be in the next county by the time I get him unstuck. I know that my dog isn’t the best trained BC around, but considering he has had to contend with a novice herd dog owner (me) plus a mixed bunch of sheep and goats, I think I can forgive him for not being perfect. Hopefully this summer I won’t make a hash of it trying to get his son and daughter trained to help out too.

  29. Liz says

    I basically use the best of both worlds in training, too, and really enjoy this post. Always a great exercise to try to list advantages and disadvantages of anything, and in doing so I realize that effects occur on multiple levels: learning for the dog, learning for the human, relationship between both, and cultural implications of how you train and interact with a dog. Wish I had time to do this topic justice, but thank you for the food for thought.

    Laura Ann, though short on any ideas, I did have an instructor who allowed any herding breed to down instead of sit as she understood it to be a more comfortable position for them… didn’t get the backstory there but just thought it was interesting. Wonder if there is something related to breed that makes some dogs less inclined to sit?!

  30. Beth with the Corgis says

    Margaret, that is helpful. Thank you. I will stick with marker words for more natural behaviors, but specifically I wanted to teach a turn-on-the-forehand to Jack for agility and was just getting the amped-up responses. I may try again and keep the sessions very brief (under a minute) with only one or two clicks for what I want that day, and see if it helps.

    I have one who offers up everything he’s every learned (which makes for an agility dog who, if he gets frustrated, just starts taking random obstacles and barking— NOT good but very funny), and another one who stands and stares and sighs at me. lol Talk about both ends of the spectrum…. And they are closely related, too, so go figure.

  31. Beth with the Corgis says

    Laura Anne with the Aussie: What I finally did with Maddie (my retired show dog who would not sit because she’d been conditioned to stand when attention was being paid to her) was wait her out. After her getting the general idea that sitting was a behavior that might get rewarded, I would just cue her once and then wait… and wait… and wait some more. I even started looking up at the ceiling or sky to remind myself to ignore her totally til she did what I wanted. Of course I needed to watch out of the corner of my eye. As soon as her butt hit the ground, I would say “YES! Good girl, good girl!!!!” and have a wild praise party and jackpot treats. And end it there, tempting as it was to try again, so that she would remember the sitting part as being what made the (to her) frustrating experience stop. A couple sessions of that and I had broken through, and you could just see the joy in her eyes when we finally made that connection. After that, she l0ved training, though she still doesn’t always get that I sometimes want her to try a new behavior; she tends to get stuck in what she already learned and offer it stoically.

  32. Caroline McKinney says

    By “turn on the forehand”, do you mean front feet in one place and back feet turning in a circle? If so, do you use a box or a phone book for teaching turn on the forehand? i.e. front paws on the aforementioned? I think it makes it much clearer for the dog. I can explain more if you like. But maybe you are already doing this?

  33. Beth with the Corgis says

    Yes Caroline, I use a big book. He just gets too amped up and isn’t thinking/focusing. I took a break from it. I’ll try again using shorter sessions (they already were short, but I’ll do micro-sessions) and lower value rewards.

  34. Rebecca says

    Couldn’t the initial lack of response to the verbal cue also just as easily resolved itself in time through word association w/o any attempt to proof your body language in the moment? You’d almost be taking the expediency of getting the behavior on SOME cue – the visual being the quickest since they are more visually oriented – so that you have CONTROL — and allowing the verbal to sort itself out with word association and the generalization that comes with giving it the TIME to develop naturally.

    Don’t get me wrong. Not saying I have anything against the proofing; in fact I’ve currently come to a whole new understanding and appreciation for just how far you can take proofing as I continue through a program with an instructor of mine. I’m just thinking — it’s an extra step that as a trainer is easy to recognize the possible need for and to make the effort to do — but a step the average pet owner rarely thinks of or bothers to initiate.

    As for the rest, I’m NO purist. I mix and match. I believe purity belongs in the lab. I believe the more tools in my box, the better.

  35. says

    Well golly. I don’t think mixing and matching is likely to mess a dog up, but I do think there’s a special value in purity, at least for myself. I worry about my propensity for what I call “shiny object syndrome”–the never-ending quest for the latest and greatest in dog training “technology,” always lusting after the newest fix-all method and scoring another tool for my overflowing box… and never spending enough time with One Thing to really master it. Adding or mixing another method when I haven’t got mastery of the first one runs me into concerns–too many tools, not enough execution. I like to think I’m a competent trainer, but I’m not much better at learning two different things at the same time than my dog is :) The advantage of purity is a commitment to mastering that One Thing in real depth, getting the execution super clean and fluent. Clicker and lure/reward are both deceptively simple–emphasis on deceptive–and I think I run a risk of confusing myself when I ping from one to the other too much, out of impatience or without a thoughtful plan.

  36. says

    “Wonder if there is something related to breed that makes some dogs less inclined to sit?!”

    Liz – I have not found it particularly difficult to teach Border Collies to sit. However I imagine sitting for any length of time may be physically uncomfortable for a dog who is not used to holding that position or has hip/knee problems.

    Sight hounds are another story. I had a whippet that I could back up to Oregon before he would be lured into a sit. I think it is just the way they are built that makes it a bit more difficult. I found I had to lure/click&treat approximations, beginning with the head going up. It was amusing, but Bic was sitting without a lure within three sessions….usually get that with a dog in one.

    What about teaching the down? Dachshund owners seem to have the most difficulty with this one!

  37. caroline says

    Patricia, I have just discovered your blog. I love your honesty and kindness with yourself and with what you do, it shines through your writing. I have found it so inspiring this morning to read my way through various posts. Thank you so much for everything : )

  38. Lindsey says

    I’m not sue when this blog post was written. The way I understand luring and clicker training, the two do not have to be separate at all. It seems more like you are comparing “free shaping” to luring. Clicker training does not have to just be about free shaping. See Emily Larlham’s (kikopup, dogmantics) dog training videos. She shapes behaviors by luring and clicking to mark behavior. She’s very successful at capturing complex, precise behaviors quickly by combining luring with a marker signal. I believe training dogs this way is relying more on the underlying principals behind the methods, rather than using one method over another. That’s not to say you can’t use a pure method in a training session just as an exercise, but there is no reason not to mix the two and plenty of reasons to do so.

  39. Lindsey says

    Oh, sorry, I didn’t fully read this blog when I made my last post. I missed the part where you were mixing the two concepts. … the reason why I asked when this post was written is because I honestly didn’t know that mixing the two was controversial, and I thought maybe it was just a thing of the past and that’s why I hadn’t heard of it. Also, when I said “there is no reason not to mix to two”, that was a stupid thing to say and not what I meant to say. Obviously there are lots of reasons you would just use free-shaping or capturing in specific situations… what I meant to say was there’s no reason I can think of for ALWAYS keeping methods separate… :)

  40. says

    Hi Patricia! I love your work and I regularly recommend your smart and affordable booklets! … but I never teach a foundation behavior like “sit” with a lure!

    Why? Because when I teach sit, I’m not really teaching sit. Puppies already know how to sit. They regularly sit. What I am teaching is a language, or you could call it a game. I am teaching them how to play the game of using a marker signal to collect information. Using a marker signal to teach dogs foundation behavior is all about teaching the dogs how to learn and teaching the teachers how to teach! Sit is a simple behavior to mark and reinforce and put on cue, and so this is a great behavior to teach people how to use a marker signal and put a behavior on verbal cue.

    If we don’t use the clicker to teach sit, later on, will it be easier for me (or my students) to use the clicker to teach left, right, pop, twirl? If I am teaching the dog to follow the food in my hand, will it confuse the dog when I want the dog to ignore the food in my hand?

    I understand why people use a lure to teach sit. It’s because they are afraid the clicker won’t work. They don’t understand how to use the clicker and they don’t want to have to explain the clicker to students. They can’t stand the idea that they are going to stand there and wait for the dog to sit and figure out the answer to the puzzle.

    But it honestly doesn’t take long at all for a dog to figure out the puzzle. People can’t stand giving the dog time to think, but you don’t save time over the long run when you stick a lure in his face. You have accomplished very little when you use a lure to teach sit, and most of what you accomplished you’ll need to erase (ignore the food!) or correct (let’s get a better cue). Later on you are still going to need to teach him how to think, and you won’t have such an easy behavior to start with, assuming you might want to train behaviors that can’t be lured (back away from me, lift a paw, open/close the door, retrieve and deliver) on cue. You’re going to need to spend time “fading the lure” (think about that from a dog’s perspective! We humans are so confusing! What kind of a language is a lure?) and fading the body language and teaching a whole new cue for “sit,” because you can’t lure a sit or use that old lure-driven body language cue if you want to cue your dog to sit at a distance.

    A lure is not a language. I have had smart little client dogs arrive at my gate who actually see someone holding a treat and they run! They recognize a lure as a potential trap! “You are not going to catch me with that hotdog!” I also rescued a starving Sato, and for him, a lure would have seemed like a tease. Either give him or don’t give him the treat, don’t just hold it and tease him with it! I have seen people make mistakes with lures, where they tease and dogs wind up responding as they would to negative punishment, that is, it is punishing to see a treat and get teased with it, and not really get it as you were expecting.

    A clicker (I tongue click) might seem like a whole new language, because it is. And so you have to teach people how to speak this new language, and that does take a little bit of time and a little bit of faith. You have to get people to believe that if you stand there with your dog on a leash, he will sit, you will click and treat, and yes, he will do it again. It really does work. And when you’ve taught those foundation behaviors, you have also taught a language that will make all the behaviors you teach in the future far far easier to teach.

  41. Trisha says

    Hi Jenny, thanks for your thoughtful post. Lots of good information in it. But I am going to push back on your comment that people use lures to teach a dog to sit because “they are afraid the clicker won’t work.” Upon what do you base that belief? (And aren’t “making attributions about internal states” anathema to the precepts of operant conditioning?)

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