Shaping and Capturing: How to create a new behaviour with a clicker!

You can use a clicker in lots of ways. If you’ve had a consultation with me, or been on my clicker masterclasses, you’ll already know of quite a few. In this blog, I am talking about Shaping and Capturing, and how to create a new behaviour with a clicker!

What is shaping and capturing?

Both processes are very similar, but there is a key difference. They both allow the dog to behave naturally during the behaviour change process, and they both allow the dog to choose their own behaviour. If you are looking for a coercion free technique, this is the ultimate in force free behaviour training.

Shaping is a process that encourages a new behaviour by rewarding something that is similar to what you are looking for. For example, if you are looking for the dog to give a high five. You might start by rewarding the dog for simply lifting a paw off the ground. Then as they get good at that and start lifting it higher, you might then only reward the dog for that, and so on. By looking for minor changes, and tweaking the boundaries, you can ease the dog into a new behaviour.

Capturing is simply rewarding accidental behaviour that you prefer. You’ll watch your dog like a hawk and anytime they do something you like, by accident, they get a reward. So, for example, if you want your dog to look at you, you would simply wait until they do it by themselves, and then be ready to reward it. When you do this enough, they will eventually start volunteering it on purpose. Add a cue word, and voila, a new behaviour is born.

a medium sized white dog is being walked on a loose lead away from the camera. The handler and the dog are walking along a path lined with sunflowers.
Shaping and Capturing can be used to teach loose lead!

What kind of problems can you solve?

Using one or both methods you can teach a dog any number of new tricks like a sit and touch, but it is especially brilliant when used to create more complex behaviours. TV dog trainers use a combination of both methods to create all the clever tricks you see in ads and movies!

It’s not just good for teaching tricks, you can solve behaviour problems too. When a dog is displaying unwanted behaviour, there will always be gaps, even tiny ones. By capturing those glimmers of good behaviour, we can start to mold a new behaviour. You can solve almost any problem this way, but I’ve used capturing to solve aggressive behaviour towards house cats, lead pulling, ranging too far, territorial behaviour, reactive behaviour, fear based anxiety, new baby introductions, and loads more.

Why clicker is perfect for this

The clicker is ideal for shaping and capturing for a number of reasons. On a technical level, it is a very precise way to mark the exact behaviour you want. So it works brilliantly when you are looking for tiny and precise moments. It also allows you to mark every little success without interruption. This is important as the last thing you want to do, when you are trying to encourage one behaviour, is to stop it so you can offer a treat. Far better that the lovely behaviour you want can be allowed to continue.

It is also a non-confrontational form of behaviour modification. This is ideal for very anxious dogs that don’t like to be led or lured. It also benefits them because it offers a way to reward an anxious dog that won’t take a treat in certain places or situations.

For the dog…

As far as the dog is concerned, the click becomes a predictor of a treat. The dog hears the click and thinks yippee, I’m going to get a treat. This can be powerful on its own, but it’s better than just that. The dog will have to wait for his reward, so the process triggers anticipation. This is a great feeling, and is not to be underestimated. Remember that feeling you get the night before you go on holiday, or Christmas? It’s a pretty addictive feeling, right?

If that’s not enough. On a deeper level, the click itself can trigger the same happy feeling that a reward delivers. When you pair the click and a treat together enough times, it has the power to make the dog feel good. Just like a happy feeling can be triggered for you by the sound of a song on the radio, or a theme tune of a TV show you used to love. The clicker can do the same for your dog. And, if you use it frequently enough, your clicker has the power to boost overall confidence too.

Combined, this makes a clicker perfect for this type of training, but the best of it is that it teaches the dog to think for himself. Once your dog starts trying to please you in this way, anything is possible!

Check out the following video on YouTube for more information on shaping and capturing, clicker introduction, and how to use it in some real life examples.

Find out how to do it, with plenty of examples, in this YouTube video: How to Use a Clicker to Create a New Behaviour: Shaping and Capturing Explained

Are you struggling with your dogs behaviour?

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area and beyond, or via zoom. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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