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Training a Home Helper Hound

There are many way to train or condition an animal.  Science tells us about learning theories, reinforcers, punishers, schedules, timing, criteria and a host of different ways to use equipment in the training process.

There are dozens of leashes, collars, harnesses and other devices touted as the new magic wand.  We even have one of our own - Canine Game Theory.  However, Game Theory and it's uses in education has been around for at least 100 years.  Task training and reward based training has been around for 1000's of years and is how shepherds train their sheep dogs, carters train their mountain dogs and guardian breeds are taught self-control and discrimination. 

Here are the six methods that we find most effective in training a Home Helper Hound and we show how to teach each skill in each of these six methods in our own classes.

Lure Reward Training

When using this method of training, there are a few rules

A lure is presented before a desired behavior. It is an enticement to either follow the lure to get to the desired position or for the dog to do a previously learned behavior that isn't on stimulus control yet.

A lure helps teach the behavior and the meaning of the cues that signal that behavior. Because of this, the cues come first, before the behavior is learned unlike the marker methods. This is based on the fact that the dog has no clue what we want him to do or what the sounds or body movements that come from us mean. The lure shows the dog the path he is to take to do the behavior. The path helps the dog choose the right movements. This works whether the dog is willing to offer behavior or not. Over the top enthusiasm or offering 20 behaviors in 3 seconds doesn't affect the response to the lure. So the dog learns what is being asked for and that all the other movements aren't needed right now.

Do As I Do - Mimicry

When one animal copies the appearance, actions, or sounds of another animal, the first animal is called a MIMIC.  You can think of it as a copycat! Usually, an animal will MIMIC another to avoid predators. If it can trick its enemy into thinking it is something less tasty or more dangerous, it will survive. Mimicry of action and appearance is quite common in the animal world. Generaly the "mimic" copies only the outword appearance of another animal which usually has toxic means of defence. This mimicry is used to prevent certain predators due to the association with the toxins.

Many animals also learn through mimicry, or as it is sometimes called "social learning".

Shaping With Markers (clickers)

Marker training has been one of the most effective of any method I have seen in my 40 plus years of training dogs. Marker training is mostly a black and white method of indicating what is the right movements that make up a behavior.

Marker training provides a method that allows a human to communicate with his dog at the exact moment his dog does something he likes. It provides a non-punishment based method of telling a dog that you like what he is currently doing and you want him to continue to do exactly what he is doing at this moment in time.

Shaping With Games

Shaping is about going through the steps of an action and reinforcing each step until the final action is achieved. Shaping with markers works best with those fine motor skills and intricate movements that conprise a simple behavior. Shaping with games can increase the amount of behavior that can be learned in short period of time.

The biggest difference in using games as opposed to markers when shaping a behavior is that with games you manipulate the environment such that the dog only has one or two ways to move.  You reward when that movement is completed.  This allows for behaviors to be learned fast and complete rather then in tiny chunks such as marker training requires.

Targeting (Shaping via pointing)

Targeting is simply your dog "targeting" something. That something can be your hand, your keen, a weave pole, an easy button or a stranger. Targeting has been one of the most useful methods of training. Closely akin to luring, targeting can be used to build up confidence in dogs that are afraid or shy of objects, people, spaces or other dogs; targeting can be used to elicit new behaviors; targeting can teach distance behaviors and with fun games to play.

A "target" is anything that the dog must focus on and perform some action towards. The way the dog targets the intended object is either by a nose touch, a paw touch, a look, a sniff, using other body parts and even turning away from the intended object. Turning away means the dog sees the object (eye target) but can't accept it yet. This is a good measuring stick with shy dogs. How are they now targeting that object / person / dog? Trust in you and what you're asking a dog to do is a major side effect of target training. You can teach a shy dog to target a hand in order to develop confidence with meeting new people.


Capturing takes advantage of a naturally occurring behavior and puts it on stimulus control. For example, every time your dog sits be ready for it, and when your dog next does that behavior, mark and reward. Do this every time your dog naturally does the behavior you wish to put on cue. Once your dog is offering that behavior in order to get a reward, add the word or sound that you want to communicate to your dog that s/he is to do that behavior now. With sufficient repetition, the word or sound or even a hand movement will have your dog doing the behavior.  Sometimes Capturing takes longer to establish a behavior, but it will be reliable because it is based on a behavior that comes naturally to the dog.

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