Training Tips: Messy Pockets – Capturing Good Behavior In Dogs

Questions answered in this article:

  • Why are the pockets of some trainers so messy?
  • What are some good habits of effective dog trainers?
  • What does it mean to “capture” a behavior?
  • What are the tools/skills that I need in order to capture a behavior?
  • Why is capturing a behavior so powerful?
  • What are some behaviors that can be captured?
  • Is capturing the same as bribing?
  • Where can I learn more about dog training?

Messy Pockets = Tidy Behaviors
If you were to go through the various pant, jacket, shirt, and other assorted pockets of the average positive reinforcement trainer, chances are you would come away with a very messy hand. It’s all there; from kibble to carrots, cheese cubes to carob chips, liver snaps to hot dog slivers. So what’s with the untidy mess? Are trainers just a bunch of slobs or is there a method to their madness?

Good Trainers Seize The Moment
One thing that good trainers know is that opportunities to train & reinforce good behavior present themselves all the time– but if you’re unprepared to take advantage of them, they don’t do you or your dog any good.

For instance one of the many problem behaviors that people complain about is that their dog is not paying attention to them when they go for a walk. But how many times do they “pay” their dog for attention? One of the easiest ways to get your dog to “check in” when out for a walk is to pay for it. If you have a pocket full of treats, and are paying attention yourself, then you can pay your dog for their attention. This works really well and is so simple to do. Any time you notice your dog checking in with you mark the behavior with a sound (a click or simple yes) this lets the dog know that what they just did earned a reward, then treat them and let the walk resume. Your dog will quickly learn that even though there are many fun things to do out on a walk, checking in with you is worthwhile too.

Dog Behavior Captured – Film At Eleven
This kind of training is called “capturing” and it is a very powerful weapon in the trainer’s arsenal. Capturing simply means that the dog offered a behavior all by itself with no prompting, coercion, or pressure by the trainer. The tools needed to capture a behavior are simple and portable. You provide the treats to pay for the behavior, the attention to observe the behavior, the sound & timing to mark and reward the behavior when it is offered. Capturing can be used to teach tons of useful behaviors, some behaviors you might capture include:

  • Sitting
  • Laying down
  • Sitting to greet
  • Sitting to eat
  • Barking ceased
  • Any behavior that you want your dog to repeat in a given situation

Capturing is Stress Free
One of the reasons that capturing is so powerful is that for the most part, it is a totally stress free way of training. The dog is figuring out on its own that a certain behavior in a certain situation seems to pay off handsomely for them. I’m sure everyone reading this article has had light bulb moment where they have learned something in this manner. Although I can only speculate how the dog feels about it, I know in us humans it’s a great feeling. On the other hand, have you ever been taught something where the instructor had to physically place or coax you in the correct position? Hitting a baseball, leaning to dance, yoga positions? Even though you know the instructor is doing this for your benefit, there still may be a bit of uneasiness and awkwardness about the situation. I can imagine that our dogs feel something akin to this when the pressure is on to learn.

Capturing Is Not Bribing
Many opponents of treat based training feel that treats are a bribe. This is just not the case in capturing. For a treat to be a bribe, it must be given before the behavior is offered. In this case, it’s the exact opposite. The dog is rewarded (or paid if you will) only after you’ve been presented with a behavior your looking for.

And finally, the simple fact that the dog is learns that by interacting with you it’s able to change its environment for the better. And frankly isn’t that what it’s all about?

Where Can I Learn More About Training?
This list of books can help you on your way to establishing good training practices for both you and your dog:

  • The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson – If dogs are ever required to come with an owners manual, this book should be it.
  • The Other End Of The Leash by Patricia McConnell – Excellent book on the differences in communication between humans and dogs.
  • How to Teach o New Dog Old Tricks by Dr. Ian Dunbar – Dr. Dunbar is the founder of Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and one of the premiere authors on the subject of dog training.
  • The Dog Whisperer by Paul Owens – No this is not Cesar Milan. A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training
  • Clicker Training For Dogs by Karen Pryor – Introduction to clicker training — positive reinforcement based on operant conditioning.

As always we welcome your comments and suggestions about this article. Let’s learn from each other.


Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha, Elbee

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