Shaping is a method of training a dog to do something by waiting for him to offer a behaviour which is part on the way to your final goal behaviour and very precisely marking and rewarding it.
Gradually you ‘raise criteria’ by withholding the mark on a successful stage of the behaviour that your dog is showing you with some reliability and wait for a bit more. The trick is to ask for a little bit more but not too soon or for too long to keep your dog engaged in playing the game. If you raise criteria too much too soon your dog may get confused and give up but equally you don’t want to stay too long at an in-between stage of the final behaviour in case your dog gets too fixated on that.
Shaping can be a little tricky to get started with sometimes - your dog needs to learn that it's up to him to offer behaviour and this is often a very new concept for the dog. Once he learns the game though, your dog may surprise you with how quickly he thinks and experiments with new ideas to get you to click!
To help you and your dog get started I recommend you play a few 'Free Shaping' sessions like the one in this video. Free Shaping is where you have no goal behaviour in mind, you simply watch and mark & reward your dog for experimenting and offering different behaviours. Since the dog can never be wrong it really builds confidence and helps your dog understand that in shaping sessions it's up to them to work it out.
The key is not to reward the same behaviour for too long so the dog doesn't get fixated. At the start of this session Ash is offering nose touches, then when I stop rewarding nose touches he switches to paw touch, then a more specific nose touch to the handle of the pot and so on. These are the main behaviours he offers and I mark & reward - see if you can spot them all!
- General Nose targeting
- General Foot targeting
- Nose touch to handle
- Foot touch to handle
- Foot touch tipping the pot
- Nose nudging the pot along the ground
- Head inside the pot
- Foot touch tipping the pot right over
- Right paw on the pot
- Left paw on the pot
- Both paws on the pot
Overall, shaping is a really excellent way to enhance your skills as a trainer and to exercise your dog mentally!
Grab an object out of your garage your dog hasn't seen before and have a go!