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.
Overall, shaping is a really excellent way to enhance your skills as a trainer and to exercise your dog mentally!
We’ve already looked at one shaping exercise this week – Exercise 1.9 where we were shaping a ‘Fetch Object’.
In this exercise we’re going to shape our dog to feel confident investigating objects by placing his nose inside in preparation for searching for a target scent. For this exercise none of the containers you use should have scent in them, we are just teaching the dog to explore them by placing his nose inside. Interestingly, scientists have found that just two weeks of nosework will measurably improve a dog’s confidence in exploring new things, perfect if you have a shy dog!
On to the exercise then and our goal is to get our dog to stick his nose in a container. Have a variety of containers but work with just one first until your dog shows he understands he should put his nose in then you can generalise the behaviour to other containers more easily.
I recommend you watch the video right the way through a couple of times before you have a go with your dog particularly if you and your dog are new to shaping. There is a nice 2 minutes sequence of Jim learning with a new scent indication training box he hasn’t seen before and I have explained the behaviours I’m clicking.
When you get ready to do this exercise for the first time be prepared and ready to mark and reward as soon as you put the container on the floor – most dog’s naturally want to investigate and will stick their nose in straight away and you want to capture these early wins.
Your job is rather simple, your dog has to do all the hard work! You sit quietly and wait for the behaviour. You need to make sure you say the marker or click at the exact moment your dog does the right behaviour. You’ll see your dog try other behaviours but it’s important that the only one that's going to work right now is putting his nose inside the container.
Don’t be tempted to train for too long, short sessions with a good sleep in between are best. How many sessions you need is very variable, each dog is going to learn at a different pace. The more shaping you do with your dog the more adept and confident he will become at experimenting and working out what it is you want and the better your timing will become especially in regard to knowing your dog and knowing when it’s the right time to raise criteria.
Once your dog is readily offering the behaviour and you feel he understands you can add a new container. This might be day three for example.
Later this exercise is going to transition into having the target scent in a ‘hot’ container and you'll see how we're going to do that in the future videos.
Rather than a quick head dip you want to gradually ask for a slightly longer time for his nose to stay down but go very gradually with this. In the beginning they need lots of success to build up their confidence. The more success they have, the more willing they are to try harder and keep working if they don't get the reward right away.
I hope you enjoy the video and good luck with some shaping with your dog!