Introduction to Shaping




One way to build new behaviour with your dog is using a technique called shaping.

Shaping involves gradually teaching a dog a new behavior by rewarding them for every little step in the right direction. You want to have a behaviour in mind and a rough idea of the steps needed to get there. When your dog offers something which is closer to the desired behaviour, you mark and reward. If they offer something that is further from it, you don’t reward.

At every step your dog is learning what works and doesn’t work and natural variation in their actions mean that you can start to shape and hone the behaviour until your dog is able to do the final desired action.

An excellent way to get started with shaping is to do something with an object your dog hasn’t seen before. Once you get started, you’ll see that the possibilities are endless!

Before beginning a shaping session plan out the probable steps to the end goal. Start with something they can do easily, and build up in logical steps to the finished behaviour.

Let’s look at this plan to teach your dog to circle around an object…
1.) First grab an object like a cone, and when your dog is looking, place it on the floor in front of you.

-Mark and reward your dog for any interest in the cone, including just looking at it
-Repeat a few times, rewarding any engagement with the cone.

2.) Next you want to wait until your dog offers something more… Something closer to the end behaviour.
-When your dog steps towards the cone, mark and reward.

3.) After a few repetitions, wait until your dog takes a few steps towards the cone.
4.) Then wait for your dog to come all the way over to the cone.

Every time you step up your dog will need to figure out what is needed to get you to mark. Be patient and give your dog time to think.

If your dog is struggling or you see them becoming frustrated, step back to an easier stage again and think about building up in smaller increments.

Where you reward is important too and will help your dog understand more quickly what you want them to do. You’ll notice here, the reward placement is guiding the dog around the cone. Your dog will pick up the pattern fairly quickly and in no time you can transfer this fun trick to a verbal cue such as wrap.

Shaping is a great way to rebuild complex behaviors, exercise your dog’s brain, and enhance your training.

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