Saturday, July 10, 2010

Shaping Behavior: Teaching Tricks

Whether for new tricks or "normal" obedience cues, shaping is a great way to teach a dog a new behavior. This method seems to 'stick' with the dog much more quickly and for a longer duration than either luring or – something I don't recommend – making the dog perform the behavior.

If you've never tried this training method, it might take a while for both you and the dog to get the hang of it. But the rewards are worth the patience!

How Do I Start Shaping My Dog's Behavior?
First and foremost, your dog must understand clicker training. If he doesn't, you'll first need to charge the clicker before you begin.

You can free shape anything; you need to have in mind what you want before you begin so you can remain consistent with your rewards. Simple obedience staples – sit, down, stand, etc. – are fairly simple, since these are behaviors a dog performs every day. Often when teaching these behaviors with free shaping, it's more a matter of capturing the behavior versus technically shaping. Tricks, on the other hand, can prove much harder – but also more fun! – because they often involve small increments of shaping which eventually turn into the full behavior.

If you have a dog who doesn't readily offer behaviors, you can work on getting her to offer more behaviors with a simple game called 101 Things To Do With a Box. When playing this game, you might start to notice your dog offering one or more behaviors more often; you can start by shaping those behaviors and give yourself a 'head start.'

This is what I did with Zada. While playing "101 Things" I noticed she had an inclination to lie next to the stool and rest her chin on it. After ending that game, I began a new session, working on shaping just that behavior. She caught on relatively quickly, but I attribute that to having chosen a behavior which she was already offering. This was the first time I'd ever attempted shaping this behavior:



After a brief respite, this is the second free shaping session. You can see she immediately started offering the behavior. I then 'upped the ante' by throwing her treats so she'd miss them, thus forcing her to get up and start over. This shows me if she's really understanding what behavior I'm looking for. She did very well!




Before giving her her meals, I'd also started waiting until she'd offered the behavior of lying flat on her side, which she's started offering consistently. Therefore, I devoted an entire session to shaping "play dead" – which I think I'll be able to start adding cues to soon.

The possibilities are literally endless with free shaping behaviors – it's a fun and never-ending way to work with your dog!

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