I love shaping. I love teaching a dog how much fun shaping can be. It takes the dog just a few minutes to understand what shaping is, and then: hold on and be ready to click – the dog loves this new game!
What is shaping, you ask? Imagine a sculptor with a chunk of clay. How does he get that clay from chunk to masterpiece? He shapes it with his hands, slowly changing the form, until it meets the artist's satisfaction. That's what we do with the behavior of an animal: we take whatever "chunk" of behavior the dog gives us, and we slowly mold that behavior into something we like. We use the clicker to tell the dog "Yes, I like that!" If the dog knows the way to earn a click (and therefore a goodie), it's only a matter of a few clicks before you've got the dog creating behavior that matches what you wanted to see.
If you want to try it with your own dog, here's what you need:
- Clear the room – no other dogs allowed. Keep the distractions to a minimum.
- Have high value treats. No dog food, biscuits, or Pupperoni. We're talking ham, turkey, cheese, chicken, or hot dogs!
- Have a large object ready to put on the floor. Put the object down, step back, and zip your lips!
- Click the dog for any interaction with that object. This is not the time to be stingy or to have high expectations.
- Remain still. Remain quiet. Resist the urge to help your dog.
I made a video of Talos learning how to shape. (At the bottom of this post.) The sound isn't very good (sorry, I'll remember this for the next video), so you may have to turn your volume way up. Originally, I thought I might shape Talos to use his feet to interact with the box. But it turns out he's not that advanced yet – he's still learning that interacting with the box is a good thing. So I decided to lower my criteria and reinforce any and all interactions with the box.
At one point, Talos stops, sits, and waits for me to direct him to do something with the box. That indicates to me that he doesn't understand fully what shaping is all about. And that's ok! That's why I didn't raise my criterion to paw touch. The more experience he has with shaping, the better he'll get.
Why is shaping important? Your dog is learning how to learn – which is the most important reason to work on shaping. Another thing, it's FUN for the dog! Your dog gets to engage with you, work his mind, and try to figure out how to get you to click. The more you practice shaping with your dog, the faster he'll be able to figure out a solution. So when you actually need to teach a new behavior, it's super easy!
Now here's the video of Talos shaping:
Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart says
I usually deliver treats by hand, even during shaping work. Is it better to toss the treats during shaping as you do in the video?
Laurie Luck says
I like throwing treats to keep him mobile. If I deliver them to his mouth, he winds up sitting still, waiting for me to ask him to do something. But if I keep him on the move, he tends to, well, keep moving! 🙂
I’m a big believer in treat tossing, especially if I’ve got a somewhat slower dog. And Talos definitely qualifies for a s l o w dog!
Jade Perry says
So I started using shaping today to teach Katie to pick things up. All these cool things you are teaching me… I didn’t think the shaping would go smoothly the first few times around since she has never had any exposure to it. WRONG! In two five minute sessions she is picking up a sock and holding it until I take it. Now I just have to add in the ‘take a few steps over here so I can easily take it.’ But she gets bored doing the same thing after about 5 minutes so we’ll finish it up and add a name to it tomorrow. She is so smart it amazes me. That is how I know Talos is going to do wonders, it is in the blood! 🙂