Balanced Dog Training

Last week, we talked about capturing. This week, we’ll discuss shaping behavior.

What is Shaping?

Shaping breaks a training goal down into smaller steps. You reward your dog as he takes each step toward your larger training goal.

For example, if I wanted my dog to stand on a platform, I might start by rewarding him as he moves toward the platform.

Then, I would reward him as he put one paw on the platform. Each step of the process would require my dog to move one step closer to having all four feet on the platform.

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Breaking Down the Request

The key to successful shaping is breaking down the request into smaller steps that your dog can understand.

The better problem solver your dog is, the faster the process will go. Also, the better you are at breaking down the task, the faster the process will go.

shaping behavior
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For example, my Livestock Guardian mix Tank is bred to be an independent problem-solver. To him, shaping is a fun game. My Lab mix Bear, bred to be at my side, is more easily frustrated.

For Bear, I have to break things down into much smaller steps than I do for Tank.

Pros and Cons of Shaping Behavior

One of the major pros for shaping is engagement. When I use shaping, my dogs are much more engaged in the learning process, especially my less biddable dogs.

Another major pro, is that dogs retain the learning much better. My dog Copper learned heel position through shaping and LOVES to flip into heel position.

The biggest con is that it requires patience on our part! You have to be willing to wait for the right response.

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You also have to be able to break exercises down into manageable lessons. This might require seeking the help of a professional.

No one method works best for every dog in every situation. Be sure to choose the method that works for you and your dog on any given day.

What methods have you used with your dogs? Drop me a comment, and let’s talk!

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