Sunday, January 16, 2022

More About Shaping

 This is Part 2, so make sure your read my first post about Understanding Shaping Exercises before reading this post!

Shaping is by far one of the most challenging training tools for me to learn!  I think this is probably due to my "Helper" nature, as it's hard for me to "not" help my dogs along.  Shaping is more about giving them a chance to figure it out for themselves by keeping expectations small in a series of successful steps towards the end goal.  When I see my dogs starting to make a mistake, my gut says help them!  Mistakes are part of shaping exercises, and only through doing different behaviors can the dog figure out what behavior you really want.  

For example, in my last training session with Cam my goal was to make some advances in his nose targeting skills.  If you watch my video on Cooperative Care with Cam you can see that I'm using nose targeting to get him into some simple positions and he is struggling with a bit, mainly because he is excited because I have a ball in my hand.  That session let me know that it was time to practice some simple Nose Target Shaping Exercises with Cam.  During today's session, when I asked him for a nose, multiple times he offered a paw instead to the point of he was beginning to get slightly frustrated.  This means that I had to alter my hand positioning to a place that was less confusing for him so he could understand what I wanted, then after a few repetitions I was able to slowly step back towards my original hand position for that session.  

Shaping Tips & Tricks

Here are a few lessons that I learned the hard way when it comes to shaping exercises.
  • Think in baby steps!  If your dog is finding it easy to sail through your steps, that's awesome and is a great example of your teamwork together.  However, if your dog is struggling or either of you are getting frustrated, your probably taking steps that are too big.
  • Only shape one thing at a time!  While you can hold multiple shaping games or training sessions in one day, focusing on different goals, you need to only pick one shaping plan for your current session with one goal in mind.
  • Keep sessions short and quick by taking breaks between sessions to play and reset.  Shaping exercises should stay at 3-5 minutes long.  But you can get multiple sessions in rather quickly if you break it up with fun.
  • Have only one trainer per Shaping Plan.  I'm a big advocate of dogs being able to learn to work with multiple people, this can be especially difficult when learning something new and when doing shaping exercises.  Going back to the example above, multiple people ask Cam to do nose targets but I'm the only one to shape that skill in training session mode.  Everyone else uses the final cue in real life situations.
  • If you find that your really struggling with a certain step in your plan and it seems like you just can't get passed it, talk to another trainer to see if there is another step you might be missing.  Shaping is not as simple as a straight staircase, think of more as the room of staircase mazes with more then one way to get to the top.  Having a fresh set of eyes on your plan and progress can be extremely helpful.
  • Last but least, work the dog in front of you.  Today I set up for a shaping exercise with Azul and after about 30 seconds, he checked out walking away from me.  This is his way of saying that he is not in the right headspace for a training session right now.  While I might find a high value motivation to help him get his head in the game sometimes, it's better just to hold off on the session and do it later when you both are ready for the session.
I hope this helps you feel more comfortable about using Shaping Exercises.  Here are a few links from some of my favorite trainers about shaping:  

Service Dog Training Institute - Susan Garrett
Planning for a Successful Shaping Session with Your Dog

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