Sunday, January 16, 2022

Shaping Games


There are a ton of games you can play with Shaping Exercises.  One of my my favorite games that I have developed with Azul since he was quite young, is our Positions Game.  The video above shows Azul moving through various positions while we play the game in a quiet aisle to break up some public access training we are working on.  Every position you see involved a Shaping Plan on it's own, then we turned it into a game by stringing them all together.  We are still adding new positions and twists to the game all the time.  

Games like Find It & Hide-N-Seek are also basically shaping games as you start small and work your way to more difficult finds.  One of the most common Shaping Games is 101 Things to Do with a Box!  This game helps both you and the dog to learn how to play other shaping games but teaching your dog to keep trying different choices.  Basically, you create an open space with you, your dog, a box, and reinforcement.  Your dog earns reinforcement by basically doing anything with the box that they haven't done yet; sniffing it, a nose target, paw target, placing 1 foot doesn't matter as long as it's different.  They often will repeat behaviors at which point you simple ignore it and wait for something new.  If it's been awhile since a behavior earned reinforcement, say more then 4-5 rounds back in the game, then I'll go ahead and reinforce it again.  But I won't reinforce the same behavior twice in a row.  While 101 Things to Do with a Box isn't a true exercise in shaping because you don't have an end goal in mind, it's an awesome place to start.  I repeat this game whenever I find my dog starting to get frustrated in our shaping sessions because it's an excellent reminder to the dog to keep trying new things.

The Blanket Game is another simple fun Shaping Exercise.  This is basic Place or Mat training, but it's a fun, easy way for your dog to earn easy reinforcement while learning to try different things.  There are lots of different steps you can use, but here are my basics for getting started.

  • Toss a treat on the blanket, and dog runs to eat it.
  • Hold a treat over the blanket, reward when dog steps 1 foot on blanket.
  • Then 2 feet, then 3 feet, then all 4 feet.
  • Move further away by just a step or so then cue dog to go to the blanket, again reinforcing 1 foot, then 2 feet, etc.
  • Reinforce when dog offers a sit or down on the blanket.
  • Reinforce when dog stays on the blanket for 2 seconds, slowly increasing time.
  • Continue adding distance away from blanket at start, time staying on blanket, and behaviors the dog does on the blanket.
Once your dog is great at the Blanket Game at home, you can take it on the road to generalize cues in new environments.  Remember to start in lower distraction environments, slowing adding in more distractions.  Also, start back at Step 1 where your dog can easily succeed and build up slowly.

As with other training sessions, recording your Shaping Games & Exercises can help you to see things that you may not have noticed during your session.  I've noticed missed opportunities to provide reinforcement when I allowed myself to be distracted!  If you do record any Shaping Exercise, I'd love to see them.  You can send them to me via FB Messenger or via email at

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