Shaping Dog Behaviour

An advanced dog training method

Shaping dog behaviour is an advanced training method that builds on Capturing.

It is referred to as an advanced training method because it needs the trainer to pay vigilant attention to the dog’s movements and have superb timing when rewarding him/her. It is also a higher-level training system because the end result is a complex dog command. The nice thing about it is that it breaks down the complex behaviour in smaller, easily achievable parts for the dog/trainer team to succeed.

It is an extremely  powerful method allowing you to train your GSD to do incredible things like:

  • Turning lights on or off
  • Opening a door
  • Finding an object
  • It can also use shaping dog training for dog tricks: spin, roll-over, play-dead and many more.

It is a positive method enabling you teach a complex behaviour without any negatives. It can be achieved using a combination of clicker training with dog shaping or use a marker word/food treat

How to train a dog with Shaping

Shaping dog behaviour uses Capturing to train advanced behaviours the dog would not normally produce on its own. Capturing is a training technique method in which you wait for the dog to perform the action (e.g. sit) then reward it when and as it happens. The use of rewards make the behaviour happen more frequently, enabling you to then add a word command and/or hand signal to it.

In shaping, instead of capturing the full behaviour (“sit”) you capture the successive steps towards the final behaviour.

Here is an example to train your dog to ring a bell:

  1. Place a bell where you would like it to be (e.g., next to the door, to signal to go out to toilet).
  2. Start the training session near the bell area. Wait and observe!
  3. If your dog “looks” at the bell – mark and reward.  You can also use a clicker instead of a word.
  4. Reward a few looks at the bell.  Then raise your criteria for rewards, now the dog has to take one step towards the bell to get the treat.
  5. Be patient! Some dogs may walk directly to the bell, while other s will take a while to figure out what it is they need to do. 
  6. If your GSD moves a little bit towards the bell – mark and reward. Even if it was only one step, it’s a start in the right direction.
  7. As your GSD improves, raise the criteria and only reward as he/she moves closer to the bell.
  8. Once you reach this stage you need to understand the concept of a “random reward”. The first few times your GSD does the desired behaviour you must mark and reward every single time. However, after a few successful attempts , you should start randomly reducing the rewards, in a way in which your GSD cannot predict when he/she is going to receive food or not. This is an integral concept in shaping dog behaviour. By randomly rewarding, your GSD will keep on trying. When you raise the criteria you need to reward every single time, then randomly as the GSD masters that particular step/phase of the training. This process is repeated each time the criteria is raised.
  9. Once your GSD touching the bell consistently, start rewarding only the action when he/she makes the bell ring loudly and not the feeble ones. 
  10. Finally, add a command by only rewarding if your hound rings the bell after you prompted with the cue. If you want him/her to ring the bell to toilet outside, then use going outside as the reward instead of a food treat.

Shaping can be a very efficient technique as it takes advantage of the fact that behaviour is variable.

This means that your GSD will repeat the behaviour with slight variations each time.

In Summary:

  • By rewarding your GSD for performing a desired behaviour that eventually leads to a final goal, you can train him/her to perform a variety tasks.
  • The method outlined above on shaping dog behavior can be tweaked and transformed dependent on the speed in which your GSD learns.
  • The more commands you teach your GSD using this method, the faster he/she will learn.

~~ TIPS ~~

  • Shaping  can be taught in a multitude of different ways! 
  • Stay focused through a training session. 
  • Try to finish each training session in a positive tone.
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