Back to the future

Posted on 02/18/09 10 Comments

When Feature was a puppy I used to shape new behaviours with her all the time. One week I challenged myself to come up with a different, unrelated behaviour to shape each day for a week.  That was fun. None of them were shaped to fluency before I went on the next day to a new response (actually when I think about it, some of them still remain unfinished) but it was great for the puppy and great for me as a trainer to work my timing, criteria and reinforcement. More often then not, these were the “dinner time sessions.”  The ones we did in order for her to earn her meals. It dawned on my yesterday that as I get involved with each dog’s career I don’t have these sessions near as much any more. I don’t know why it took me so long to come to this conclusion as John has been telling me for months; “you know you don’t work with Feature near as much as you used to.” By that he means, I used to shape her almost daily in the house (where he could witness the fact that I trained) and now all of her training is done in the building. When he doesn’t see it happen, it must not of happened right?:). I think the transition of locations occurred when we moved into this tiny apt with shiny ceramic tile floors. The footing is too poor to ask for much from the dogs plus there is no where else to put the other dogs if I want to have an informal shaping session before dinner with one of them. Now when I want to have one of these quickie session I have to go to the building (I know poor, me at least I have a building, I am really not complaining, just making hollow excuses for  my lack of effort). Yesterday I did just that.  I took DeCaff, Feature and Encore out and had 2 sessions with each of them. They acted as if it was Christmas. Especially DeCaff as I rarely take her out to train at all anymore (shame on me, poor girlie, but something has to give).   I think the biggest road block for people to have sessions like these is the ability to come up with things to shape their dogs to do. I must admit most of what I do shape are things I believe will benefit me somewhere as a trainer, either to help my dog with strength, flexibility or proprioception. I have been meaning for a long to put together a list of ideas to shape and put it on my website. It is on my long todo list. However in the meantime on my short list I will plan for the future to do more of what I did in the past.  Pick a day. Like Monday is nail-trimming day for my dogs, Tuesday can be shaping nothing important day. It is something I would suggest you all do. Shape one new behaviour once a week. You can choose to work on that behaviour at different times throughout the week or leave it when the next Tuesday comes around you can start another new response. I will try to get that list finished. I actually started it years ago. Meanwhile start working on your own shaping session.

Today I am grateful my mac makes it easy to find documents I wrote years ago so I can dust ’em off and refresh them.


  1. Trudie says:
    Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 3:53pm

    Just to “shape” up, I had to look up “proprioception” in the dictionary: the sense of muscular position. This is how I picked up a lot of dog hair on my pants, crouching down after reading the post “Its big A time”…
    (notice on tile floors how loose fur gathers like tumbleweed).


  2. Julie Weir says:
    Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 11:47am

    Great post. I love to shape and so do my dogs. I just don’t do it often enough. Thank you for the reminder that I should do more of it and I can just shape and not have to finish the trick.


  3. Melissa & Treo says:
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 4:27pm

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ll miss you this weekend as Treo and I will not be competing in MN since he’s developed a dislike for the teeter. So, while I put value back on it (and get his tyroid checked) – Dana suggested I shape him to skateboard.

    Something moving under his feet, but resembles nothing we’ve worked with before. Great idea. So far, he’s got all four on and let’s me pull him around. I’m prepared to teach him the push off. I like the out of the box thinking and it replaces my frustration over the teeter, with a new challenge to soak up all that obsessive energy. Treo likes it because he’s getting paid and it’s new to him too.


  4. m.e.l says:
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 12:21pm

    I love your blog and I must admit that I check it atleast 3 times a day!
    What happens when the handler (ie Me) is horrible at shaping? I have never had the chance to really learn how to shape and when I try it doesn’t go anywhere! My dogs just look at me like.. WA? (I feel bad for them as they try really hard for me!)
    I don’t really learn by reading, and we have limited training places where I live. My next purchace is going to be your shaping book and hope that I can figure it out! I’m a see and do type learner.


  5. amanda says:
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 11:11am

    I love shaping games, and try and incorporate it into my day to day life- but like you I found myself not doing it as much as I had before- when the dog was young, or just learning…I have been making more of an effort lately and it has made a difference to training sessions on a whole.


  6. Renee says:
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 8:59am

    GREAT post, Susan! I had the same revelation not long ago. Was working some difficult things in agility and was getting too emotionally involved. Decided FOOEY on this…and we went and shaped some unrelated stuff (ended up being a handstand on the wall). Both my dog and I had a BLAST!!!!! That is the stuff that relationships are made of…and it is always good to have a relationship “tune up.” FOR FUN! Thanks for the reminder….


  7. Martina says:
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 8:22am

    Looking forward to that list. My lack of imagination is scary.


    • tracy says:
      Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 6:50pm

      I agree. I have a hard time thinking of something new. I can’t wait for you list also. Thank you for your website, book, blog, and tips. Tracy


  8. Judith Batchelor says:
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 7:29am

    That is a great reminder- Christine and Linda have both taught to shape something new every day- however it is so easy to get out of that habit, especially in the winter. And there is no excuse- it only takes a few moments-


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