Positive Dog Training and the Difference in Shaping

Stoni & Shelby circa mid 1990’s

Last week we looked at luring vs shaping, so it’s only fair that this week we are looking at shaping vs shaping. Recently in one of our Inner Circle coaching calls, we were discussing shaping, successive approximations, and the role of failure in dog training (we may geek out a bit on dog training in IC Peeps!).

This led us to look at our Stages of Learning chart about how we think here at Say Yes about controlling the environment and then introducing failure, which ultimately leads us to greater and faster success and creates confidence for our dogs.

We start by making the correct choice for our dog extremely easy, and then later in the training when our dog is driven and confident, the correct choice is made much more difficult. The mid stages of training are where choices for our dog are introduced strategically. By the time our dog gets to the later stage of training, those hard choices do not overwhelm him as he has the skills and drive to make choices and work through failure due to the layers of learning and the care we take to protect our dog’s confidence.

In 2012 we made a video for one of our programs that has never been shared publicly… until today. It’s a look at the evolution of my approach to shaping dogs and how the application of the science can impact the success we have. In the video I’m shaping my two 8-year-old Border Collies, Stoni and Encore, to ‘get on and stay on a cooler’. The shaping sessions were filmed years apart.  The clip of Stoni is from 1999 and the clip of Encore from 2012.

Watch the video below to see the difference in shaping sessions. The same behaviour that took me over 3 minutes to shape with Stoni, took under 1 minute with Encore!

This video comparison shows how the effective application of science allows our dogs to learn ten times faster. It isn’t that one dog is more brilliant, it is that the trainer is applying the science more effectively. The 15 improvements we noted between the 1999 session and the 2012 sessions are:

    1. The use of a leash to prevent “roaming”.
    2. Covering the slippery cooler.
    3. Removing the distractions in the area prior to getting the dog out to train.
    4. Standing closer to the cooler.
    5. Delivering the reinforcement to the dog on the cooler.
    6. Holding only one reward in the hand that brought the cookie to the dog.
    7. Not using a clicker which constantly drew the dog’s attention away from the work and towards the trainer.
    8. Starting the session with a tug game (getting the ‘D’ from my D.A.S.H. acronym that covers how we set up training sessions).
    9. Having smooth transitions, into and out of play or while removing the blanket, leash, etc.
    10. Not “Jackpotting”. Did you notice the variability in Stoni’s responses (rope pulling and sniffing) after each jackpot?
    11. Using a release word to help build the understanding of duration.
    12. Reducing the anxiety about the cooler by first value building with it covered.
    13. Using praise and emotion for successes.
    14. Using a “re-set” cookie to give the dog a chance to “re-load” the response.
    15. By having better mechanics as a trainer. (I think I was a little hard on myself on this point because my mechanics actually weren’t that bad in the video with Stoni, it was the application of the science more than the mechanics).

Is shaping just “shaping” regardless of how the science is applied?  Is all “positive” dog training really the same?  Successful dog training applies the science of training in a way that makes sense and is fun for both the dog and the trainer.

Let me know your takeaways from the video in the comments below.

Today I am grateful for everyone who watched the video above with no judgement of my attire or music choice (and if either distracted you, watch the video again:)).

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