ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

How to Begin Shaping

When I started training Rain, I captured behaviors. Sit, down, come, walk on a loose leash, go in your crate. Then I wanted to try things that were a little more complex -- things that Rain didn't necessarily offer. A fold back down. Walking across a dog walk. I was in a puppy class, and the trainer showed me how to lure the fold-back down. Perfect! Gradually, I found myself luring almost every new behavior.

And one day I realized that Rain had no clue what he was doing. He was following the lure completely blindly. Without the lure he NEVER offered a lured behavior, even once the food had been replaced with a hand signal. Those behaviors were't part of his conscious repertoire. Worst of all, I realized that he had no clue what the clicker meant. It signalled that food was coming, but that was all.

So I decided to try pure shaping. I started with the simplest behavior I could think of: a paw whack. We stood there, and for several sessions the only behavior I clicked was the movement of his front right paw. I didn't lure it; I didn't provide any extra info accept the click.

When the lightbulb went on, it really went on. He really figured out not only WHAT I was clicking, but he figured out that the click was somehow tied to it.

My suggestions are:

  1. Stop luring. Completely. Totally.
  2. Take a couple of weeks to do some basic free-shaping exercises just to teach your dogs that the clicker is an event marker.
  3. Start with the simplest behavior you can think of. I shaped a paw whack.
  4. Next, shape your dog to do something -- anything -- with a chair. Play 101 Things to do with a Chair, if you like for a while, to help him learn to be creative. But then pick a certain behavior, and intentionally shape him to do it.
  5. Pick a random spot in the room, and shape your dog to go touch that spot.
  6. Pick a random behavior, and shape your dog to do that behavior.

One of the best ways to learn how to break things into tiny steps is to play the game with a person -- essentially Charades in reverse. Take turns clicking and being the "clickee." It really helps you figure out how to break an exercise down. (It's also a fun party game.)

For example, in my class, one student wanted to shape another student to walk backwards from point A to point B. She concentrated on location first. He got that he was supposed to go from A to B, but he got stuck there. I switched tactics and got him to offer the backwards walking, THEN concentrated on position.

Believe me, in the game, the person being clicked is as ACTIVELY involved as you are -- and that's the GOAL of shaping your dog. You want him actively trying to figure out what you want him to do.

Melissa Alexander
mca @
copyright 1999 Melissa C. Alexander


| Training Articles Contents || Site Home |

Copyright of all posts is the property of the original author. Please obtain permission from the original author before copying, quoting, or forwarding.

List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @