Shaping in dog training – why do we do it?
What do you mean, shaping? Let me try and explain. Shaping is the term used to get the dog to do a desired behaviour simply by waiting until they do it and then rewarding it. Sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? Normally when we want someone to do something for us, we ask them. Please will you make me a cup of tea? Then you reward them; thanks very much. (It would be great if your dog could make you a cup of tea, wouldn’t it?)
But just as you can’t really get your dog to make you a cup of tea, you also can’t always explain to them what you want them to do. Sometimes it is easier and more effective to wait for them to do something and then reward that.
Why use shaping in dog training?
As I’ve said, it’s useful when you can’t easily show the dog what you want them to do. It’s also a powerful way of training, because the behaviour is initiated by the dog and so they are trying to work out what is required. It means that they are already really engaged with the learning process.
This is one of the things that makes Border Collies so ‘easy’ to train. With many dogs, they don’t particularly care what you want them to do. They might want you to give them a treat, but working out why you might give it to them is just too much effort! They would rather just wait until you get bored, give in and give it to them anyway. However, with patience and persistence, you can achieve results.
Border Collies want to please. They really care what you are asking for and will try and problem solve to get a result. They are able to keep trying and working until they get it right. Basically, they have a good ‘learning ethic’.
What can be taught?
I remember when I took Sunny to early obedience lessons and she was called to the front to demonstrate how to teach ‘go to bed’. The instructor had a carpet square by his feet. He fed Sunny some treats, to get her interested. Then he looked at the square. Sunny tried doing a sit. Then she went into a down. All the time looking at him to see if she could have a reward. He waited. Finally she touched the carpet square. He said ‘yes!’ (the same as using a clicker) and rewarded. Within a few minutes she was going and sitting on the square.
In other words, you can teach all sorts of things using shaping training. I’ve just been looking back on Ounce’s early training which is very sweet. What a clever puppy she is! I talked about shaping in relation to her understanding of verbal commands only. As I say in that post, I was always thinking about her doing agility in the long run. I carried on using shaping in her First agility steps.
Now I am putting it all together. She’s been making fantastic progress considering how little actual training she has had and we are well on the way. Ounce is eligible to compete from 18 months, but fortunately by the time she is that old, in December, there won’t be many shows on until the following April. This gives us a few more months’ training time, which I am happy to have.
For me, the weaves are the hardest bit about doing agility. Some people find the ‘contacts’ hard, making sure the dog touches the painted sections at the bottom of the A frame, dog walk and seesaw. I find the weaves torture! With my 4 dogs I have tried various different methods and all of them seem to take years and years to master.
The biggest problem is that the dog must always enter the weaves with the first pole on their left shoulder. Try explaining that to your dog! The next problem is spacing. If your dog goes too fast they will ‘pop out’ – something Sunny would always do, missing out a few in the middle.
Often the dog is guided into and through the weaves by you walking beside them, encouraging them and helping them to stay in rhythm. This makes it extra complicated, as you have to be able to match your pace to theirs and be exactly the right distance away from them. These dogs usually go slowly and are not very good at weaving when you are on the left hand side of the weaves.
Your dog must also go right to the end of the 12 weaves, persisting until they are all done. Luna is brilliant at doing 10 weaves and then looking up at you and saying ‘that’s enough isn’t it?’ Cheeky. It is hard work for them to get it right. Busy is nearly five years old and she has only just mastered the weaves consistently. What you really want is a dog who will go off and do them while you go haring off somewhere else, ready for the next bit of the course.
Look at Busy doing it perfectly:
Ounce shaping weaves
Here we go then, this is our third go with Ounce. We are only using two weave poles, so it seems completely random. But this will soon build up…
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