A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Posts tagged ‘shaping’

I feel as though I moved house today…

Or, at least rearranged the furniture in my house.  I didn’t, of course, not literally, but I spent the day engaged in two activities:  redesigned this blog and moved my dogs around.  I think the former activity is self-explanatory; the latter activity, however, needs some explanation.

All three bitches are on heat, and emotions run high.  Busta, my male Rottweiler, would like annihilate my male Pomeranian, Snuggles.  Snuggles would like to mate with Cody, and the tart keeps teasing him.  Athena would like to do damage to Kissy, and Busta would like to put Tuvok, my four-month-old puppy in his place (as in, don’t touch any of my women!).

Fortunately I live in a large house with lots of crates and holding areas for the dogs.  Everyone was locked away in their own special place, but I spent the day letting out individual dogs–or groups of dogs that got on well–for potty breaks and time in the house with Mom.  Of course I had to remember who was in the yard at any one time, and who was running around the house, or hiding under the sofa. 

It’s the end of the day now, 11:38pm to be precise, and I’ve just finished training three dogs.  Gretchen learned a neat trick today:  turning her head to look left.  I wanted to do a bit of shaping with her, and couldn’t figure out what to do.  She started turning her head, and I started clicking and treating away.  Soon, I started clicking for only left turns.  The little bugger caught on.  I really have no idea to what end this new behavior will serve.

How does one know when to Shape and when to Lure?

I am a big fan of shaping behaviors when I train my dogs.  I wasn’t always a fan, partly because I thought I’d have to wait forever for the dog to offer me a behavior that I could click and treat.  Because I’m the sort of person who likes quick results, I thought shaping just wouldn’t work. Shaping is a process where an animal is rewarded for performing small, incremental steps that he’ll build on to produce a complete behavior.

Instead of shaping, I used luring to train my two adult GSDs.  I was new to clicker training at the time, and obviously didn’t appreciate the merits of shaping.  I lured the dogs by holding food in my hand to get them to perform a behavior, like a sit or a down.  It worked because the dogs learned quickly.  I was very fortunate, though, that my two dogs didn’t fall into the trap that most dogs fall into:  they rely on the food in the trainer’s hand as their cue.  Once the food isn’t present, the behavior is no longer forth-coming.

Both of my puppies, Gretchen and Tuvok, learned their sits through shaping, and both have fast, reliable sits.  The downs have proven to be a bit more challenging, partly because I have been inconsistent with their training. 

When shaping does not “work”

Gretchen’s down is now on cue, but she still needs a lot more practice before I’d consider this behavior “fluent on cue.”  Tuvok, however, is a bit slower at offering the down.  I would click and toss his treats when he offered a down, and he’d get up for the treat.  I’d then expect him to go back into a down so that I could repeat the process.  I found that he would be slow at settling back into the down.  He had to sniff around first, then go check out something at the other side of the room, then he’d sit and look at me before sliding into a down. 

In an effort to teach this behavior quickly, I started putting the behavior on cue.  Did I mention that I love quick results?  What should have been a five-minute session easily turned into 15 minutes as I waited for the boy to resettle.  Then I had an epiphany one evening when I took Tuvok to a quiet spot in the parking lot of a shopping center to train.  He gave me sits on cue, but was not offering me downs, whether on or off cue.  He may have been overstimulated with the new environment.  At any rate, the cue “down” meant absolutely nothing to him.  I suspected that he hadn’t really learned the down properly, and I realized that I needed to back up a few steps. 

Luring with a twist

Instead of shaping this time, I decided to lure, because I suspected that would help him with his concentration issues.  I also needed Tuvok to learn this behavior very quickly.  I did mention that I like quick results.

I lured with food for about three repetitions with Tuvok, but I did something different this time:  I lured him with the food in my right hand, but once he was in the down, I offered the treat with my left hand.  The idea was that lure would not become a bribe.  After three repetitions, I gave the lure with my right hand without the food, clicked and treated with my left hand.

Within minutes he was offering me fast, focused downs, and  the luring hand now became a hand signal for the down, which is something that he’ll need for obedience trials later. 

No two organisms learn in the same way

As an educator I’m aware that no two organisms learn in exactly the same way.  I was proof of that growing up, and I’m very aware of that as I teach adults and kids.  I have found that it is no different in the dog training world.  My puppies are the same age as they came out of a recent litter that I bred.  Both are clicker trained, but their personalities are so different and their learning styles are different from each other and different from my other dogs. 

People often ask me  which of the two puppies is smarter, and that’s a hard question to answer.  They are different, but that doesn’t make one dog smarter than the other.  Tuvok learned the down in one session with the lure.  That was the faster method for him.  Gretchen never responded to the lure.  Whenever I tried luring,  she would lock her legs in a stand while contorting her neck to pry that treat out of my hand.  She was the better candidate for shaping.

The merits of shaping and luring

Shaping and luring both have a place in the animal trainer’s toolkit. I still believe that shaping behaviors are the most effect way to teach.  Had I re-shaped the downs with Tuvok and continued to train him in a less interesting environment, he probably would have learned the behavior with that method.  Shaping puts the animal in control because they quickly learn that when they offer a behavior, they are rewarded for it, and they will most likely repeat that behavior.  The behavior then becomes a strong one that doesn’t go away very quickly.  That is, the dog is not apt to “forget” how to perform the behavior. 

In Tuvok’s case luring helped him to stay focused on the task at hand.  He didn’t have time to go off to explore his environment, because he had a clear idea of what it was that I wanted.  It took the guessing game out of the training sessions where I waited for the down, and he sat there wondering if the clicker was broken.  As I continue training dogs, both shaping and luring will have its place in my repertoire of training techniques.

Teaching an 8-week-old Puppy how to Sit

So Gretchen (aka Turbo Puppy when she was born), has taken to clicker training quite well for an 8 week old.  I have started to teach her the sit, and here’s what I’ve done:

Offered her a few bits of treats to ensure that she really likes the treats and she will readily accept them.  Next, I pair the click with the treat being careful to click before I present the treat.  Dogs, especially puppies read body language, so I don’t want my hand moving towards her or towards the bowl of treats to be the cue.

Then I make sure to click and treat in rapid succession.  Keep stuffing those treats in her mouth while I click.  When training puppies timing is vital, and I’m really beginning to appreciate this.  Puppies have the attention span of a gnat, so even a tiny 10 second delay between click and treat will send the puppy searching for a better way to spend his time.

After this step, wait till the puppy offers a sit.  As soon as his butt hits the gound, click and treat.  Again, keep clicking and treating while the pup is sitting.  Stuff his mouth with food.  Once he gets up, stop clicking and treating and wait till he offers the sit.  Once he does, rinse and repeat.

Do not add a cue at this stage. You are merely shaping the sit.

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