Monday, February 25, 2013

Shaping: Keeping Your Dog's Head in the Game

I had set up a shaping scenario.  I wanted Oats to put his paws up onto an object.  Every time he neared the upside down bowl, I gave him a click and treat.  We both understood the basic concept of shaping, but we were both new at it.  He understood the game, but we just weren't feeling it that day.  I clicked him and gave him a treat, which he ate.  He just looked at the bowl, waiting.  He looked up at me and then back at the bowl before he snorted and walked away.  The message was clear:  This was just not worth his time.

What I didn't realize then was that it wasn't really Otis's fault for losing interest--it was mine for not understanding 100% how to make the most out of a shaping session.  I'll go over each one specifically in some future posts :)

1.  Make a plan for shaping. 

 Split the behavior into the tiniest pieces.  I don't really run into the problem of Oats not getting something unless I'm missing a place where I can split the behavior.  And, if my doggy really understands the game and takes off, I can skip the steps that he just sails over.  A training plan helps when your dog is confused and you can just take it one step at a time and also when your dog understands really well so you won't be left with treats in your pocket thinking, "What next?"

2. Keep the rate of reinforcement high.

With Oats, if he's learning something brand new and he's not earning a reward every second, then he's gonna find something better to do.  When the rate of reinforcement is high Oats not only tries new things faster, but he also has a longer attention span so he can learn more.

3. Be informative with your reward delivery.

Be savvy with where, when, and how you reward your dog and what it means to your dog.  Plan ahead so that where the reward comes from and what kind of reward you use gives your dog the clearest picture of what you want from him.

4. Start every training session easy.

Your dog will get into the flow of things if you keep the rate of reinforcement super high.  You will see the focus just zap onto your dog.  Another reason why this is good is it reminds the dog what behavior to throw at you.

5. Don't name the cue until you love the behavior.

As awesome as it is to watch your dog learn and want to prompt him to do the trick as he's learning, if you are good at shaping and are starting each session of the new behavior at a very easy, kindergarten level, then the dog should be throwing the behavior without you asking for a behavior.

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