Shaping is the process by which you can gradually teach your dog a new action or behavior by rewarding him during each step of the process while learning that behavior. In this way, you can break up a potentially complicated action into smaller parts that your dog will learn and understand more quickly.
While catching behavior is a good training method when teaching a dog behaviors he does naturally (like sitting, laying down, etc), shaping is more effective in teaching a dog more unnatural actions and behaviors such as fetching, running an agility course, etc.
Getting Started With Shaping:
The idea is to begin with a very basic initial action, and gradually build up to the full desired behavior.
- If you are teaching a dog to retrieve a ball, you might start with rewarding your dog for touching the ball with his nose.
- Once your dog has made that initial connection, you may reward him first for touching the ball on the ground, then for touching the ball on the ground after you have thrown it.
- Gradually build up the association until your dog follows the ball you have thrown, fetches it, and brings it back to you.
Shaping will take time, as you are teaching your dog a step-by-step process to learning an unfamiliar action or behavior.
With time, patience, and good timing, you can teach your dog to do anything through shaping.
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