Shaping is a method of training using a clicker. Instead of luring or showing the dog how to do something, the behaviour is developed through clicking and rewarding desirable movements. The handler gives no verbal cues and the dog is effectively leading the trick training.
To make things more interesting there are two types of shaping – free shaping, where you go into an exercise with no expectations and allow the dog to choose what will occur, and guided shaping where you have a specific goal in mind (for instance teaching the dog to go to a mat and lay down). In this exercise I was free shaping, allowing Sparrow to decide what she wished to do with the box and going with it.
Sparrow has not done a lot of free shaping and it is noticeable by how frustrated she became at first. She wanted me to tell her what I wanted so she could do it and earn the reward. We worked through this and she thus had to really think about the behaviour she was giving, making it (hopefully) a stronger behaviour than one I had lured her into performing and then clicked.
The experience was certainly enlightening! Sparrow, by chance, put her back feet on the box which I clicked. She then took this to mean I wanted back feet on the box and started to reverse to the box. She soon had one foot in and then the other. This is just the first step of the process, as we could perfect the behaviour into something a bit prettier, but for a starting point it is very good and unexpected.
If you want to try shaping behaviour you will require an object new to your dog (not necessarily unfamiliar, but one they have not seen before), your dog to understand how a clicker works, plenty of treats and patience! In shaping you don’t guide the dog, so you have to take things step-by-step.
Shaping is a great way to work your dog’s brain, encourage their imagination (yes, dogs can be creative!) and to tire them out. And you never know, you might just find yourself with the beginnings of a cool new trick!