Instructor: Sue Ailsby
There are three positive ways of getting a behavior - capturing, luring, and shaping. Of these, shaping is by far the most difficult - and the most fun. With shaping, you can literally teach your dog to perform any behavior he is physically capable of doing. Shaping will bring you closer to seeing into your dog's thoughts than you ever thought possible.
Whether you've heard about shaping and don't know what all the fuss is about, or you're just not confident in your ability to form this very special relationship with your dog, we'll be here to help you master each step along the way. Instructor Sue Ailsby will help you work through the process - selecting appropriate exercises to start with, introducing the clicker, and helping you develop your timing and criteria. In this fun, educational, and entertaining class, you'll be able to watch your training skills skyrocket while introducing you to a smart, willing, exciting, intelligent partner - your own dog!
There are no scheduled sessions for this class at this time. We update our schedule frequently, so please subscribe to our mailing list for notifications.
Registration will begin at 10:00 AM Pacific Time.
Enrollment limits: Gold: 12 students, Silver: 25 students, Bronze: unlimited.
Gold Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to post questions and videos to the course forums. Students will receive instructor feedback on written and video assignments.
Silver Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to participate in the discussion forum. Students may ask GENERAL questions about course materials and may submit two, one-minute videos for instructor feedback. Any questions specific to your dog MUST be accompanied by a video.
Bronze Level includes access to all course materials and the ability to read all questions and answers posted in the class forums. Students will not post questions or submit written or video assignments.
For more details, refund policies, and answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
1. Train Your Thumb
2. Train Your Eye
3. She Wants To Move It, Move It
4. Keep It Fast
5. Pick A Behavior
6. Click For Movement, Feed For Position
7. Chutes & Ladders
8. Changing Your Mind
9. Changing Your Mind Again
12. Shaping Multiple Criteria - Fronts
13. Shaping Attitude - Reactivity
14. Using Setting Factors - Bow
15. Does Luring Help? - Going Around
16. Shaping Questions From The Class
The smallest possible treat the dog will work eagerly for. The smaller the treat, the more repetitions you can get in before the dog is full, and the longer the dog will stay in the training game.
Some way to confine the dog to the area you’re working in – an ex-pen, for instance, or a small room with no distractions.
Household objects for the dog to interact with, such as a chair, a step stool, a table leg, a crate, a cardboard box, a gallon milk jug filled with water, a traffic pylon, a large flower pot, a wastebasket, an ottoman, a vacuum cleaner, a backpack. You’ll need five or six different things. The criteria are simple. Your objects need to be safe for the dog to interact with.
Space. You’ll be able to do the entire class in a space the size of your living room.
A food-motivated dog. It is possible to shape an animal without using food, but MUCH more difficult.
Pure shaping is just that - shaping and nothing else. No luring, no body language - nothing at all except rewarding successive approximations. Pure shaping is wonderful in many situations.
If I had a movie or working dog who had to do different behaviours on the fly - if I came to work in the morning and the director said "we decided the dog shouldn't just lie on the bed, she should come down those stairs, peel a banana, knock over the TV, and THEN jump on the bed, can you be ready in 5 minutes?" I'd use a lot of luring because it's fast and the dog isn't going to have to remember how to knock over the TV next week. But when I got home, we'd spend 15 minutes on a pure shaping session, just to make sure my dog wasn't getting stuck on blindly following my hand around without engaging her brain.
If I had a behaviour that I wanted my dog to learn well and remember and perform well over a long period of time, I'd use pure shaping to teach it because when she's shaping, she's building that behaviour into her soul. As an example, I took my 3-year-old Syn and 10-year-old Stitch and got Brace Draft Dog titles on them. Syn has just finished getting her Draft Dog Excellent title, so doing easier behaviours as part of a team was no big deal. Stitch, however, got her Draft Dog title SEVEN YEARS ago and hasn't done any practising with it until about 10 days before the test. She remembered everything because I taught her the draft behaviours by shaping. All I had to do was remind her of what she knew.
If I had an animal that didn't want anything from me except to be left alone, I'd use pure shaping. I bought a llama once who only knew one thing - if you kick people they go away. Luring wouldn't work on her, obviously, because she'd stay as far away as she could from any human. I couldn't use food because if she could see a human she was too stressed to eat, and she CERTAINLY wouldn't take food from one! In three sessions of less than 15 minutes each I shaped her to accept handling all over her body.
So, pure shaping for teaching YOU how to shape, for teaching the dog to be shaped, to cement ideas in her head, for when the animal is not tame, and to be sure the dog stays operant and can remember to use her brain.
This week we'll start grabbing SPECIFIC behaviours with the clicker - the next step after encouraging ANY motion at all.
First, let's pick something from the dog's own repertoire. Go into the session with no preconceived ideas about what you're going to find. Sit down as you did toward the end of last week, and start clicking anything the dog gives you. Only one extra rule - do NOT click a previously-trained behaviour. If your dog has a trained clockwise spin, don't click any head motion to her right. Don't click her for sitting or downing. Start your session as you did before - clicking the very next motion after picking up the previous treat.
When you're ten clicks into the session, you'll notice that the dog is starting to repeat one particular behaviour. You may have clicked for a head bob, for a lifted tail, for feet moving backwards, for an open mouth, for a blink - but you'll have clicked four times for a left ear flick or raising her nose. And I told you not to get trapped into clicking only one behaviour, right? Now we're going to change that.
Focus on that one ear (or whatever movement the dog is repeating). Forget about the rest of the movements, just click that one ear. By the way, if your dog is doing something, like a head bob or chicken-scratching ;*D, that you don't really want her doing in the long run, feel free to ignore that behaviour and pick something else from her repertoire. If your dog already has some shaping experience, pick something she hasn't already worked on.
Let's take a look at Syn getting clicked for something her body is doing:
Note that when she lost her place after the shallow head swing, I let her flounder around a bit to find her place again. But Syn is an experienced shaping dog. She trusted me enough to keep working through the time she wasn't getting clicked. If I thought she would get frustrated and start barking, or quit, I'd have clicked that very shallow swing and built it up again from there. NEVER be afraid to back up and explain something again. You have to work where your dog IS, not where you want her to be!
Before I turned the camera on, I clicked Syn for moving either front paw backwards, for lowering her head, for standing up, for swinging her head to her right, and for swinging her head to her left.
I decided to keep clicking the head swinging left. I was lucky in this set because she forgot what she was doing twice - not something an experienced shaping dog does often, but useful for you to see her get through.
Basically, I waited her out - let her guess a few other ideas without clicking - and then clicked when she hit the one I wanted again.
Here's where the art of shaping comes in - you have to click often enough to keep your dog In The Game, and you have to NOT click often enough that she gets a little miffed and tries harder. Somewhere between "Fine! I didn't want to play this stupid game anyway!" and "Dammit! I TURNED MY HEAD! Didn't you see me? Wake up! Here, I'll do it again!" is the sweet spot you're looking for. From your point of view, it'll be right in between "I'm not paying for that. Or that. Or that." and "Wow, you blinked! Good job!"
Go ahead, start clicking! I'd recommend as many sessions a day as you want to do, but click something different each session. Some behaviours are very difficult for your dog to zero in on, and other things (possibly moving backwards) will be easy. In general, shaping a dog to move one paw and not others is a very advanced trainer AND dog behaviour. In general, shaping a dog to move paws backwards is usually fairly easy. When you find something that's difficult, you can remember it and continue to work on it if you think it might come in handy some day (maybe your dog was having trouble figuring out that you were clicking her for moving her hips to her right, which might come in handy if you're planning on teaching her a swing finish later), or you can file it away and forget about it, or you can remember to use a different method to teach it if you need it later. There's NOTHING wrong with Luring or Capturing or combinations, it's just that we're focused on Shaping right now.
Here's a brilliant example of the homework. This is Olga and Finley, starting with no preconceptions, getting Finley moving, then choosing one offered behaviour and increasing the likelihood of it happening again.
A SAMPLING OF WHAT PRIOR STUDENTS HAVE SAID ABOUT THIS COURSE ...
"I thought Shaping was just another way to work with your dog; I didn't realize that Shaping was a way to see into my dogs mind." - Jennifer L
I'd like to share a quick training story. My 2-year-old border collie, Tanqueray, is so driven and smart but also very sensitive and easily frustrated when we try to learn something new. This morning, I started off a training session by throwing a cookie for him, and he accidentally knocked my hand when he went for it. I said, "Ouch!" and he melted into a repentant puddle--as he always would in that rare situation. Until this morning, that would be it for our training session. I would reassure him that everything's fine, and we would cuddle, but he would not be into offering anything besides his default down and deep breathing. Well, with what we have learned from our bronze level in Sue Ailsby's Shaping Class, I had Tanq up and enthusiastically AND thoughtfully targeting that stool in just a few minutes. I was so thrilled with his recovery and our joint understanding of the shaping game! Thank you, Sue! -Sarah D.
This was hands down the most inspiring dog training class I have ever taken. The content was excellent, the instructions clear and easy to follow, and the feedback always helpful. Sue has a wonderful sense of humor and is an incredibly encouraging teacher. I enjoyed her talk stories and loved the atmosphere she created in the course forums.
Sue definitely cares not only about the students' but about their dogs. She gives prompt feedback, adapts her advice to each student's situation, encourages, prods, makes people think. A wonderful instructor.
This class is amazing. Looking back, I really wish I could have taken it before some of my work in The Obedience Skill Building classes, or the Hand Delivered Retrieve class. It's a great foundation tool for teaching many behaviors, and getting my dog up and doing something besides sitting and watching for me to tell him what to do! I knew about splitting behaviors before this class, but not how to teach my dog to offer behaviors. This has been a great learning and totally fun experience, and Sue Ailsby is an amazing instructor. I can't wait to take many more classes from her!
I loved this class about shaping dog behaviors ! Sue is a wonderful instructor with clear, thoughtful answers to questions and a great sense of humor. She sees so much in the videos and knows just what to change to improve the communication with the dog. My shaping skills improved tremendously with my 7 month old puppy and 6 year old clicker savvy dog. I just got the 6 year old to go over to a traffic cone, put her chin on top and hold it there, in about 15 clicks/treats! Never could have done this before the class. I still have lots to learn and all these tricks improve my relationship with the dogs in a low key, less stressful way. Thanks so much Sue Ailsby for the best class ever! Celia F.
Sue Ailsby is a delight. I laughed, had fun, and the puppy & I learned a lot. Mary S.
I signed up for Sue Ailsby’s class as a Silver but after a few days realized that I really needed to be a Gold. Shaping demystified. Not easy, but at least demystified. The conversations that Sue had with me and with other students became the high point of my day. She put an immense amount of thought and time into her responses and often made a special video just to address an area we were working on. Sue has a great sense of humor and tells wonderful stories to illustrate her point. Her ability to observe small movements and behaviors is astounding and is one of the skills she worked to pass on to us. She encouraged us to follow our own direction. My concerns about our dog’s reactivity led to a special lesson on the use of shaping in changing behavior or “opinion adjustments (as Sue put it). Then classmates started a special thread on the topic, which was very helpful and made me feel a part of this classroom community. This 6 week session was more an experience than a class Sandy H
Sue Ailsby more than lived up to her reputation as a "shaping guru" by leading us confidently from the very beginnings of clicker work to the point where we could apply it to competition exercises and creating our own tricks. And all done in 6 weeks, with unfailing encouragement, humour and ever-helpful, specific advice. Please include more courses by her! Amanda B.