The Art of Shaping

  |   Uncategorized

One method that trainers use is something called “shaping”. It is essentially a matter of waiting until the dog performs the desired behaviour, and then reinforcing it, thus ensuring that the dog learns what is required of them. By only rewarding the desired behaviour, you can pinpoint exactly what it is you want your dog to accomplish.


While this method takes longer than just luring with a treat, it seems to stick with the dog a lot better. It can be a great way to teach certain commands that the dog is failing to learn the conventional way it is also my favourite way to deter dogs from jumping up for food, toys or just in excitement.


One method to shaping the settle down (don’t jump) command is when your dog jumps up, just step in towards the dog without saying anything. Most dogs at this point will automatically get down off you. Once this happens and all four paws are on the ground, reward your dog. I prefer to wait until the dog fully backs into a sit on their own before rewarding. The key is to not give any command at all, just use your body language. This allows the dog to figure out that instead of jumping up, which gets them no attention, they need to sit down.


Another useful command that is taught quite well using the shaping method is the “place” command. This command teaches a dog to go to a bed, mat or spot in the house and can be used when the doorbell rings for guests, while eating dinner or when you simply need your dog in a different space. These are two important commands that I teach in the Doggie Playland Level One training course.


Below is the instructions for teaching the place command.


Shaping Method: 

  • Get a towel or an old mat that your dog has never seen before. Place it in a spot in the house you’d like your dog to go to. It can also be placed over their bed.
  • When your dog goes over to investigate and stands on the towel, reward with a low value reward (kibble if they eat that, or if they’re on raw or cooked, then a dry plain cookie)
  • Your dog may then offer a sit, especially if you stand up at this point, since they know there’s food. Sitting on the towel earns a better reward (a cookie, or a piece of liver)
  • Now if your dog offers a lie down on the towel, they get the BEST reward (piece of cooked meat or cheese).  The idea is to get the dog to realize that lying down on this towel gets them the best reward so that they will continue to offer a down.
  • If they go back to sit or stand, reward with the lower value treat.
  • Always reward on the towel and not directly in the dog’s mouth.
  • You can start to add the verbal command by standing a bit away from the towel, pointing to it and saying “go to your mat/bed/towel/place” slowly increase your distance from the place and give the command. Always return and reward the dog on the towel for holding position.


Alternative Method:

  • Same as above except instead of waiting for the dog to offer the behaviour, you ask for it.
  • If you find your dog on the towel throughout the day (they will start to gravitate there on their own soon enough), reward that behaviour. Also encourage them staying in that place by giving them busy toys or chews there.
  • You can use this command to keep your dog out of the way when you are eating dinner or when you have company. You can also use it to keep your dog from running to greet your guests before you do. You just have to practice it in the different scenarios you would like to use it for.  Make sure the initial command is solid before adding distractions.