Dog lovers have different ideas about the behaviors that constitute appropriate canine actions in various settings. Obedience classes are designed to teach the dog owner how to interact with the dog to achieve standard results. The “sit” command has a singular meaning that tells the dog to place his backside on the floor. Owners are wise to continue the training sessions in everyday life to achieve the tailored version of the command. In family life, “sit” might become the shaped command that implies, “sit and stay until I speak to you.”
10 Laws of Shaping
Advances in the desired behavior must follow a proven training process that can be repeated. The dog will adapt to the new performance expectation from the owner when these laws are followed carefully. Responses from the dog will indicate when the owner has violated one of these laws. Review the entire list prior to each training session for optimal progress toward the goal.
1. Increase the performance criteria in small increments that allow the dog to receive the reward. Progress must be measured in ways that are recognizable in dog terms. Praise guides the dog to continue in the direction he has moved.
2. Train for one criteria at a time. This is easy to violate since multiple steps are easier to see. The “sit” command can be coupled with the “wait” command. The length of the wait is a separate criteria.
3. Develop a variable schedule of reinforcement for the current level of response. The dog will learn to continue the behavior based on the trainer’s consistent reward.
4. Temporarily relax the old criteria when a new behavior criterion is introduced. Missteps will happen when the dog is learning something new. Correcting the old criteria will cause confusion if the owner is not careful.
5. Plan the shaping program in its entirety. The dog will progress at various rates through each step. A well-planned program ensures that the trainer is ready for the next step before the dog reaches the behavior level.
6. Trainer assignments should not be changed in the middle of developing an advanced behavior set. Multiple trainers for one dog is acceptable, but the same trainer should develop each behavior from beginning to end.
7. Lack of progress in one shaping procedure can be corrected through a course change. Develop a new approach to reach the same goal.
8. Avoid training session interruptions since the dog will perceive the change in attention to be a punishment. Focused attention on a dog allows him to receive praise and attention, which is the most important thing to a canine.
9. Deterioration in overall behavior dictates the need to “go back to the basics.” A review session will remind the dog that attention is required to master each behavior and string them together.
10. Most dogs have a time limit within which they are attentive and can learn new things. Determine how long the dog will work and stop before obedience wanes.
Remember – patient trainers will adjust the method to match the dog’s ability. The result is a great dog that is comfortable in virtually any setting.