We watched a fun DVD yesterday in the undergrad class that I am helping with as a teaching assistant. The DVD was one by dog trainer Virginia Broitman called The Shape of Bow Wow.
This DVD is an intro to shaping, or training behaviors in small steps. Shaping is a very important skill for animal trainers! It’s something that is easy to start practicing, but also something that can take a long time to master. Shaping is also a skill that frustrates many beginner trainers. It can be difficult to know how to break a behavior down into smaller chunks, what behaviors to reward, and what to do when things don’t go as planned.
Overall, I thought this DVD was a great introduction to shaping. Most of the animals in the film are dogs, although the techniques and tips discussed could easily be applied to a variety of species. (Several rats make a small appearance in the DVD, which made me pretty happy.) Virginia Broitman starts by covering some clicker training exercises and games that can be done with another human. These sorts of games are great for improving timing and accuracy before you start training an animal.
The majority of the DVD shows lots of lots of training sessions shaping a variety of different behaviors with about half a dozen different dogs. Some of the behaviors highlighted include head lowering, paw targeting, back paw targeting, and go to a mat. Virginia Broitman does a nice job in the DVD showing video clips from the beginning, middle, and end of training each behavior, as well as explaining exactly what she is doing at each step so that the watcher can follow along. The DVD also covers when and how to add cues once a behavior has been shaped up. There’s a lot packed into this hour long DVD!
One of my favorite parts of the DVD was at the beginning, when Virginia Broitman discusses how to get dogs to loosen up and start offering behavior so that you can successfully shape new behaviors. Shaping can be a difficult skill for trainers who are new to clicker training. Many trainers also find that shaping can be hard for dogs (and other animals) who are new to clicker training. The animal must learn that offering a variety of different behaviors will pay off.
One tip that Virginia Broitman gives in the DVD is to give your dog food puzzles and toys. There are a variety of these on the market now. One of the most popular, which is sold at many pet stores, is the Buster Cube. Most of these toys have a way to insert food inside of the toy. Then, the dog has to push, pull, roll, turn, or shake the toy, to get a piece of food to fall out. Toys such as this are great for getting a dog to start experimenting creatively. The toys mimic what happens to the dog during the training process, some behaviors get rewarded, while other behaviors won’t get rewarded. These toys can help a dog learn to keep trying and offering behavior until something works.
Virginia Broitman also suggests spending time observing your animal’s natural behavior. The natural behaviors of a dog are different from a horse, rat, or cat. As well, behavior can differ greatly based on an animal’s breed and individual history. Look at the big movements and behaviors your animal does during the day. But, also look for and learn to watch for the subtle movements and smaller behaviors your animal does, such as movements of the head, eyes and ears. Observing an animal can give us ideas for easy behaviors to teach an animal first. For example, many people start clicker training a dog or horse by teaching the animal to touch his nose to a target. This is a good, easy first behavior because dogs and horses naturally use their noses to investigate new objects.
One behavior that is demonstrated with several dogs on the DVD is head lowering or the head dip. This is one behavior that I had a lot of fun teaching Ginger about a year ago. You can click here to see one of our shaping sessions working on this behavior. This clip is from a session part way through the training process, when she really realized what it was that I wanted.
If you are new to clicker training or have friends who are new to clicker training, I recommend checking out this DVD. Also well, if you have been clicker training for awhile, but want to improve your shaping skills, I also recommend that you check out this DVD. The many training sessions shown on the DVD will help you see how to break down behavior into tiny parts and give you lots of ideas for fun tricks to teach.
This DVD is available from dogwise.com here:
The shape of bow wow – Shaping behavior and adding cues.