Using Shaping to Teach New Behaviors

Shaping is a powerful way to build behavior. Animals who understand shaping truly understand that they can control their environment and that their behavior earns them rewards.

This is different from training with coercive methods (punishment, negative reinforcement) where the animal learns to perform or offer behaviors only to avoid the correction or get rid of the pressure.

Many positive reinforcement trainers and clicker trainers become very dependent on targeting, luring and guiding the animal. While these are good methods for establishing behaviors, these methods do not create the same kind of operant animal behavior as pure shaping (often called “free shaping). Too much emphasis on targeting can create an animal who is overly dependent on the trainer for direction and guidance.

Check out this video for an awesome, short example of teaching a dog to close a cabinet door using shaping. She first rewards the dog for approaching the door, then touching the door, then bumping the door with it’s nose.

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