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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  • I have not used shaping before but after watching this video i think i must use this technique to my pet.

  • This was a great video showing training a dog by shaping. I can see where this would be much better than training by punishment or negative reinforcement. I will have to give it a try with my dog.

  • As a Labrador Trainer, I have always believed that punishments can create further behavioral changes in the dogs. It is always good to follow positive reinforcement and shaping. Your post is very good but a bit short. I should say, “very good observation”.

  • As a professional german shepherd trainer I could not agree with your insightful observation more. Shaping can create lasting changes that are so instilled it doesn’t matter the circumstance the negative behavior will remain absent. I love the blog!

  • The is the first I’ve heard of Shaping. We have a hard headed pug that keeps peeing in the house. We’re at our wits end.

    Maybe there’s hope after all?

    Thanks for the info.

    • Mary H.

      There’s always hope! I can’t speak to your particular situation without knowing all the particulars. However, you might want to look into dog classes and trainers in your area. Some of these people are very knowledgeable and could probably give you some good help.


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