Help! My dog does nothing during shaping

“The continuousness of behavior means that the organism can be thought of as always doing something.”

In September, I shared this quote on my blog and discussed how it relates to “problem” behaviors. You can find that post here.

However, this quote also relates to shaping.

If you spend some time on YouTube, you can find some great videos where the trainer quickly and effortlessly shapes a new behavior, just by sitting still and reinforcing approximations that the animal offers.

Then, you try it.

And your dog (or other animal) doesn’t do what he’s supposed to. Instead, he just sits there and stares at you. He doesn’t offer any behaviors. He does absolutely nothing!

How can you fix this?

The first step is to realize that your dog is, in fact, doing something.

If you watch closely, you may notice that he’s breathing at a regular rate, he just turned his head to the side, now he blinks his eyes a few times, and finally he looks back up in your direction, raises his chin a bit, and makes eye contact with you.

These may seem like tiny behaviors, but they are still “somethings.”

So, how do you turn these little somethings into bigger somethings?

Idea One: You can start by reinforcing some of these small behaviors, such as a head turn or a paw lift. As you continue, these little behaviors will become bigger and bigger behaviors.

Idea Two: You can change the environment so that your animal is more likely to offer bigger behaviors. This may include adding toys, props, or other items, changing your position in relation to the animal, training in a different room, training at a different time of the day, or changing how you deliver the reinforcer in order to encourage more behavior.

(Some trainers say that this second option is “cheating.” I disagree! Changing the environment so that it is easier for the animal to figure out what you want is not cheating, it’s good training.)

So, remember this: The animal is always doing something. Find something that the animal is doing now that you CAN reinforce. Or, rearrange things so that the animal is more likely to perform the behaviors that you want to reinforce.

Quote - the organism is always doing something

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