Shaping versus Luring Behaviors

Confession: My dogs don’t know the common obedience cue, “Stand.” Once upon a time I taught all of my dogs to stand on cue, but since I stopped doing competition obedience I didn’t feel the need for it and just stopped teaching it.

A close-up of Frenzy against the snow. She can't open her eyes in the glare.Recently, in doing Canine Freestyle, I discovered a need for it. And now, while working on conditioning my couch potato Aussie Frenzy, it becomes even more important. I dawdled with it from time to time over the last several months somewhat and found that any manipulation of her body to “help” her into a stand just made her all goosey and silly (which she can be at any time, but even more so when I try moving and placing her). My heart wasn’t really in it until now, when I decided that I really want her to do this, so I set out yesterday to teach her how to stand.

Clicker in hand and treats in pocket, we proceeded to our outdoor training area (only required because there are 8 dogs in the house, and new behaviors are very hard to teach in the face of 8 dogs offering diverse behaviors and leaping up to grab the cookie when it’s offered).

Frenzy's jump style is unique, like everything she does.We played a bit with some agility equipment, worked on training another behavior (backing onto an 8″ table – now THAT’s challenging! But I’ll save that for another time), and then began with the stand training.

I asked Frenzy to sit, which she did. Then inserted my toe under her belly and put a little pressure against her stifle. She scooted back in her sit. Tried again, with the same results. (I wish she’d hold her sit so solidly on the table at agility trials!) Tried basically the same thing from in front: put toe between her front legs so it touched her belly. She stood. I clicked and treated. Asked her to sit again, and she complied. Stuck my foot in there again. She scooted back. Again and again.

Becoming perplexed (and a bit impatient), I stood next to her seated body, and with cookie in hand, tucked it under her chin and back toward her neck. She ducked her head and twisted her neck to get the cookie but held her sit. Tried again, and she lay down, bending and twisting her neck. This happened a few times, so my next method was to sit on a low table next to her and put the cookie under her chin with one hand and to apply my other hand to her middle to help her up. She squirmed away with her rear half, still trying to steal the cookie.

OK, time to rethink this. I consider myself a positive trainer. I adhere to the principles of operant conditioning. But sometimes I lose sight of what exactly I am doing.

The first step in conditioning a behavior is to get the behavior to happen so you can mark and reward it.

  • frequently you have to break the behavior down into pieces so you and the dog can build on those pieces.
  • methods of getting the behavior to happen include free shaping, modeling and luring.

I’d tried modeling and luring, so what remained was free shaping.

Free shaping is rewarding the dog for doing something she does naturally (like, well, standing from a sit or down). This method can be time consuming and can try one’s patience in the beginning, until you finally learn that the behavior will ultimately happen and you just have to be there to mark it. It’s very difficult for us humans to be patient!

The dog has no idea what you want, but a clicker-savvy dog will offer many behaviors until you finally click and treat one of them. Of course, you can, in the course of your day-to-day life, click and treat the dog every time you observe her performing your desired behavior. That’s cool, but again, with a pack of dogs in the house it’s not especially practical. But free shaping in an environment conducive to training (and thus learning) can work very well.

So I took a deep breath, said to myself, “self, you’re an idiot,” and proceeded to change my horses yet again.

I stood there with clicker in hand and waited for Frenzy to stand from a sit or a down. I first had to wait for one of those things to happen, which is easy – she always offers either a sit or a down when I’m standing there with a clicker in my hand. And she did lie down. I clicked and treated that, rewarding her in the down position, which she maintained. I waited. She rolled over. I ignored it. She lay down again, watching me. She scooted back (her Michael Jackson Moondance move). I ignored it (with a chuckle). She lay there and looked at me. Tried rolling over again, sitting, lying down, scooting back, sniffing the ground … and finally stood up. Click and TREAT! I waited and she lay down again. She tried a scoot (it’s her fave), then looked at me and thought, wheels turning in her baby blues. She stood up. This went on several more times until she was lying down and waiting for about a three count (she can count, ya know) and then standing. After about 7-8 repetitions, I called it a session. I was also out of cookies.

That took all of 5 minutes. Does she know the stand? Nope. But she is on her way to learning it, and in a total non-confrontational, no-hands-on manner, with me offering nothing but good stuff (or withholding it) instead of becoming frustrated, perplexed and anxious – causing the same emotions in my dog.

One comment

  • lvance

    I think ‘stand’ is one of the harder things to teach a clicker trained dog. Just like Fren they seem to think you’re just proofing their sit or down and refuse to move. And the confusion on their faces makes me give up too easily. Well done w/Frenzy. Are you planning on taking her to the big Freestyle gig in March?

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