Shaping is a training method in which the trainer is an observer rather than an active participant in the learning. By observing behaviors, clicking, and rewarding approximations of the wanted final behavior, we can gradually get the dog to learn a new behavior completely on his/her own.
In the short term, this training method may seem slow and inefficient. Nevertheless, in the long run, this method creates a curious dog that will learn various cues quicker than ever. Once the dog realizes that his/her behavior gets the clicker to click, he/she will try different behaviors and the trainer observing the process will mark the wanted ones. At the same time, the unwanted behaviors are simply being ignored.
While shaping a behavior we need to pay close attention to the dog’s behavior. We cannot expect the final behavior to be done on the first try. For example, if we want to teach down, we will start by clicking the second the dog moves his/her head down. We will do this several times. Then, we will wait for a deeper head bow before we click, gradually, a head bow and maybe neck movement as well, after that – we will wait for a leg movement before we click, and so on until the dog actually is in a down position before we click.
Think of advancing in tiny baby steps to your final goal. This way may seem slow but it gets you to the final behavior rather quickly.
In addition, the placement of the treat or the location in which you deliver the treat is very important. If we try to teach the down – we will place the treat on the floor under the dog’s nose after we click. It would make no sense to deliver the treat above the dog’s head when we teach a down.
Throughout this process, there is no need for talking. We don’t say the cue just yet and the clicker is doing the talking for us.