Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shaping: Shy dogs and outgoing dogs.

Shaping is the same type of process, regardless of species or individual.  But it can look very different depending on the type of learner, the learner's history, the skill of the trainer and the relationship with the trainer.

On Tuesday I did two training sessions, each about two minutes long.  Here, you can see the first minute with two very different dogs.

Dog 1: Luna is a very shy dog. Notice that she is constantly scanning the room, frozen, then turning back to work. She gets distracted by small noises in the empty room and she is not quick to engage.
Dog 2:  Blaze is a very confident and outgoing dog.  Notice that when he is not working, he is often staring at me, almost asking what he should be doing.  He gives me a lot of behavior to choose from.  When he gets distracted by a person entering the room, he is able to quickly get back to work.

Shaping with shy dogs is often a lot slower. More in between steps are needed. There may be more pauses between behaviors while the dog is thinking about his environment.  Shy dogs often move less and this gives the trainer fewer things to select from. If you miss a few clickable moments, you will probably have to backtrack and make the exercise easier.  Otherwise, your dog might not offer the same thing again.  Having treats the dog loves can help, but there will still be thoughts about the scary things out in the world.  When the dog is spending a lot of time worrying about the monsters, he's not able to devote as much time to the tasks at hand.

Shaping with outgoing dogs can also be challenging.  Blaze and Griffin sometimes give people so much behavior that it's hard to select or get the timing just right.  There are more things to choose from, making the process go a little faster. The dog is less worried about the environment, making high value reinforcers a good option when working in a distracting location.  It's a lot easier to work against things that are interesting than things that are scary.  

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