Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shaping Behaviors with a Plan

We held our first clicker shaping class last night! We've posted about shaping before, and we've discussed it in puppy classes, but this is the first time we've done a small, hands-on shaping class. This class focused on shaping with a plan.

When you shape a behavior, you're breaking that behavior into tiny steps. We use shaping to teach complex behaviors, such as turning light switches on and off. In order to shape a behavior, you need to know what the end behavior looks like, and then break it down into small progressive steps until the dog reaches that goal.

If you create a plan before you start shaping, you can be more systematic and you and your dog are more likely to be successful. Keeping detailed records allows you to break a behavior into tiny steps, and gives you, the trainer, a visible plan to follow. You'll be able to see the dog's success as he progresses through the steps. And if he has difficulty with a certain step, you can more easily backtrack to where the dog was successful.

When you're shaping a behavior, the dog should have an 80% success rate before you move on to the next step. If you're not having success with a step after three trials, you may need to backtrack. Don't keep insisting that the dog get that step right. You and the dog will just get frustrated. If your dog is having trouble, it's your job as the trainer to figure out why. It may be that you tried to take too big of a step. You may need to go back and break the behavior into even smaller steps.

With each step, you're going to change the criteria. For example, in the shaping class, we demonstrated by beginning to shape SSD Gideon to turn in a counterclockwise circle, a behavior he has never learned before. We began by clicking him for looking to the left. Once he was successful 80% of the time, we only clicked if he turned his head to the left. Here's a video of the beginning step of shaping Gideon to turn counterclockwise:

video

It's important when you're changing the criteria that you only change one thing. What would be a change in criteria? In the Gideon example, a change would be waiting for a head turn rather than just a look. But a change in the dog's actions is not the only thing that counts as a change. If you sit instead of stand, that's a change. If another person enters the room, that's a change. If you move into a different room or take a few steps away from the dog, that's a change. So you need to be careful that you're only changing one thing each time you move to the next step.

In the shaping class, we broke into pairs to practice shaping. Each pair was asked to shape one of the dogs (SSD Gideon, Star or Fire) to put their nose in a cone. (Since Gideon already knows how to do that, his group had to shape him to put his entire paw in a ring.) Everyone started with a plan. For example, Fire's handler's decided to start by clicking him for looking at the cone, then move on to clicking for touching the cone. As you can see in the video, Fire quickly caught on to looking at the cone.

video

But when his handlers increased the criteria to touching the cone, it became more challenging. Instead of simply touching the cone with his nose, Fire began biting it.

video

Because he wasn't successful at this step, his handlers backtracked to clicking for looking at the cone.

video

They also adjusted their shaping plan, breaking it into smaller steps. Instead of jumping from looking at the cone to touching the cone, they clicked for looking at the cone for a longer amount of time.

As a trainer, the challenge with shaping is to make the steps small enough. When the dog isn't being successful, it's your responsibility to figure out why and adjust the plan accordingly. You want to set the dog up for success.

Mary Hunter's Stale Cheerios blog and Karen Pryor's website are great resources for more information about clicker training and shaping.

The shaping class was a lot of fun, for both the people and the dogs. Have fun practicing shaping with your dog!

1 comment:

  1. "If you create a plan before you start shaping, you can be more systematic and you and your dog are more likely to be successful. Keeping detailed records allows you to break a behavior into tiny steps, and gives you, the trainer, a visible plan to follow. You'll be able to see the dog's success as he progresses through the steps."

    My biggest troubles with shaping were (and still sometimes are!)
    --not having a clearly defined plan from the start
    --and not taking good enough data.
    taking data is essential for knowing when you're going too fast and not making good enough progress. However, it's also a nice reinforcer to be able to see from your data when you are making progress--especially for big projects where it's easy to lose sight of how much progress you've made.

    Mary

    (and thanks for the link to my blog!)

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