Category Archives: Shaping

Week 3 – Update

Hi All,

If you’re following along you are probably wondering where the week 3 recap is!  Last week I had a pretty bad cold/flu bug and we didn’t get much training time in.  So, Dan and I are repeating week three and still working on “hold it”.

Interestingly, this is turning out to be pretty difficult for Dan.  Getting any amount of duration for holding the item is tricky.  He wants to grab the item at the back of his mouth and toss it around or spit it out immediately.  It’s a little surprising to me because he carries his toys around all the time.  So, our shaping sessions are turning into “micro shaping” sessions.  I am working on clicking only when he grabs the object with the middle of his mouth and in a gently manner.  If he’s snatching it rapidly and sloppily he can’t hold it for very long.

We will keep working and have another update later this week.


“Hold it” – Week 3 Training Steps


Okay, in case you need a little help with training this one – here’s the shaping steps I am using.  Dan is pretty good at grabbing things when asked because we’ve practice that in the past so we are focusing on the last few steps involving the build up of duration.

Target Behavior: When I hold an item out and say “Hold it”, Dan will grab it with his mouth and hold on until released.

Shaping Steps:

  1. Choose one item to begin the training with. Ideally it will be something that is easy for your dog to hold in his mouth, perhaps even a toy that he is used to picking up.
  2. Hold the item out and if your dog moves towards it click/treat.
  3. Next wait for an open mouth reach towards the item before you click/treat OR a sniff, lick, nudge if you can’t get the open mouth right away. The idea is that he needs to interact with the item at least a little. (No more than 3-4 interactions that aren’t closely related to grabbing with his mouth.)
  4. You should easily be able to move from open-mouth reach to actually closing his mouth on the object. Click/treat for mouth closing.
  5. Now you’ve got the grabbing part! Next build duration. Wait to click until he has held onto the object for a second or two.
  6. Slowly build up duration a few seconds at a time until you reach your goal. As you build the duration, it can help to sometimes go back and do a shorter duration so that it isn’t too predictable for your dog.
  7. Now add the cue “Hold it. Begin by saying the cue when you present the object. Click/treat for a hold behavior (at least a few seconds)
  8. Finally – repeat with lots of different objects! Sometimes you might have to go all the way back to step one, but other times you might be able to jump right to step 7. It depends on your dog’s history with holding things and the type/texture of object (among many other variables).



Week 2 “Clean” – Toys in the Box and Next Trick

Okay, this week was much easier for us than last week.  The video below is our second training session.  The trick needs fine tuning, but he is starting to really get it.

Next Trick!

For week 3 we are going to work on “hold”.  The goal is for Dan to take and hold an object (a variety of objects will be used) until released.  I am hoping to work up to 30 seconds of duration on this one.  He can sort of  do this trick, but we have never formally worked on it and he only holds the object for a few seconds.

Also, I think I need to change my posting schedule.  It has been difficult to post on Sunday nights, so the final trick and the new goal will be posted on Mondays instead from now on.  An update and shaping plan will be posted on Thursdays.

Don’t forget to post a photo of your dog doing one of the tricks from 52 Weeks to be entered in the October raffle!


Week 2 – Toy to Box Training Plan

Okay, here is the training plan for teaching “put a toy in the box”.  I chose the word “clean” for my cue but you can, of course, choose a different word.

Goal: When cued to “clean” Dan will pick up a toy and put it in the box.

Shaping steps:

  1. Position box in front of you between you and your dog. Hold a toy over the box and ask your dog to take the toy. Once he grabs it, even a little, let go and wait for him to drop it. As soon as he lets go, click/treat.
    • Repeat until he is getting it right every time.
  2. Now place the toy next to the box. If he picks the toy up, click/treat
    • Repeat a few times to reinforce picking up the toy from the ground.
  3. Place the toy next to the box. Wait for your dog to pick up the toy and take a step or two toward the box. Click/treat for moving toward the box. To get the treat, your dog will need to let go of the toy J.
    • Repeat a few times to remind your dog that the box is important.
  4. Now, when you place the toy next to the box, wait for your dog to pick the toy up and drop it over the box. Click/treat for dropping it over the box.
    • For the first few repetitions, even if the toy doesn’t go in the box you should click/treat.
    • Then, require that the toy land in the box before your dog can earn a click/treat.
  5. Next add the cue.  As your dog picks up the toy and heads for the box say “clean” then click/treat for dropping it in the box.
  6. Once you have gotten this far, you can begin to place the toy further from the box or in random locations around the box.

Note: From step 3 on, if your dog makes a mistake, take the toy back and put it back in the same place on the floor. For example, if you are working on step 3 and your dog picks the toy up and drops it without moving, simply put the toy back in “start” position. This way, he won’t get in the habit of picking up the toy, dropping it near the box, then picking it up again and dropping it in the box. Instead it will he will learn the smoothly and deliberately pick up the toy and put it in the box on the first try.

“Crossed Paws” and Next Trick!

It turns out, we picked a tough trick for the first week, at least for Dan.

We are getting very close, but the behavior isn’t quite on cue yet. We will keep working and have it soon.

Here is a photo of Dan practicing with the paw target:

Dan Crossed Paws

I thought for the follow up this week, it would be fun to talk about what challenges we ran into when practicing this trick.  So, here we go.

The first thing we struggled with was the target – Dan’s nose touch behavior is much stronger than his paw touch behavior. So, we had to go back and review the “paw” behavior before we could begin with this trick.

The second challenge was that the place I had to hold the target in him to touch with his paw looked very similar to his cue for “bang”. This was another place where we had to go back and review – “bang” vs. “paw”

Third was getting Dan to lie down in an upright position. We have done TONS of practice on his “relaxed down” where he rolls his hip and tucks one paw. This has helped a lot in situations where he needs to calm down a bit, but in order to perform the “crossed paws” behavior easily, he needs to have his hips square and both front paws out straight. To practice this, I simply worked with him on our ottoman. It was narrow enough that he had to do an upright down rather than a relaxed down or he didn’t fit!

As you can see, Dan’s training history really determined where we had to start. What challenges did you face when teaching this trick?

Don’t forget to share a photo of your trick on my Facebook page for an entry in the October drawing!

Also, it is time to announce the trick for Week #2:

I have been coming up with some themes for tricks and the first one I want to work on is carrying, putting things in, and picking things up.

I am going to start with Putting a Toy in a Basket (Can you see where this one is going? Hopefully we can get to “Dan…pick up your toys!”)



Crossed Paws – Training Steps

Okay, here is the first training plan for 52 Weeks.  Crossed Paws!
Dan and I are at step 5 right now, hopefully will get through 6 and begin 7 today.

Goal: When cued to “cross” Dan will cross one paw over the other in a down position.

Shaping steps:

  1. Click/Treat any paw movement from a down position.
  2. Paw movement from one paw only; ignore movement from the other paw.
  3. Place a target just in front of the moving paw. Click/treat for touching the target with a paw (ignore touches from other paw or nose touches).
  4. Begin to move the target a little, just an inch or so toward the stationary paw. C/T for target touches.
  5. Put the target on top of or on the other side of the stationary paw (you may need to experiment to see how far you can move the target each time for your dog). Work up to placing the target on the other side of the stationary paw. C/T for target touches with the moving paw.
  6. Now your dog should be crossing his paws to touch the target! Begin to add a little duration. Count to 3 before you C/T.
  7. Take away the target and wait. You may have to go back to C/T for an approximation of the paw cross, but your dog should offer it (be patient!).
  8. When your dog is offering the paw cross on his own without the target and can hold the position for 3 seconds, you are ready to add the cue. (See Handout, “Adding a Cue to Any Behavior”)
  9. You did it! To make the behavior stronger, work on generalizing (location) and adding distractions
    1. Practice in 3 different locations.
    2. Practice with 3 different distractions.

What’s In A Click?

What’s in a click?

Well – nothing! Until you build the value into that noise, it means nothing to your dog.

How to build value in the click?

Before you can start to use a clicker, you have to introduce it to your dog. Here are the steps I like to use:Clickers

  1.  Take the clicker and click it a bunch of times before you go get your dog. This gets your “clicks out”. So many people want to play with it when you first hand it to them that this is always the first thing I do with my students ☺ After this you should never, ever click without giving a reinforcer afterwards.
  2. Now, get your dog and a handful of treats. You can use his kibble if you want to (and if he likes it).
  3. Click without moving your hands at all. Then pick up a piece of kibble and give it to your dog. Repeat until you have used up your handful (maybe 20 times).
  4. Now, when you dog isn’t looking, try to click. If he looks toward you, he’s got it. If not, do step 3 again until he’s got it.

*Important Note – even though your dog is just learning what the click means, you can still reinforce unwanted behavior when clicking and treating in this exercise.  It doesn’t matter much what your dog does during this exercise, as long as he isn’t jumping/barking/trying to steal food from your hand/etc.  Only click if he is doing something you wouldn’t mind him doing again.*

NOW, what’s in a click?

Once you have introduced the clicker, here’s what it can mean:

  1. Marker or Bridge: “That is exactly correct!”  The moment you click captures the behavior your are reinforcing.
  2. Positive Reinforcer: “Oh boy a treat (or other reinforcer) is ready for me!” Every. Single. Click. Should be followed by a treat or later another reinforcer. But it has to be a reinforcer, so start with treats. More on that in another blog.
  3. Cue or Discriminative Stimulus: “Better go get the treat!” The dog should orient toward the place where the treat comes from. This might be you, a spot on the ground near your dog, or maybe the treat comes to your dog so he shouldn’t move at all.

So, the click is a great communicator and in just that one little moment, your dog gets all of this information.

Why a click?

Some people are hesitant to use a clicker, after all it is one more thing to carry and try to hold onto with a dog’s leash, treats, poop bags, keys, etc.
But, the clicker is an excellent tool because:

  1. It is super fast. Your words are slow, but the click is quick. Just like your wiggly puppy. This makes timing the click much easier than timing a verbal bridge.
  2. It sounds like nothing else. It is only used in training. Verbal praise can often get overused in everyday interactions, but the click is saved for times when you definitely have a reinforcer available. This gets your dogs attention!
  3. It cuts through other noises quite well. In busy environments with noisy traffic, crowds, or barking dogs, the click is easy for your dog to notice.
  4. It helps the trainer (you) to pay attention to what you are trying to reinforce. Since it is such a pinpointed stimulus, you are likely paying more attention to try to get that click to happen at just the right moment.

Your backup clicker

A clicker is not magic. It is just a tool. There are places where it is the best tool and other times where there are better tools. And times where you forget to bring your tool!

Because of this, I always teach a verbal marker to use as a “backup clicker”. I use the word “yes!” and I say it in an enthusiastic, punctuated tone that is almost the same every time. Differently than my dog would hear me say “yes” when I am talking on the phone, chatting with my husband, or while telling him he is “suchagoodboy”.

Some people use the word “good”, “bravo”, or make a clicking noise with their tongue (this is what I do with the cat).

Whatever you choose for your backup clicker; teach your dog the meaning of this noise just like you did with your clicker. Then you will always be prepared if you need a different tool or leave your clicker behind.

So, go get your clicker (most pet shops have them), and start building value.  Then teach your dog something new!

Happy Training,


Leave It!

Leave it is one of those behaviors that is priceless to teach your dog.  Leave the grass, leave the other dog, leave the other dog’s toy, leave the chicken on the counter, leave the child alone…it goes on and on!

Over the past week or so I’ve seen some great pictures on the internet demonstrating this behavior.

First I saw this one.


Then these two followed.  (Credit to Becky Herring, her dog Hunter, and her friend Michele and her three dogs)



Tonight while Dan was working for his dinner, I decided to give it a shot.  Here’s the video of him doing it on the first try!  I even had to get up to get more kibble and he stayed put, waiting ever so patiently.

Try the “leave it” challenge with your dog!  Send your pics to and I will feature them in a future blog post!

A Shaping Project – Ring It

Since we got Dan, I have been wanting to try this little project but hadn’t been able to find the bells.  We picked some up from a toy store last weekend and on Monday I decided to set it up.  The idea is that when he needs to go outside, he’ll ring the bells and we can take him out to potty.  But, before he can learn that, he has to know how to ring the bell!

I decided to shape this behavior with a clicker and some treats to help him practice the shaping game in the process.  Shaping is the training technique of asking your dog to get a little bit closer to the final behavior in order to earn a click/treat.  This might be after each step or sometimes you might need to stay on the same step for a few trials. A trial is each behavior and the click/treat that go with it during shaping.  For mastered behaviors, a trial is each time you ask your dog to do the behavior.  Breaking behavior into trials helps us to measure the behavior and graph it.

So, before we get to the video, here is the data – get excited!


Before you can take data for a shaping project, you have to outline each shaping step. I challenge you to read these shaping steps before watching the video to see if you can identify them during the training session.


Here is the data for the training session. Cumulative # of trials means that I added the number of trials during the current shaping step to the total number of trials so far. This allows us to see the progression towards the last shaping step.


After the learning part of the shaping lesson, I did a few trials to check how well Dan knew the behavior. He did pretty well, but if he had not done as well this would be a hint for us to go back a step or two and do some more training.


Once the dog knows the behavior, you can start checking for generalization. This is the idea that he can do the behavior in many other situations or scenarios. If he did it right the first time, we moved on to something else. If he didn’t, I tried a few more times and then if he still didn’t perform the behavior, I made it a little easier for him (ex. leaning towards the door). Then we tried the first check again. There are many more scenarios we could have done, but we started with these ones.

And now, here’s the video of the whole session, from the first doorbell touch to the last generalization check.  The final step would be to check for maintenance.  Maintenance checks ask the question “Will he still do it later?” I don’t have the video for that part, but he’s done great, ringing the bell every time I ask.

Dan Rings Doorbell

Happy Training!