Behavioral Shaping through Clicker Training

A method that I have been wanting to try for a while now is called Shaping. This involves no luring or direction from the trainer and simply a click/treat when the dog does something right. You work up step by step until the dog is performing the goal behavior regularly and then you add the cue. I finally got a chance to do this with Loker. I want to teach him how to jump through a Hula hoop and I must admit, it was hard on my part to resist luring him through the hoop with a treat. I really wanted this to be all on his terms and learning at his pace to see how a true shaping exercise proceeds.

Our goal: Jump Through a Hula hoop.

Luckily, he was not scared of the Hula hoop to begin with. Some dogs who are under socialized or shy may not be comfortable with this strange object. This is the progression of steps I was looking for through the process: click when he approached or touched the hoop, click when he stuck his head through, click when he took a step through, click when he walked all the way through, and finally, raise the hoop a little and click when he does a small jump through the hoop. Keep in mind that these steps are not always in order. A couple of times Loker just went straight through the hoop, this does not mean he “got” what I was trying to teach him. Although I was not asking for this behavior yet, I still made it a “jackpot” as in he got some excitement from me and a few extra treats to reinforce that behavior. He did not offer that behavior again for a little while so I still rewarded the simpler steps like approaching the hoop or sticking his head through it.

Something that caught me completely by surprise was that he started targeting the hoop itself! So far we had only worked on targeting a red spatula, but here you can clearly see him poking the hoop with his nose like he would the spatula! That was really fun and cool to see. It was a nice default behavior to get him to approach the hoop to start out with. It is so adorable to see his brain thinking.

Shaping was so much fun. I am looking forward to other tricks that I will be able to teach through shaping!