Is shaping for all dogs?

I posted this question in my Swedish blog, but I would love to get some thoughts from my international readers as well. I’ve got the impression that shaping is less common in the US than it is here. Clicker trainers seem to choose targeting or even luring more often.

Please submit your thoughts on the matter in the comment field, and I will adress this as soon as I feel that I’ve gotten some input from you.

Do you think that shaping suits all kinds of dogs? What kind of dogs should not be shaped? Do you have any related experiences with your own dogs?

  • reply Sarah ,

    YES! You are correct, there is a ton of resistance to shaping in the US. I suspect this is partly due to a general aversion to change that seems to debiliate Americans, as well as a current national trend toward dominance mumbo-jumbo. Now that I’ve insulted my fellow United States citizens (sorry, but it’s true), I will go on to say that I truly feel shaping is the best way to teach all animals, dogs included. I have done it all–from ugly collar corrections to luring to pure shaping–and I can vouch for the fact that shaping works fastest, retains longest, and gets the animal engaged in the learning process more so than other methods. Having said that, I agree with Susan Garrett that some dogs do better being shaped by a verbal marker than a clicker. With my own dogs I use the clicker and a verbal marker depending on the task at hand. Shaping IS for all dogs, however resistant some dog trainers may be.

    • reply Laura, Lance, and Vito ,

      I love shaping and do feel that all dogs and animals can learn very quickly from it. I think part of the resistance towards using it is because of how hard it can be for a “cross over” dog (or even how hard it can be for a dog who has only been lured) to start. These dogs have a hard time offering behaviors at first since they have learned that standing still and waiting for instruction is easiest. So it can be a challenge for their owners during their first few shaping attempts.

      Plus, the average pet owner just wants results and wants it fast. With an owner who has no training experience and has doubts about the weird box they suddenly have to carry around with them, luring is much easier to get them to accept. It takes practice to get ones timing down and to be patient, shaping is really hard for the beginning student whereas luring is very simple. I think this is why almost all pet obedience/manners classes over here use luring (well if they’re positive based).

      Do I think any dog should not be shaped? No. But I do think some dogs enjoy the chance to experiment more then others. Some dogs just hate being wrong and even if they are experienced with offering behaviors can be hesitant to do so. With a good trainer who breaks things down and clicks the tiniest step towards the goal this dog can do ok; but with a less experienced trainer this type of dog doesn’t get as much feedback and is more likely to prefer luring where he can’t help but be right.

      • reply Diana ,

        I have 2 shelties. One was a rescue I got at 1 1/2 yrs old and the other I got as a 9 week old puppy. The rescue does not do well with shaping. He just doesnt get it. He does much better with luring. Im not sure if it has to do with him or the age I got him at. The sheltie I got as a puppy is terrible with luring. She learns nothing except to follow the treat. She does much better with shaping. Was it because I started her as a puppy? I wish I new. So I think it depends on the dog. If shaping isnt fun for the dog, then I dont use it. If they like it, it works well. Diana

        • reply Mary Hunter ,

          For the average pet owner, luring is probably easier to learn and easier to get results without too much study and theory. Luring can also be used to teach most behaviors that the average pet needs to know to be successful in a human household.

          I think shaping is incredibly powerful and any trainer can benefit from practicing and experimenting with shaping. That said, it is a skill, and takes practice for both trainer and animal to become proficient with it.

          Many horse trainers who are new to clicker training seem to prefer using targeting to get behavior, rather than free shaping. I think it can be intimidating to free shape a 1000 lb animal, especially if you aren’t completely sure about what you are doing. The horses also seem to really enjoy targeting, though.


          • reply Nancy Ripperger ,

            I like shaping a lot but sometimes I do not have the patience that is required for shaping and will speed the process along with a little luring. Even when luring I use a clicker or verbal marker. I have had some fosters that were very intimidated by shaping and I switched more to luring, at least until they developed more confidence.

            • reply Marge Rogers ,

              Hi, everyone.
              Good question. As you can tell from my videos, I am a shaping junkie. I have learned so much from my dogs. Shaping has opened up a level of communication that I previously did not believe possible. Shaping requires keen observation skills on the part of the shaper. You learn to watch for little nuances, movements &/or body language cues you may never noticed before. When I am shaping a behavior, I take all responsibility for the animal’s progress. It is never the animal’s “fault” for not progressing in training. It’s my responsibility to explain the behavior better. After all, I’m the one with the bigger brain and the thumbs, right? I mean, if they can shape a pigeon to push a bar, a whale to jump over a stick, an oscar fish to swim through a hoop, surely I can use shaping to teach my dog to sit (or dust the coffee table). 🙂 Once I came to realization that ALL training progress (or lack of it) is my responsibility, I switched to problem solving mode (vs blaming the dog mode). It’s opened up a whole new world for me and a new level of communication with my dogs.

              Shaping vs. luring: I think they both have their place. I believe the research shows that shaping and luring are equal in terms of learning and retention. As much as we shaping junkies would like to believe otherwise, the research doesn’t support our anecdotal experiences. I LOVE shaping, but will lure if the situation warrants. Give it a try. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish. 🙂

              • reply Fanny ,

                Marge: Could you guide me to the research made on luring vs. shaping? I haven’t seen any research of that kind and I would love to see it. I love science based training, but you must never buy what research says until you know exactly what they have researched.

                • reply Marge Rogers ,

                  Good point about the research. I was just rereading Pamela Reid’s “Excel-erated Learning” when I posted my comments. When contrasting prompting and shaping (p.141), she says, “The dog will not learn any differently than if you had shaped the behavior. Some people are under the impression that shaped responses are learned ‘better’ or retained longer than prompted responses. There is absolutely no evidence to support this view.” I was trying to summarize that statement in comments. I hope I did not mislead. Also, my comment on “give it a try” comes right after my statement on luring. I intended to say “give shaping a try.” That’s what I get for commented late at night. 🙂 If I wasn’t clear above – I love shaping. We shape dogs all the time, whether we know it or not. 🙂

                  • reply Tricia ,

                    Sorry I have come to this discussion a little late. I think the real issue between shaping Vs luring is as Susan Garrett says. With luring the value stays with the lure and never transfers to the behaviour. Shaping encourages the dog to see value in the behaviour, so from my point of view I want to see my dogs enjoying the learning process and loving to perform a behaviour rather than totally focusing on the lure. I have seen so many dogs in classes whose handlers complain that they will do nothing unless they can see the lure.

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