I love to free-shape behaviors. But I must admit, I’m a cheater when I free-shape, I utilize reward placement, training loops and jackpots to help my dog figure out the criteria. So maybe it’s not technically free-shaping then? Let’s just call it “Cheater Shaping”. Hi, my name is Sara and I am a Cheater-Shaping Addict.
One of the first behaviors I shape with a new puppy is a down. I don’t really care about the down itself at this point (even though I try to tend for good mechanics for a fold back down), what I care about is that my puppy learns to offer behaviors without an object or prompting from me as well as learning how to build on criteria to a final behavior. Both of those are important concepts to learn and shaping a down helps to teach them.
So, over two sessions, Mud Puppy learned how to down. I started with a lowered head and then built that to a head tuck between his paws (to promote lowered shoulders and stationary front feet). Then I was able to get a bow and eventually the down itself. For almost the entirety of the learning process, I was still marking and rewarding that initial head dip and didn’t fade that reinforcement until the very end. I like having a way to tell my dog “yup! That’s the game we’re playing” and give them confidence to offer more.
I used reward placement and jackpots to help him continue to offer increasingly difficult criterion. I rewarded low and back, I gave multiple rewards when he performed a more difficult behavior. This wasn’t the fastest or easiest down I’ve taught, but I don’t really care about that. I care about this puppy learning those important concepts I mentioned above.