Shaping, or as it’s formally known, “shaping by successive approximations,” simply means breaking down a behavior into tiny increments, and reinforcing the dog at each incremental step until you’ve achieved the full behavior.
Shaping has a number of important applications and benefits for all kinds of training, including:
• Accomplishing a behavior that your dog finds physically difficult or confusing, such as a teaching a Greyhound to sit.
• Encouraging your dog to perform a behavior that he finds mentally difficult or confusing, such as teaching a crate-wary dog to enter his artificial doggie den.
• Fine-tuning a behavior your dog can already do, such as teaching fast, straight, close sits.
• Helping your dog learn how to offer behaviors, try new things, and think creatively in order to solve problems, through various shaping games.
Once you and your dog learn how to shape, there is nothing you can’t teach your dog (that he is physically able to do). The coolest part about shaping is that you are actually teaching your dog how to learn. Your dog will learn how to think and problem solve on his own without waiting for you to give commands or cues.