CAN SHAPING MAKE YOUR DOG STRESSED? (from old blog 28/11/10)

Recently while visiting a veterinary office I picked up a free ‘DogsDogsDogs! newspaper that I have never read before. On the very first page was an article titled ‘Do all the dogs learn the same way?’ that I started reading with interest ( The author of the article says that shaping can be a very stressful experience to some dogs and in this case you should just show the dog what to do by luring. Definitely luring is better than using aversive methods but it sounds like the concept of how animals learn could be revisited.

What I totally understand and have experienced is that shaping can make my dog (and me!) stressed  but this is not because the method as such doesn’t work. Could it possibly be that one of the three principles in training – rate of reinforcement, criterion or timing- has gone off the track?! In 99% of my experienced cases, YES! Solution: I need to adjust my shaping plan.

How can luring exactly ‘tell the dog what to do’? I remembered a discussion that we had on our KPA course at Steve Benjamin’s. A fellow student described how in the agility class that she attended the dogs were lured to do the weaving poles. Sure, the dog does not seem stressed at all as he follows the treat between poles and at the end gets the treat. If someone was dangling a $100 bill in front of my nose (I wish!), I most definitely would follow it anywhere it goes, through the hoops and tunnels, with my eyes gleaming with anticipation. But what happens when the bill is not there anymore, just the hand that was holding it?  I think I wouldn’t have a clue what I am supposed to do to get my money, I would get EXTREMELY frustrated, and after that, well, I would just go home!

Luring can lead to results, I’m not denying that, but why bother when with a proper, stress-free shaping plan you get the result so much faster.


One response to “CAN SHAPING MAKE YOUR DOG STRESSED? (from old blog 28/11/10)

  1. Mirkka:

    Hey APB,

    I knew you’d be the first one to comment on my blog :-)!

    The other behaviors apart from weaving, when you removed the lure had Pi learned the behavior? He did it fine without the lure?
    Tuesday, December 7, 2010 – 07:30 AM


    Some lured behaviors are ok, some are not. I guess the biggest problem with him remains how to ask for that little bit more: he’ll offer the behavior that was reinforced when being taught with luring, but moving to reinforcing only the better behaviors in order to polish the behavior doesn’t work very well. I suppose this would be a lot easier if the behavior had been built with shaping. As a compromise I use tagreting with him quite a lot. It helps, but I’m rarely able to fade the target as quickly as I’d like.

    I’d like to be able to take some video of me trying to shape a simple new behavior to both of them. It’d be an easy way to show the difference between the two dogs and perhaps reveal if I’m somehow the cause of Pi’s percieved stress after all!
    Wednesday, December 8, 2010 – 02:12 AM


    Yes, take videos, I’d love to see them! And it is also such an efficient way of observing and learning from your own training sessions, I have so many times spotted things that I’m not even remotely aware of
    Wednesday, December 8, 2010 – 08:54 AM

    Silver fox:

    Perhaphs you have condition your dog to offer only a few behaviours and then looking for a treat. Varible reinforcement might help. Or maybe you haven’t reinforced enough. We can be stringy with the treats some times.
    Having someone or even watching yourself on tape might reveal some insights. We humans tend to do things over and over the same way and the dog figure it out very quickly. Writing down your training plan step by step will help and have all the treats out ready that you plan to offer. I’m sure you are probably doing any or all of this however maybe not?
    Friday, January 7, 2011 – 09:25 AM

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