3 SHAPING BEHAVIORS
8 TRICKS TRAINING
9 BUILDING PHYSICAL
11 BRAIN GAMES
What is it?
Shaping refers to teaching your dog new behaviors using guidance, patience and lots of
rewards. This method of training is excellent for building confidence and trust in your dog
because it encourages your dog to take risks and problems solve without negative
consequences. This method of training establishes communication using simple commands
and body language by avoiding forceful techniques and encouraging independent thinking.
To be effective, handlers need a way to communicate to the dog when they are doing the
right thing! Animal handlers of many difference species use similar techniques to express
agreement without being able to physically give the animal the reward. This is referred to as
marker training. The handler creates a positive association to a sound to mark good
behaviors in the moment. This sound is usually a verbal “YES”, clicker or whistle, but can be
anything that you make it.
The Shaping Process
The shaping process is very simple. You start with a target behavior or the resulting
behavior you want to achieve on command. To make it easier on the dog, the training
program is broken into steps that are realistically achievable for the dog. The handler will
guide the dog and reward sequenced behaviors to slowly establish the target behavior. The
more complex the target behavior, the more steps the training program will have to be
broken in to. Think of it as a puzzle that is being put together piece by piece.
Target Behavior: Ring a bell to go outside
Step 1 – Teach the dog how to “touch”
Step 2 – Teach the dog to touch the bell
Step 3 – Install the bell at the door
Step 4 – Encourage the dog to ring the bell before going outside
Step 5 – Open the door when the dog rings the bell
There is more than one way to do anything.
Get creative instead of frustrated!
Target Behavior: Target Behavior:
High Five! #1 High Five! #2
Step 1 – Teach the dog how to Step 1 – Hide a treat in your hand
“touch” with its paw on the ground with a closed fist.
Step 2 – Teach the dog to touch Open when contact is made.
your hand Step 2 – Start using the command
Step 3 – Move your hand around and moving your hand around but
giving the command and reward still hiding the treat
the dog when they touch your Step 3 – Use the command with
hand an open hand without the treat,
starting low to the floor and
gradually moving upwards.
CREATE A SHAPING
Establish a Target Behavior
The shaping process is simple, but creating the program takes planning. First, you have to
find out how realistic the idea you have is. Start by considering:
Does the dog have to move somewhere? How does it get there?
What will the dog do? Can it already do this behavior?
How will you cue the behavior and create the appropriate energy level?
How often will the dog apply this behavior and around what distractions?
When is it over and how will the dog know?
Find a Starting Point
The next step is assessing the dog’s current ability to achieve the behavior and finding
where to start. If your goal was to teach the dog High Five, you would start by thinking about
how often your dog uses their paws and when. By using similar actions or natural cues, you
can get your dog doing all sorts of cool tricks!
Write Down The Plan
Once you have established your dog’s strengths and weaknesses, you can begin creating
steps and putting together your training program. This is where you can get creative! There
is more than one way to get a dog to do things. The key is to make it fun and natural for you
and your dog so that it strengthens your communication skills and trust in each other.
It is important to write the steps down and have a good plan, but the plan will always
change so never seek perfection. The point is to have something to keep you focused on
the goal and to track progress. Adaptability is important and every time something changes
you will learn something new.
Ask for help or guidance if you are stuck. There are
TONS of videos on YouTube that you can watch to get
ideas and learn from. The possibilities are endless!
CREATE A SHAPING
Create a Maintenance Program
Now that you have achieved your target behavior, what is its purpose? Is this a new
behavior the dog will repeat, like sitting on the mat to get their paws wiped? Or is it a trick
that will be used for a good laugh?
Your maintenance program is what will keep the dog repeating the new behavior. During
training there were lots of treats and attention. If you take that away, what will encourage
your dog to keep repeating the behavior? Dogs repeat behaviors to get rewards, avoid
corrections or to gain access to an area or object. How you reinforce the behavior will
depend on the purpose, urgency and how it will impact on the dog’s quality of life.
Shaping is the process of learning how to communicate and guide your dog to do what
you want. It will be sloppy at beginning and during more complex exercises. The key is to
stay focused, stay calm and understand that as the handler, YOU are in charge of this
interaction. If the dog isn’t reaching your goal, you need to change how you are
communicating. Frustration will only cause the dog to shut down.
Are you moving too fast for your dog? Does the dog need to strengthen skills such as impulse
control or patience before proceeding to the next step?
Keep It Simple! Are you asking for too much in one exercise or overall training timeline?
Do you need to split up some steps or allow the dog more time to practice?
Assess your communication so you are not giving any unintentional cues.
Change your body position and placement to avoid giving the wrong body cues.
Ex. Dogs will naturally sit in front for a treat. Try giving the command sideways instead.
Are competing motivators (distractions) are stronger than your rewards.
Once the dog learns the behavior it is important to practice on leash again when adding new
Lots of patience and follow through will desensitize competing motivators.
Do you have realistic expectations? Are there mental or physical limitations preventing the dog
from completing the exercise?
A good hander will know when they are pushing the dog too far and the training program is
causing more harm than benefit.
CREATE A SHAPING
Training Program Template
A Continuation of Shaping
Tricks training is a great way to build confidence because the behaviors are less complex
and easier to learn. We also tend to view tricks as fun games, as opposed to strict
obedience training required for safety. This natural lighter energy creates a friendlier training
We can now use our behavior shaping strategies to teach tricks. Tricks are usually seen
as a way to show off to friends and perceived as unnecessary by most dog owners. In fact,
tricks have plenty of positive mental health benefits for your dog as well!
More Than Just Party Tricks
Tricks promote mental stimulation! With all the technology at our fingertips and screens
to watch to keep us entertained. We often forget that our dogs don’t watch TV or play on
tablets, they need things to do too!
Tricks are a great way to keep training fun and rewarding. Obedience is important for
safety reasons, but fun is important as well. Sit, stay, down, come…. That all gets boring
once your dog becomes a pro! Teaching new tricks keeps things fresh and exciting for
both you and your dog.
Anything can be considered a trick! Browse videos YouTube or Google to get ideas to try
on your own.
It also strengthens your bond! The more time you spend with your dog doing rewarding
activities, you will naturally create better focus, trust and obedience.
Remember to always check yourself and evaluate how realistic the tricks you want to
train your dog are. There are some behaviors that may make your dog feel
uncomfortable or vulnerable. There are other behaviors that the dog may just not enjoy
doing. This is all OK!
Do not take this as a failure on yours or your dog’s part. Tricks do not provide safety and
are not a command or behavior that needs to be reinforced for quality of life purposes.
For example, a lot of dogs do not like to “Roll Over”. This is a submissive posture that can
cause anxiety in fearful dogs or those who have low self confidence. If the behavior
causes discomfort or fear, it is no longer a trick and will create a negative training
environment. There are so many different tricks you can teach your dog so pick the ones
that build them up rather than put them down.
Some dogs need help building up confidence in their ability to achieve physical activities.
Dogs who are never pushed to face their fears will begin to shut down or avoid situations,
instead of enjoying them due to irrational fears. In the event of a dog becoming anxious or
fearful, the handler must stay calm and guide the dog through the motions to cope with the
Example: A dog falls into a pool
Option A – The owner can rush over to the dog’s aid, frantically pull it out of the water and
pet and sooth the dog until it recovers.
This will indicate to the dog that water is unsafe and that the fearful emotion the dog
currently has is an appropriate response to falling in or being close to water.
Option B – The owner can calmly walk to the dog, positively encourage the dog to swim to
the area of the pool they can exit on their own, and praise the dog when it gets out of the
This will give the dog the knowledge it needs to get out of the pool safely and on its own,
or exit strategy. It will also give the dog confidence around water because the owner’s
behavior indicated there was no danger and the conclusion of the situation was positive.
Using obstacles is a great way to show your dog their physical ability and build
independence. Agility is a common sport or hobby that is a great way to build confidence,
obedience and communication skills in a fun setting.
For dogs that aren’t sporty, a dog can be challenged by more athletic walks or hikes,
swimming, teaching tricks with platforms or objects, or challenging dogs that are uneasy
around stairs or certain types of flooring.
If you are not interested in joining an agility class, you can always practice the new Urban
Agility or Barkour activities. It is great because, not only is it free, but you can practice any
time and any where you want. Start exploring parks or new areas on your walks and get
creative with all the obstacles you have around you.
Urban agility gets as hard as you want to make it.
Simple exercises include having dogs interact with obstacles by jumping on/over, around,
inside or under objects.
BRAIN GAMES &
Puzzle toys or games are a great way to spend time with your dog or give them something
to do when you’re busy or unavailable. There are so many types of DIY puzzles on the
internet or toys available on Amazon. The key is to find a toy or puzzle that allows a
behavior that your dog enjoys. This builds confidence by giving your dog something positive
to do instead of always telling them NO!
Example #1 | Dogs who's mission is to de-stuff every cute stuffy
Get a ball similar to this one. They come in different sizes
and are sold at most pet stores. Next get a towel or old t-shirt
and cut the fabric into long strips to use as your stuffing.
Begin to stuff the pieces of fabric into the ball along with
some treats. This will allow your dog to practice the “un-
stuffing” behavior in a positive way. Most dogs will not try to
eat the pieces of fabric and focus on the treats. But it is
important to always supervise your dog with new toys to
ensure their safety.
Example #2 | Dogs that are treat motivated and bored or antsy
Kong Rewards Ball or treat balls like it are a great way to
keep your dog busy while you are unavailable. These types of
toys come in different shapes, sizes and difficulty levels. The
key is to start easy so the dog gets the rewards quickly. Once
the dog builds drive to get those treats, start making it more
This is a great way to burn energy by using it to feed
breakfast meals in the mornings.
BRAIN GAMES &
There are so many different games you can play with your dogs to continue to strengthen
your bond and trust. Plus, it’s something fun to do on days that are rainy, too hot or too cold
to get enough exercise outside.
Start with teaching the dog TOUCH to indicate which hand the treat is in.
Show the dog the hand the treat is in and put your hands behind your back. Ask “Are you
ready?” to get the dog all revved up, then present your hands.
Open the hand the dog chooses to show his prize. If the dog becomes over excited and
rough, work on impulse control before moving on. The dog does not get the prize unless he
picks the correct hand.
Once the dog is indicating properly, switch hands. Then continue to switch hands until he
figures out to watch where the treat is at the beginning.
Very similar to Which Hand? Start to teach the dog to indicate for us to lift the cup. This
could be touching with their nose, paw or laying with their paws towards it.
Once the dog is indicating and has self control, add another cup but do not move the cups
yet. Show the dog which cup you are putting the treat under and have them choose a cup.
Once the dog is clearly indicating the cup you are putting the treat under, start moving the
You can choose to have the dog hunt for a consistent container or loose treats. Start with
showing the dog the prize and hiding it in front of them. Do this a few times. Place the treats
on top of the container during this phase, so that the dog is immediately rewarded.
Start testing the dog by hiding the prize while the dog cannot see where you are putting it.
If you are using a container you can teach them an indicating behavior to practice while you
open the container.
Start with the prize always on the ground until the dog understands what it is looking for.
Then begin to challenge by changing elevation, adding decoys objects or hiding their
container under a cloth.
Dog Training Fundamentals: Lesson 1 by Dogumentary TV
Creating focus and building interest in the handler using the "YES" marker
How to use "Free Shaping" with your dog! by Taylor Made Working Dogs
Shaping process in action!
45 Cute Dog Tricks by MyFavoritePupJasmine
29 Advanced Dog Tricks by Kathleen Tepperies
Importance of Canine Balance and Body Awareness by Stonnie Dennis
Body awareness builds confidence using props.
Body Awareness & Confideince Building with Zeke by Precision K9 Work
Body awareness builds confidence. This is preparation training for scent detection.
Urban Agility by TheJmurphy05
Urban agility ideas!
Neo The Parkour Collie by CanineCrusadesCam
Urban agility ideas!
What Are Brain Games For Dogs & How Do They Work? by Dogs And
Promote independent thinking.
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