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What is Free Shaping Dog Training

Free Shaping a Tiny Mountain.

It was time for Clara's training. Now that she as acclimated properly to the house and its inhabitants, it was time to start training with her. The training goal, for now, is for her to go into her crate and we are going to do it via free shaping, and very tiny bits of cooked, soft, dried liver. 

I'm also quite happy that she hasn't really barked during the night. I hope all the activities from us, cats, and Maui properly desensitized her. She did bark at some point, but Maui did the same, so whatever it was, they both thought it was suspicious, such as someone walking their dog late at night, or another stray dog. It was loud, but not excessively loud. I just hope that she carries this well into her life back with Vangie. 

With Maui hanging around, I took her crate out and called her. I recalled the shaping process and readied my clicker. Without saying a word, I waited for her to do something. The first was to face the crate. It took a bit for me to time it right, but she lit up as soon as she heard the click and I gave her the treat. Maui did as well, but he's resting on the cool cement right now and doesn't seem to be in the mood for playing or training. 

Without saying a word, I let Clara do her thing three more times. I find clicker training great because I don't have to do anything else, just press the button. It's consistent and only needs this powerful training tool, which is a piece of plastic that came free with my shock collar. I haven't used my shock collar on Maui for a while, but it was worth it. I could only imagine that if I didn't use it, Maui would still be hard to control right now, or I'm still in the process of training him. 

After the third time, I changed the step to "go near the crate." Clara kept looking at the crate then, making eye contact with me again, which was adorable. The light in her eyes was the same as Maui, the same inquisitive "Am I doing this right?" look. Eventually, she went near the crate entrance and I clicked. She practically whipped to face me when I did, and I gave her the treat. 

It's the same training process as before. Click when the dog does the correct behavior, and ignore every other random behavior, eventually shaping them to the goal behavior. The harder part is breaking the goal behavior down to the smallest chunks of behavior, but at the same time, keeping the number of steps smaller. I'm sure there's an optimal number of steps, but I don't have the experience to figure that one out.  The mode of reinforcement is positive reinforcement, but if I have to nitpick, technically, her not doing the right thing is negative punishment, because she doesn't get my attention. 

After rewarding her for going close to the crate, I started ignoring her until she did the target behavior of placing any of her paws into the crate. She kept going around and looking at me for a while, and I started to notice that she was losing her attention, so I had to act fast. I settled for her placing her head into the crate and rewarded her just to keep her focus on me. 

Around this time, Maui started paying attention to us. I guess he was done with whatever he was preoccupied with and roamed around Clara as she tried to figure out what to do. At this point, I wanted to try the model-rivalry method, but the crate is way too small for Maui to fit in. Unfortunately, right now, Maui can only watch. 

Clara, at least, consistently placed her head into the crate entrance three more times. I stopped rewarding her after. I waited until she placed one foot into the crate, but she didn't. All she did was look at me sheepishly, then back to the crate. After a minute of that, Maui started drifting away. I thought to myself if I should take a break. I guess Clara has a much smaller attention span compared to Maui. 

I took the time to wonder if there are any other training methods that could be more efficient for Clara. Despite Free Shaping being an excellent training technique, it doesn't seem to be that compatible with Clara's attention span, but I'll see how it works out. I suppose the best kind of dog trainer is someone who can create a multi-faceted training program that either fits all dogs or can be adapted to different personalities. This heavily complicates any training plan, but good planning skills are something I'd like to develop. 

There's always the other way of luring Clara into the crate, then marking the behavior with a command. She's already comfortable in her crate, so I don't have to go through the rest of the "familiarizing" process. That could be more direct than this shaping process. After some thought, I decided to abandon the shaping process and try the more direct method. 

After a few hours, we did a little night training out the yard so that Clara be exposed to the different conditions of the outside, such as the Lords of the Lawn being more active. Saturn settled closed to us and initiated Loaf Cat mode. 

I showed the treat to Clara and let her follow it until she was inside the crate. I then tossed the food inside the crate, and as soon as she went in to get it, I clicked and said the "Crate!" command. I called her out using the recall command, rewarded her accordingly, and reset. Saturn meowed at us when Clara approached, and I petted the loaf of cat. Clara doesn't seem to mind them anymore unless Mars emerges from the shadows to play with Clara. 

I did it about three more times, and Clara is consistently going into the cage to get the treat. After that, I stopped luring her in and simply saying the "crate" command. She quickly went to the cage, I clicked, and she helped herself to the treat. We did this three more times, and on the last one, I called her to go to the crate, then closed the cage, praising her as I closed it. Just in time because a figure with glowing yellow eyes just jumped down from the wall. Mars approached me, meowed, and I gave him some of the treats to lighten his mood. I then went to Clara and let Mars see the small dog. The large cat started sniffing around and approached the cage. Clara's tail was tucked and she was clearly guarded. I praised Clara and she started wagging her tail when she heard me. 

I then slowly opened the cage. Clara didn't go out, but Mars slowly approached the entrance, still smelling his way around. Clara went to one corner of the crate, but I kept praising her. Mars didn't step in and instead,  simply walked away as if he had better things to do. Such is the fickleness of felines. But in that entirety, Clara didn't show any kind of aggressive behaviors, so all that effort getting her used to the environment was worth it. Still, I hope it sticks. 

Vangie will be home soon, so we will be parting with Clara. I will still be doing the reinforcement training on her twice a week, for two more weeks, and I should be done. That's some extra experience in training if it works well. 

By the time we return Clara, we're going to work on adopting a new dog. I've already talked to the shelter, and we're currently arranging what's needed. 

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