What is Free Shaping in Dog Training

Advanced Training: Pick Up Things Part 2

Despite having trained Maui to obey basic commands like sitting, staying in place, and going back to me as soon as he hears the beep on his shock collar, I've found shaping to be foreign despite how it's nearly similar to the training process I've done so far. 

The difference between my training technique and shaping is that I guide Maui to learn the correct behavior instead of letting the dog explore what's the correct behavior. One example is when I taught him to sit. I had to make him sit by luring his head back enough to make him touch his back on the ground and then saying "Sit!" as he does. The only thing that was somewhat similar to it was when I taught him to "stay". I started with making him sit for 1 second, then 2, until 5 seconds, each time rewarding him for staying still. Eventually, I walked away with increasing distance. 

When it came to stopping bad behavior, I was far more rigid, relying on commands to control him. I never used the shock collar to punish him though, and it's probably thanks to that, that Maui doesn't see the shock collar negatively. 

In shaping, at least in the videos and articles I've reviewed, you will reward your dog for every "step" they did properly. There was one I watched about crate training where the trainer taught the dog to go inside the crate. At the end of the video, the dog went into the crate every time, almost without fail. 

The training had a rapid pace. The trainer just kept mentioning "Inside!" while the crate was open. When the dog went to the crate, she then clicked the clicker and gave a reward. She did this step about 3 times, then on the fourth, she didn't give the reward when the dog went near. The dog even looked back at her, expecting something. He went around the crate, then placed one foot in the crate, which then she clicked and gave the treat. She did this again about 4 times, then at the fifth time, stopped and only gave the reward when the dog placed two feet inside the crate. 

This "shaping" went on until the target behavior was met. The dog was completely inside the crate. They kept on going with this reward-based training about 6 more times. It started with baby steps, then ended with the trainer praising the dog and giving him one last treat before closing the crate. The results don't lie, it's definitely an effective method. 

I also think this teaching method makes a dog think more. At least it looks like the dog has a more active part in it than just obeying commands. It has a learning aspect to it, and I think it might be good mental stimulation for older dogs as it lets them flex the old noodle better.


I've explored operant conditioning before and seen how it works. In some way, it's still classical conditioning, but only partly, and  This science-based dog training is the most rounded training I've seen, but I have yet to see how they train service dogs and K9s, so there must be a more effective training regime out there.

It's easy to grasp this training style, but it looks difficult to pull off. I can already tell it requires plenty of practice on the trainer's end. You need to time the rewards right, and you need to have plenty of food rewards. You also need to either plot out when to give the treats or come up with it as you go. 

Frankly, I'd like to know more about this training method. It's one more thing to add to my list of things I can do to become a well-rounded individual, especially during a zombie apocalypse. Imagine the benefit of being able to train dogs! 

I digress. Dog training is a fine hobby for me, and my entire family is having a blast with Maui. We might consider getting another dog so Maui can have some company later on in his life, and I'd like that dog to be trained too. I don't require them to be absolutely obedient, but I'd like them to be obedient when it matters. 

It's time to train Maui back to "getting" an item by name. This time, I cooked up a lot more of his favorite treats: Boiled Liver. The goal is to get him to take the item in question, which is my old shoe, and give it to me. During our first training exercises, Maui quickly got the idea to get the item I'm holding and hold it in his mouth. The training plan is to make him take the shoe when it's on the floor near me, then when he succeeds, I'll keep taking the shoe farther and farther away, until it's in a totally different place. 

So I started the training with the clicker and food treats at the ready. I placed the shoe down near my feet and told Maui to "Get!" it. 

He stared at me like the lovable idiot that he is. Just a few hours ago, he was eager to take the shoe from my hand. I think I get it. I have nothing in my hand, therefore, Maui is confused about what to do. Perhaps he didn't associate the shoe with the "get!" but instead associated it with what's on my hand. 

But we are doing "shaping" after all, and based on this training method, all I need to do is guide Maui gently to the shoe until he at least, touches it with his nose, the reward him. The true shaping training begins!

First, I guide Maui to the shoe by placing my hand near it and said "get!". Maui investigated it, thinking I had a treat, then as soon as I saw his nose touch the shoe, I clicked and give him a treat. It's so cute to see his eyes "light" up as soon as he hears the click, likely because it means yummy liver for him. 

I kept on with the clicker training about seven times. Around the fifth time, Maui didn't need the hand to guide him, but at the eighth time, I didn't click. I simply said "Get!" again. Maui stared at me then back at the shoe in confusion. He looked at my hands, likely on both the clicker and the hand that dispenses the treat. I could only imagine the things going on in his head, but I liked the spark in his eyes and the small pitter-patter he does when I keep saying "get!"

After saying it three times, Maui mouthed the shoe and I immediately clicked. He nearly jumped to me for the treat and I quickly said "Get!" again. Maui didn't mouth it immediately, but after the second time, he placed his mouth on it and I clicked. 

This was surprisingly exciting, seeing Maui so active instead of just waiting for me to say the command. It almost feels like I'm playing with him. This kind of positive training is starting to get very interesting. I have no use for the shock collar yet, but my mind is already formulating things on its own. I wish it didn't because I need to focus on the training. 

I kept on letting Maui mouth the shoe until I see that he was doing it three times properly and quickly. When he did, I stopped clicking when he mouths the shoe. Here is when I notice Maui going into a somewhat manic investigative phase. He keeps on darting his head back and forth, mouthing it, then looking at me. When I said "get!" again, he whined a little and suddenly stomped on the shoe, making me burst into laughter. 

Shaping exercises definitely require focus. I lost mine and I lost the flow. I used this time to take a break from that fast-paced shaping session and decided to go out with Maui to let out some of the probable frustration I caused him. 

Though short, that was quite the experience. We didn't go that far yet, but I definitely saw how radically different this was compared to our usual training. The next session will have to wait because I have plenty of stuff on my plate, but sure enough, I look forward to it. 

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