One of the core training techniques with clicker training is called shaping, or free shaping. There is also micro-shaping which is amazing to watch, and the clicker expo had a presenter… Alexandra Kurland who clicks with horses. And in a nutshell, she shapes the horses to carry their bodies, with a rider, so that their heads are down and their balances is better so that they will not damage their spines.

My definition of shaping is something like this: you watch a dog, and when she does something you want, you click. So if you want to shape a turn to the left (this is in the clicker books, I think) if the dog even slightly moves her head to the left, or even looks to the left, you click and treat. The dog will then be wondering what caused that click, and will move around trying different things. This dog will need to be clicker savvy first, though, and throw out behaviors to see what gets the reward.

Eventually the dog will figure out that turning her head to the left gets a click and treat. Then you up the ante, you stop clicking the head moving to the left, and the dog will try more, and move to the left, maybe even step, and you click treat that.

That is basically what shaping is. Micro-shaping would be clicking the slightest muscle movement, or twitch, on the dog’s left side.

This can take a long time in the beginning and takes a lot of patience. In example, Tatum is not a big offerer of behavior. Lucy, Levi and Chase dance all over the place wondering what it is I want from them and will mark. Tatum isn’t that savvy yet. But I had a perch box out today, and when she would sniff the box, I would click and throw a treat on it.

What I eventually want of her is to stand on the box with her front feet, and move her back end around it. But we start very, very slow. Eventually she put one foot on the box, yay! That is what I wanted, so click and treat. I pushed her off in play to get her drive up, and she came right back, put one foot up… click treat.. she put the other foot up… click treat! We were getting there!

Tatum is not very animated, so with micro-shaping what I need to do with her is just click any movement. To get her used to offering. So if she is just standing there, and I am just sitting there waiting for her to do something, if she moves her head or nose or muscle, I click and treat, to get that movement going.

This is the beginning. You can get a dog to do a perfect heel pattern as you move along with clicker training. Amazing stuff! And I did have to see it in action to really understand it! You increase with small steps. The more clicker savvy the dog becomes, the more behaviors the dog offers, the faster it goes.

And it is amazing to watch the process. Amazing!