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Shaping Good Behavior Step by Step.

By Robin Tierney

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Shaping desired behavior involves breaking a behavior into small steps, taught one at a time with positive reinforcement.

Here's an example of combining incremental teaching with random teaching moments - especially good for those busy spells when you think you don't have time for "dog training."

And yes, do try it at home with your dog.

To shape lying DOWN:

Get your clicker (or substitute an upbeat, assertive YES for the click). And get a pile of small biscuits or other tidbits enjoyed by your dog.

Sit (you, not the dog). Relax with a book or music. Watch quietly for your dog to begin lowering his body to the ground. Click immediately, and then give a treat without hesitation. Keep watch, and when his head lowers towards the floor, click and treat. When his head lowers all the way to the floor, click and treat. If he begins to rise, watch and wait for the very next opportunity to click and reward downward behavior. Next pair the treat with the verbal cue "Down." Rover, good DOWN.

Next, after consistent DOWNs with chin touching the floor, work on extending the duration of the DOWNs. Reward for increasingly longer DOWNs by clicking and treating (and saying "Down"). After he gets the concept of DOWN, scale back on rewarding short periods in the DOWN position while keeping on rewarding progressively longer ones.

The next step: work on and practice DOWNs in another location of the house. After he has nailed that, work on DOWNs outdoors. Quick response to the DOWN cue avoid positional misbehavior with approaching people, an altercation with another dog, or even a deadly accident.

Among other behaviors you can teach your dog through shaping:

* Shaking or giving paw, very useful for gaining cooperation for paw-wiping or nail clipping.

* Ringing a bell hung from a doorknob when he wants to go outside.

* Sitting quietly off to the side when a visitor is at the door, and then offering a paw shake.

* Rolling over for a belly rub, or a paw inspection.

Resources:

* Helpful Books for Pet People book list at http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_Books.php

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P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768