How to Shape a Behavior

Jackie Gibbons ● June 24, 2022

Have you ever been in a situation where you are trying to get a certain behavior out of your dog, you keep luring them and they stop before they get the behavior and eventually they give up? How frustrating is that for you and imagine how frustrating for the dog! Some behaviors are harder for certain dogs and that’s ok. There is a simple solution to this problem called shaping the behavior. What that means is that you reward at smaller moments that will lead to the final behavior.

Take the behavior “down”, you put the treat to their nose and bring it straight down to their toes and mark once they put their elbows down and are laying on the ground. If the dog is struggling we can shape the behavior, have the criteria for reward at 5 inches from the ground. Begin the same way: put the treat to their nose and bring it straight down to 5 inches from the ground, if the dog’s nose stays with the lure mark and reward. Then move to 3 inches from the ground and then 1 inch, then an elbow down, then both elbows down.

Breaking it down gives the dog attainable goals and continues to challenge him without over frustrating him. There is no one size fits all for shaping a behavior. You may have a dog who has to break down “down” into 10 simpler behaviors or only 2 simpler behaviors. The important thing to know is how to read your dog’s frustration level. Training should be fun for you and your dog!