Animal training is most commonly accomplished through a process that is known as shaping. If one were to teach a dog to jump over a stick, you could hold the stick out and wait until the dog jumped over it. You would then reward the dog for jumping over the stick, increasing the likelihood that it would do it again. However, this could take a long time, or, perhaps, the dog might choose never to jump over the stick. In order to expedite the training we would use the techniques of shaping and prompting. It could be started by laying the stick on the ground and encouraging the dog to walk over it. The encouragement (prompt) could consist of the use of a food lure, or an enticing voice or physical gesture. Gradually, as the dog becomes trained to walk over the stick consistently on command, the stick would slowly be raised until the dog achieves the correct jump height required, remembering it must be within the dog’s physical limitations. Remember to reward each correct response immediately after it is performed.
If the reward is given after even a few seconds delay, the dog will associate it with whatever it is doing at that moment. This most likely will not be what the trainer intended the reward for. The attainment of this precise timing is extremely important, and yet very difficult for many trainers to accomplish.
This gradual step-by- step teaching method is known as shaping and is used universally in conditioning animals. As the dog learns the behaviour, the encouragement or prompt can gradually be lessened and eventually eliminated, a process known as fading.
It should be remembered that dogs are extremely social creatures and are very conscious of the trainer’s emotional state and of even the slightest change in body posture. Your best and most rapid training will occur when you are in a pleasant and happy state of mind and physically relaxed. A slight frown is a picture worth a thousand words to your dog. A stem unpleasant voice can be emotionally devastating to your dog. Many dogs associate our physical appearance and actions with some form of punishment and the motivation to perform may be ruined.
The above is a brief insight into some of the more common principles of learning. It is certainly not a complete list, but will serve the reader well, even in this limited capacity, if adhered to in training. They comply with our 10 goals of training, fulfilling all of the requirements. We feel that they can fulfil anyone’s training goals in producing a well behaved household companion or working dog.