This picture taken by Nancy F is at CPE Nationals in 2008. I’m pretty sure had I stayed a “traditional” trainer Brody and I would not have qualified for Nationals let alone won our division.

I am what is known as a “cross over” trainer. When I started playing with obedience with our Irish Setter there was very little variation in training. So called traditional training (also known as force or compulsion training) was all I could find to watch, learn and read about. Rewards were OK sometimes but you didn’t want a dog “dependant” on treats. Kelly was an amazing dog and quite soft so she ended up never needing a collar correction. She was a fabulous dog – I could happily heel her down Yonge Street off leash with squirrels, reactive dogs and all kinds of people around. How I wish I had known the power of shaping back then.
Rufus (Big T and my first golden) came into my life a bit of a puzzle. He was usually lovely but pulled like a train and had learned some frustrating behaviours (refusing to get into a car for example.) I once allowed him to hit the end of the leash so hard he flipped himself. I’m so very glad he wasn’t hurt – but that was what trainers did then. I inadvertently taught myself the power of shaping to help him get over his car issues. (Luring didn’t work – he didn’t care if it was steak in the car – he wasn’t getting in). Shaping worked magically, even if I didn’t know what it was called. Rufus was generally very food motivated so as I started to be introduced to the world of positive training (we are talking about nearly 20 years ago now) I was THRILLED. Rufus became confident, happy and so solid in his behaviours. Laurice our rescued rotti golden (or maybe aussie) mix was a naturally easy dog. She was so soft she never needed a correction but to be honest she was so lovely she never really needed training either. She was rescued out of a drug dealer’s apartment because she wasn’t aggressive enough for him. She had never been on a leash or on grass in her life (She had been purchased at a pet store for $1,200 – the mind boggles). Her first night with us she was off lead at the horse barn I rode at. Oh to have that much faith again!
Brody was the first of our dogs to be nearly wholly positively trained. I’ve written before about his desire to simply please. Without understanding what I was doing I used luring quite minimally and ended up doing lots of shaping. Brody with his media gigs often needed to learn new tricks quickly. My favourite example of this was at 3 pm “Oh shoot – you know we told you we needed him to jump on a bed and lie down.. we’ve changed the script – he needs to dig in the garden .. hard. See you tomorrow at 8 am!” Brody had liked digging as a young dog – we had worked hard to extinguish the behaviour. Shaping it took about half an hour. I didn’t put it on a particularly solid cue and have never used it again!
Positive is NOT permissive. Pat Miller was the first person I heard say that and it resonated with me. I had not understood the concept of structures and routines without force and punishment. ( I still struggle with counter surfing truth be told – partly because one of us is always leaving something of value up there).
Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash affected my thinking too. Here is a video of Jean going through some training tools. ( I hate bait bags- just my little quirk. I’d have to agree with her about using a mix of treats being the best way to boost interest though!) The thing I really like about Jean is every dog is individual to her. Her stories from her dog Buffy’s perspective are HILARIOUS.
I did not learn about clicker training from Karen Pryor but her book Don’t Shoot the Dog and her biography are both on my shelf. Clicker Training is a tool the dogs and I get a lot from though I don’t use it every day. (I probably should!). One of the neat things that happens is Clicker Expo. Attending one of those would be amazing! Anybody have a spare $439 dollars and three days they can give me? Brody and Sally are pretty clicker savvy. Thea loves a click and treat but her little pea brain doesn’t make the most of clickers. She got stuck in luring somehow and has trouble with shaping. Interesting and probably something I could work through but we love her as is!
Sally is my pretty much wholly shaped dog (and you might remember shaping Sampson this summer for his agility stuff). Susan Garrett and Pam Dennison have both impacted my thinking about shaping although I haven’t worked with either of them I have attending a seminar with Pam. Phenomenal was wholly shaped too.
What will I do when another dog lands here forever? I will continue on my positive path mostly with shaping I suspect. Why do I like shaping so much? It leaves the dogs brain turned on. Luring lets them become little automans – doing what you say to get the treat. There is no thinking with luring really. Follow the food and you’ll get it eventually. I find people who are lurers have trouble weaning off a treat when transferring to the agility ring. A shaped dog seems to know the reward will come; they can wait a little more patiently for that without losing heart. (Now of course in the interests of disclosure I must admit Sally finds agility itself very rewarding so releasing her to jump is, in and of itself, a reward for the correct behaviour.)
Some articles I found while surfing thinking this all through: