Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's All Play Inside!

I'm sure you've noticed, but just in case- it's winter and it's cold out there. I don't want to go out to exercise my dog and she isn't too thrilled about going out there either. Here's the thing- she needs to get her exercise still- and I need to keep taking time to teach her new things and build on existing skills. In addition to playing fetch and tug (two of her favorite pastimes), I love using free-shaping to teach her new skills. Shaping is defined as "building new behavior by selectively reinforcing variations in existing behavior, during the behavior rather than after, to increase or strengthen the behavior in a specific manner or direction." What this means is letting a dog offer behaviors on their own until they offer the behavior you want (or a portion of it), then shaping and refining the behavior to get the complete behavior you want. The thing that separates shaping from other types of training is that there is no direction whatsoever from the person training- no lure, verbal indications, or environmental manipulation. Free-shaping is just a way of saying 'shaping' that reminds us to let the dog do it freely without instruction.
The game 101 Things To Do With A Box, is a form of shaping- though it could be argued that the addition of a new item (box) to the environment is setting up the dog to explore it. I use shaping for lots of behaviors, especially "go to your place" and targeting. When it's too cold to play outside, I just sit with Roxie and wait for her to offer any behavior at all. She lifts a back leg, I click and treat. I continue to click and treat this behavior and refine it- maybe get her to stretch out a back leg and kick a ball or touch the coffee table with her leg. When I play this game, I let her be my guide and work out my final goal as I go.
Actually, that last part isn't true- my only training goal is for both of us to have fun. That's it. She will get some mental exercise, which she really needs when there is less outside time, and I get practice refining my timing with the clicker (which any clicker trainer will tell you is imperative).

So, since it's cold stay inside and play with your dog! You will have lots of fun and your dog will get exercise and mental stimulation so that you can both enjoy this winter no matter how much you get stuck inside!


Free shaping games: