Newcomers to operant training may place superstitious value on the specific tools they see others using, not realizing that it's the process, not the equipment, that counts.
Shaping and Targeting
In April of this year there was a discussion on the ClickerExpo Yahoo Group e-mail list about squirrel chasing. It became a hot topic, generating many opinions and replies. I responded to the ruckus with this post.
Shaping is a concept that many pet owners find hard to grasp. We're used to making animals do things by leading them or pushing them into the behavior we want—and it is hard to believe that there is another way. Common sense tells us that there is no possible way to get an animal to do something it has never done before, doing nothing yourself but reinforcing spontaneous movements.
In September I gave a workshop at the annual meeting of the Association for Pet Dog Trainers, always both an honor and a pleasure. In the workshop I demonstrated an exercise I'd learned, at an earlier APDT meeting, from Massachusetts trainer Tibby Chase, for teaching inattentive dogs to walk politely at a person's side. The exercise involves targeting and shaping, and works even if neither the handler nor the dog know anything about clicker training. APDT had arranged for a pet owner to bring three friendly but largely untrained dogs. None of the dogs were accustomed to being in public, and while they were fairly quiet they were of course trying to smell everything and greet everyone, pulling on their leashes and paying very little attention to the person holding them. The owner found a volunteer handler for each dog so I could put them through the exercise, one at a time.
I like to start with something that's very simple and easy to understand. I'm going to teach the horse to touch his nose to an object. I've found this works really well in part because it is outside the horse's normal training program. It's so different from anything else he's been asked to do, he has to pay attention to figure me out.