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The Shape of Shaping: Some Historical Notes

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.

Service with a Click

Debi Davis, service-dog trainer and ClickerExpo presenter (Minneapolis, November 2005), writes training articles for national and international magazines and is an Internet mentor for service-dog teams in training. In 1998, she co-founded OC-Assist-Dogs, a Yahoo Group Internet discussion list for those clicker training service dogs, now the largest service-dog discussion list on the web. In 1999, her papillon, Peek, became the first toy breed and first clicker trained dog to earn the Delta Society's National Service Dog of the Year award. In 2003, Peek was among the Pedigree Paws to Recognize Canine World Hero nominees. Peek and Debi were also profiled on a segment of the international television program Dogs with Jobs. A member of the APDT, IAADP, IABC, and the Delta Society, Debi lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband and five clicker trained dogs. Recently, we spoke to her about clicker training assistance dogs and her experiences attending ClickerExpo San Diego.

Click to Calm

When Emma Parsons, professional trainer and canine behavior consultant, discovered that her own prized golden retriever, Ben, was aggressive toward other dogs, and that traditional remedies took his reactivity to nightmarish levels, she turned to clicker training. In the process, Parsons developed innovative and effective strategies to calm, alter, and re-shape Ben's aggressive displays. Her clicker-based strategies have since helped many of her clients successfully reduce—and even erase—their dogs' reactivity to both dogs and humans.

A Word about "Compulsion"

From Chapter 2 of Clicker Training for Obedience. Many trainers who dip their toes into the waters of operant conditioning still reserve for themselves the option of "making" the dog do an exercise at some point in the training process. The theory, expressed in different ways, boils down to the notion that "the dog must know that it doesn't have any choice but to obey when I give a command." In response, I pose two questions: