Shaping is both an overall process and a specific skill that teaches you to respond to your dog’s learning in the moment. Behaviors that used to be thought of as very difficult to teach a service dog become much easier when you apply the laws of shaping. Only your creativity and your dog’s physical ability are the limits to what behaviors are possible!
Did you know that shaping starts with simple previously taught foundation behaviors then incrementally change the behavior towards the final product? Skinner first identified “successive approximations” in rats by gradually changing the environment the animals interact with to earn a reward. Later scientists extended to concept to become “shaping”.
Shaping can build confidence to try new things and is an excellent way to build muscle memory for new behaviors without boring repetition. Learning to be shaped can help speed the generalization process by getting quick success with behaviors previously learned elsewhere and building on them.
You need great timing, a clear idea of what you are marking, flexibility and great observation skills to help your dog succeed at shaping. You will develop these skills while your dog learns more behaviors to become a service dog.