Clicker Training Games Part 3 – Shaping

Clicker Training Games Part 3 – Shaping

trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

The last form of clicker training that I want to talk about is called shaping.  Think of a sculptor starting out with a lump of clay.  He shapes the clay gradually, with each action getting a little bit closer to the final form that he has in mind.  Clicker training by the shaping method is also a gradual process.  You reinforce the dog with a click and treat for performing successive approximations of the final behavior you want him to perform.  The secret to successful shaping is to break down the goal behavior into small steps.  This makes it easy for the dog, and we all learn better when the lesson seems easy.  It is a true test of patience and good planning on the trainer’s part, but the reward for you is a dog that enjoys the process and learns how to do something complex in a relatively short amount of time.

For example, I used shaping to teach my GSP to stand with all 4 feet inside a small cardboard box (see my video “Special Delivery” here:


I started by placing a large shallow box on the floor and click/treating for getting closer and closer to the box.  Chase had played clicker games before and quickly figured out that he had to interact with the box somehow to earn clicks and treats.  You could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to figure out how to get me to click.

It helps to write down a list of each successive step that you will reinforce.  Stay at each step, clicking and treating multiple trials until the dog is certain of what he must do before moving on to the next step.  My list looked something like this:


  1. Look at the box

  2. Take 1 step toward the box

  3. Take 2 steps toward the box

  4. Stand next to the box

  5. Touch the outside of the box with a paw

  6. Put a paw inside the box

  7. With one paw in the box, move the other paw slightly

  8. With one paw in the box, lift the other paw

  9. With one paw in the box, put the other paw in the box

  10. With 2 front paws in the box, move a back foot slightly

  11. With 2 front paws in the box, lift a back foot

  12. With 2 front paws in the box, put a back foot in the box

  13. Do a similar progression for the other back foot, so that he is standing with all 4 feet inside the box

  14. Use a smaller box

You may need to break the steps down even smaller, or you may be able to lump a few steps together depending on the skill of the dog.  You could use barriers like chairs to make it easier for the dog to get into the right position depending on the trick.  As tedious as this seems, “slow is fast” when training a dog.  The more you can put aside your desire to see instant results and have the patience to split tasks into little baby steps, the sooner you will reach your goal.   Rewarding your dog frequently (because it is easy to earn clicks) makes it fun for the dog and keeps him “in the game”.  It eliminates frustration which impedes learning.

When I trained service dogs for the physically handicapped, we used shaping all the time to teach complex tasks such as opening doors, picking up dropped objects, turning on a light switch, and pulling a person in a wheelchair.  So have fun playing clicker games with your dog.  You are only limited by your creativity.  Please share any tricks that you have taught your dog using a clicker.  I’d love to hear from you!



Spread the love

1 Response to Clicker Training Games Part 3 – Shaping

Leave a Reply