Rainy Day Activity – Teach Something New!

Leila, a Shepherd mix, lives with one of the worlds most fantastic dog owners and one of my most wonderful clients, a lady named Nicole....

Casey Lomonaco  |  Oct 21st 2010


Leila, a Shepherd mix, lives with one of the worlds most fantastic dog owners and one of my most wonderful clients, a lady named Nicole. Leila is Mokies bestie, those girls absolutely adore playing together. Unlike Mokie, Leila is not what Id define as a high energy dog. If Nicole feels unwell, and needs to take a day off from walking Leila, Leila is more than content to just relax in the house and chew on marrow bones or play with her toys.

Mokie is not nearly so considerate. Recently, I had pneumonia which left me feeling awful. I just wanted to lie on the couch and rest. Mokie had other ideas, and would sit in front of me, staring directly into my face, panting, inches away from my nose. Id ignore this, so shed begin whining. That too would go ignored, so Mokie begin placing her paw on my arm. Get off your butt and do something with me, woman! Obviously, there was a conflict of interest here. I was interested in sleep, she was interested in adventure.

I ignored these demand behaviors and eventually, Mokie lay down, still staring at me, waiting, hoping.

I settled on a compromise. There was a way that I could tire Mokie out while still fulfilling my immune systems demand for rest. Even while feeling like a poster child for Night of the Living Dead, I could get rid of this nervous energy, all while lying on the couch, tucked under many blankets, and in relatively little time. What was the solution? Shaping a new behavior.

Shaping is a technique which involves using the clicker to reinforce successive approximations of a goal behavior. All this means, really, is that shaping is the process of establishing a goal behavior and clicking and reinforcing steps in the correct direction until youve achieved your goal. Shaping doesnt require the handler to provide any sort of guidance to the dog; the process builds on canine initiative. Because shaping requires creativity and mental concentration on the dogs part, it can really tire them out fairly quickly.

I remember in college, after a long day of classes, labs, and exams, coming home absolutely exhausted even though I got relatively little physical exercise. Today, that happens after a long day of writing, private consults, classes, and filing paperwork. Accomplishing complex mental tasks is tiring! In this respect, I feel that Mokie and I have a lot in common. A really good fifteen minutes of shaping can tire out Mokie more than a walk that is two or three times as long.

I didnt shape any really complex behaviors. I shaped her to kiss my face on cue in about five minutes. We took a break for a few minutes and then I shaped her to go away from me, get on the loveseat, and lie down. This took about twelve minutes. Seventeen minutes later, with Night of the Living Dead girl still lying on the couch huddled in blankets, I had one tired dog relaxing comfortably on the loveseat. The compromise was successful. We both had exactly what we wanted she got the stimulation she needed, I got the rest my immune system demanded. We both took naps and woke up feeling less frustrated with each other. Success!

Stimulating your dogs mind through shaping also reduces boredom, a common denominator in many canine behavior problems. The benefits are myriad your dog learns a cue new trick, you enjoy the benefits of a tired dog, and you