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The 10 Laws of Shaping Behaviours

Posted in: Clicker Training, Stories & Thoughts

Once you are underway with clicker training (positive reinforcement) you can teach your horse to do anything you can think of! However, there are some rules that are useful to be aware of during training. These rules were defined by Karen Pryor (in her book; Don’t Shoot The Dog) and are presented below.

If a behaviour starts to break down, you can’t seem to get to your end goal for some reason or your horse is showing frustration, then check in with these 10 rules of shaping and it’s likely that one or more of them rules are affecting your training process….

“1. Raise criteria in increments small enough so that the subject always has a realistic chance of reinforcement.

2. Train one aspect of any particular behaviour at a time. Don’t try to shape for two criteria simultaneously.

3. During shaping, put the current level of response on a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement before adding or raising the criteria.

4. When introducing a new criterion, or aspect of the behavioural skill, temporarily relax the old ones.

5. Stay ahead of your subject: Plan your shaping program completely so that if the subject makes sudden progress, you are aware of what to reinforce next.

6. Don’t change trainers in midstream. You can have several trainers per trainee, but stick to one shaper per behaviour.

7. If one shaping procedure is not eliciting progress, find another. There are as many ways to get behaviour as there are trainers to think them up.

8. Don’t interrupt a training session gratuitously; that constitutes a punishment.

9. If behaviour deteriorates, ‘Go back to kindergarten.’ Quickly review the whole shaping process with a series of easily earned reinforcers.

10. End each session on a high note, if possible, but in any case quit while you’re ahead.”

Pryor K (1999) Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training