BLT dog training framework

The Trainers Triumvirate

The B-L-T for dog owners

My simple model of dog obedience and behaviour is shown below was developed in the previous module. In this BLT (Boundaries, Leadership and Training) framework, we are recognising that a well-trained pet dog required all three to perform well. Most training schools and classes focus primarily of teaching techniques. This is not a criticism, because there is only so much time dedicated to each session, and it’s not easy to cover all aspects completely. However, what I’ve discovered through reading and some basic research is the lack of attention most owners have on eliminating issues related to creating clear boundaries for the dog and Leadership (how the owner behaves towards the dog).  This is where one-2-one training can be beneficial.

Disregarding all three aspect will is likely to create a dog with extreme behaviours. A walking timebomb and personal liability. With In respect to recall, a lack of attention to these issues could create challenging situations and unruliness. 

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At Peak  District Dog Practice we can assess your personal circumstances, your doggy home and your training techniques, so that you have the best relationship with your dog!

Great puppy classes are not all about training the dog

We believe that a puppy class should contain the following topics

1) Owner Basics - Equipment necessary to create boundaries for the puppy and ensure that it stays in good health. How to prepare the home for a puppy. 

2) Awareness of supportive human behaviours and activities – train owners to recognise counterproductive human paternal behaviours and how these can lead to unwanted behaviours in their pets.

3) Basic background of dog behaviour

4) Socialisation training and gentle leadership during formative weeks.

5) Overview of different methods of training including equipment

6) Simple commands and dog relationship development

7) Obedience training 


Advanced Training Techniques

Shaping and Chaining Behaviours

According to Burch and Bailey, in their detailed work on how dogs learn, Chaining and Shaping are common ways to train a dog to achieve certain and specific outcomes. They are both practical approaches for the household, but have also been used to great effect in professional circles. 

Shaping is used to establish a new behaviour. These could be simple household tasks such as sitting in a crate or box, when a visitor arrives. Or, teaching an animal to perform for a movie script to hold a paw across its face, for example. Shaping is a teaching process that can be used with any animal. Karen Pryor, is well known for developing the Clicker training approach with dolphins. 

Chaining is a process that helps combine a series of behaviours into one unique combination. This is often seen in show rings during dog agility displays. 

Shaping and Chaining can be used together, firstly to teach each single behaviour and then to put those behaviours together in a sequence. 

Shaping is compared to the ‘hot and cold’ game, that we often play as children. The idea is that each time the dog performs a task that approximates the desired behaviour, it receives a reward. Repetition is key, because, from this point the dog is rewarded more the closer it get to what we want to achieve. For example, if we want to have a dog jump a high fence, first we must shape it to complete the easier task of jumping at a low height. Once the dog has mastered the low height. The bar can be raised in progressive steps until we achieve the desired height. An emphasis should is placed on achieving the incremental step, and it’s best to avoid the failsas much as possible. Alert and active dogs may often find it quicker to achieve the desired outcome, because usually there will be lots of activity in which to shape.

Steps to ‘shape’ a behaviour are suggested as:

1) Identify desired behaviour

2) Identify response to begin shaping

3) Reinforce initial behaviour

4) Require a closer approximation for reward

5) Return to previous level of approximation when dog is overly challenged 

Shaping can be used to change a behaviour, increase the frequency, speed up the behaviour, or intensify the behaviour. The key is to make sure that each step closer to the desired behaviour is well established before progressing. 

Once a number of behaviours have been established, potentially through shaping, chaining these behaviours can start. Chaining aims to put a range of behaviours together into one elaborate sequence. According to Burch and Bailey, it’s commonly used in advanced dog training. For example, in assistance dog training, where a dog would need to retrieve an item from a different location or cupboard.

A key initial step is to identify the required steps to chain. This is referred to as Task Analysis. There are two approaches; forward and backward. As the names suggest, a logical sequence of tasks is designed, and then taught from the start or the finish of the sequence depending on how easy it is to teach. For example, putting a toy in a box. Firstly, the dog it taught each task. To find the toy; to pick the toy up; to carry the toy to the box and then to drop the toy.

Due to the complexity of performing the sequence, trainers will use prompts to encourage and remind the dog of the task. Prompts are the little extra helps that allow the training to move through the sequence. In dog agility, we often see trainers using body language or voice commands to prompt the dog into the next action in the sequence. 

Prompts can be verbal, gestures, physical or modelling. Modelling is when the trainer carries out the action required. There are also environmental prompts provided by the surroundings. The goal with prompts is to reduce them over time through a process called fading. 

Further examples of chaining and shaping can be found on her website

In conclusion, Shaping is a way to develop a single behaviour. Once a behaviour is established, new behaviours can be developed. These are then put together, or chained / linked into a sequence. Both methods require a positive approach and reinforcement is essential to consistent and generalised results.