Video: Creating a New Behavior with Shaping by Successive Approximation

Mary Huntsberry
Helping Pets Behave
1 min readApr 4, 2020

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The end result of trick training is a behavior put on cue, useful or for show, the animal would typically not display naturally. Examples of these tricks can be seen all over the place: in amusement parks, TV, movies, and at the circus. In zoos animals learn cues for health maintenance procedures like elevating one foot at a time for trimming or cleaning. Canine events like agility, obedience, and free-style dance competitions contain complex behaviors that require the dog learn precise chains of behavior.

Since animals aren’t born understanding the behavioral interpretation of any verbal or physical cue, the first step is to create a new behavior. This can be done in a number of different ways. Many trainers use shaping by successive approximation to create behavior. In a nutshell, this procedure involves having a clear definition of your goal behavior before you start, and deciding ahead of time which behaviors, of the millions possible, can be built upon to gradually develop a new/goal behavior. It is these behaviors that you will mark with your newly created conditioned reinforcer, followed by reward. What this means is that the clicker is used to indicate a successful behavior.

In this video I shape my Shih Tzu, Cricket, to fetch my slipper.

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Mary Huntsberry
Helping Pets Behave

An Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Fear Free Certified Professional helping people and their pets through tough times.