To start Free Shaping, begin with an object such as a half full water bottle, a football, a ring full of keys, or one of his toys. Next, choose a goal for your dog’s interaction with the object. For example, you would like him to roll the water bottle with his nose, press a button on a video game controller with his left paw, open a container with his paws, or roll a soccer ball into a box with his nose. Place the object on the floor near your dog, and get ready for the game to begin. You and your dog will now play a “hot and cold” game. He will likely attempt to explore the object you’ve just placed in front of him. You will now mark and reward for any move he makes that is closer to your ultimate goal for the behavior. If your goal is for him to roll the water bottle with his nose, you may start by marking and rewarding for him doing some version of the following: looking toward the bottle, walking toward the bottle, putting his head down near the bottle, touching the bottle, touching the bottle with his nose, making the bottle move, making the bottle roll, making the bottle roll further, etc. There may be periods of quiet while your dog thinks about his options and what to do with the object. Be patient, and let him think. If your dog tries the wrong thing, don’t do anything. If he is motivated by the food, he will soon learn he is guessing what it is you want him to do, and he will try something else after an incorrect guess. He learns that things he does can produce things he likes (treats and verbal praise from you).
When your dog has completed the goal you set for him, you can give it a name so he can later perform it on cue. You can say the name just before he starts to perform the behavior. Later, you can use the same object and change the goal, or you can use a completely new object and new goal. This use of positive reinforcement dog training will help you teach your dog tricks while building your relationship with him, building his confidence, and giving him something fun to do.