Choosing Target Behaviors

True freeshaping is about capturing what a dog is offering and following along. It is best not to go in to a freeshaping session with multiple dogs with a well drawn out plan, because it’s probable that one or more dogs will throw a monkey wrench in it.

Present obvious choices for the dogs, in the freeshaping sample session video above, I chose to add a couple of targets, an Alley Oop (yellow thingy) and a target disc. This gives our dogs more opportunities to get reinforcement and takes some of the pressure off the handler to be creative in selecting and capturing target behaviors.

Sample Behaviors

Here are some common sample behaviors to work on. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but should get us going. These behaviors were chosen based upon what my dogs are likely to offer. You may or may not have the same behaviors on your dogs.

  • Back Up
  • Spin/Twist
  • Stretch
  • Targeting
  • Heel

Behaviors to Avoid


Avoid working behaviors that are likely lead to frustration or a lack of action by the dogs being shaped. Barking is a big one that we will want to avoid. Sometimes our dogs will get frustrated during a freeshaping session and will vocalize that frustration. It is important that we as handlers do not inadvertently mark that barking if it happens at the same time our target behavior happens. It can and does happen, but we should do our best to avoid it.

One way to avoid barking is to reduce the criteria and raise the rate of reinforcement for the dog that is likely to bark. The dog can’t bark if she is too busy being successful and eating and chasing cookies.


Nothing kills a freeshaping session like a duration behavior. In the video, Ska, freeshaping queen extraordinaire, did just about nothing but lie down.

Ska has done a ton of Down Stay work over the last few months, as she was a bit of a neurotic worker due to all the freeshaping foundation from her puppy development. While she was not very active in this session, it was not a bad thing. It just didn’t make for exciting work.

Your dogs may offer a down, and you may, add value to duration, reinforce it, but do so understanding that reinforcing a duration behavior in a freeshaping session will make the session boring.

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