Trainer’s Notes – Freeshaping

Freeshaping Defined

Freeshaping, also known as shaping, is essentially capturing behaviors that are offered by the dog and reinforcing them so they are more likely to happen again.

Freeshaping with Multiple Dogs is an interesting and fun exercise that gives handlers a chance to practice working with multiple dogs without having to worry about damaging behaviors that are already under stimulus control and gives the dogs a chance to practice staying on task while other dogs are being worked.

Marking of Behaviors


A clicker is a great tool for training situations requiring precision or clarity.

At Pawsitive Vybe, we use clickers with high value food and in challenging environments. Due to this kind of usage, the clicker is a novel sound that has great importance. Usinghaa clicker with multiple dogs could be a problem for some handlers who ascribe to the ‘every click must be followed by a cookie’ philosophy, as clicks will happen without each dog getting reinforced.


Using a verbal marker enables the handler to keep both hands free for managing the dog and also to efficiently manage the cookie process.

A verbal marker allows emotion and energy to be conveyed with the marker.

Dog’s Name

We sometimes use the dog’s name as a marker when working multiple dogs. It’s a nice and simple mark that is easy to keep our heads wrapped around as the freeshaping session gets fast and furious.

We can also use the dog’s name in conjunction with the verbal mark,”Yes!” in order to let the dogs know for whom the mark is intended. “Yes, Harpryr!”

Finger Point

Using a Finger Point as a marker is a really cool technique that allows the handler to silently mark and reinforce behaviors. Sometimes we need to let a dog know that we like what they have done, but don’t want to be bum rushed by a pack of cookie seeking dogs.

Another nice aspect to this mark is that the dog must be looking at the handler to receive the mark. They have to pay Attention to the handler in order to get the opportunity to be reinforced.


We’re going to be tossing cookies around in this session and therefore have to be very aware of how our dogs respond to food and frustration. If one of our dogs is a resource guarder, we’ll have to either not allow that dog to participate in this session or exercise caution in working with this issue.

Related Articles

My Dog is not Food Motivated

This issue comes up every once in a while in my discussions and training sessions with students and potential students. Personally, I’ve never ran across a dog that’s not food motivated, and I don’t really think they exist. Any dog that is in decent shape and is hungry is motivated by food.


  1. So inspired by your work with multiple dogs! I know I can improve my situation of three dogs in the house barking their heads off while I work one outside. I am trying to work my way through some of the material on your blog and videos. Finger pointing — I’ll try this. I was sort of gesturing the clicker towards the one I was clicking, but it’s not ideal. Also, I always thought I use a lot of food, but I am impressed by your rapid fire delivery. What do you use for treats, and do you try to compensate for it by smaller meals?

    1. Hey Holly,
      Sorry I’m late to the party here… had some site issues over the last few weeks and am just now getting back on track…

      I would start by working the dogs in front of eachother – small scale, easy criteria low energy level. It’s hard to get reinforcement on them when you are outside and they are inside.

      We tend to use kibble for training, unless it’s necessary to use something awesome (high distraction, super tough skill…).

      We do take out food if they’ve done a lot of cookie work, but we make sure they at least get a few clinks in the bowl regardless of how many cookies they have eaten in a training session.

      Thanks for poking around – and if you’ve made any other comments in the last couple of weeks, they might not be here any longer.


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