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Errorless shaping for dog and animal trainers

Shaping behaviors inside out!

Agnieszka Janarek Agnieszka Janarek
Start: 01 Jul 2024
Next: 01 Sep 2024


  • Duration: 6 weeks.
  • Learning materials: Written lessons with video tutorials.
  • Access to other Premium members' threads for additional insights.
  • Certificate of attendance upon completion.
  • Lifetime, 24/7 access to course materials.
  • Join the vibrant Tromplo community.
  • Earn 4 loyalty program points.


  • Earn 15 loyalty program points.
  • Personalized attention: Instructor analyzes 12 minutes of your training videos weekly.
  • Engage in interactive learning with homework and daily feedback.
$139.00 Add to Cart

Are you overwhelmed by all the shaping tutorials, myths, and tips you can find on the internet? Have you heard about errorless shaping but have no clue how to actually do it? Are you getting stuck at the glass ceiling with progression? Are you afraid to raise criteria because you’re worried your dog will make an error? Is your dog offering tons of unwanted behaviors every time you pick up a clicker?  Do you want shaping to be easy for both you and the dog? I’ve got you covered! This course is perfect for you!


What can you expect?

We will go beyond random clicking and dive deep into deliberate actions that build the desired movement patterns. Our focus will be on avoiding extinction and achieving errorless shaping sessions, ensuring effective training from start to finish. Whether you’re a beginner, an advanced student, or a dog sport enthusiast, this course will provide you with everything you need to know about shaping behaviors.


Who would benefit from taking this course?

You will! I promise! It doesn’t matter if you’re a dog trainer facing challenges with dogs adding unnecessary behaviors during training, resulting in deviations from the target behavior; you will find valuable insights and strategies in this course.

Similarly, if your dog quickly loses interest or exhibits avoidance behaviors during shaping sessions, you will learn techniques to maintain engagement and motivation. Don’t worry if you’re a complete newbie; this course will set you up with the correct and errorless approach to shaping from the beginning. If you’re a professional trainer seeking to enhance the quality of your services and expand your expertise in behavior analysis, you will find this course a perfect match. If you’re a dog sport enthusiast, I promise you will learn techniques that allow you to teach whatever behaviors you need for competition.


What will you learn from this course?

Throughout this course, we will focus on detailed observation and operationalization, feeding the inner geeks within us. We will cover a range of topics, including:

  • Understanding the concept of shaping and its practical application.
  • Recognizing and managing extinction and frustration in training.
  • Exploring the nuances of loopy training and understanding the concept of resurgence.
  • Mastering errorless shaping techniques and achieving desired behaviors.
  • Step-by-step guidelines for effective shaping sessions.
  • Effective planning and antecedent arrangement for successful shaping.
  • Applying backchaining techniques in shaping exercises.
  • Utilizing cues effectively within the shaping process.
  • Strategies for handling errors and maintaining progress.
  • Shaping behaviors with objects and without objects.

As your instructor, I am committed to ensuring the transparency of the learning process. Join me in this course to gain a deep understanding of errorless shaping sessions, even with your eyes closed. Don’t miss this opportunity to elevate your shaping skills and achieve remarkable results.

Course Testimonials

I think it is so important to always try to become a better trainer and by taking an online course I both get an incentive to train – which is of course one prerequisite to improvement – but I also watch myself on video and can review what happened and even more crucial, I get feedback from a skilled trainer, who sees things from a different perspective than I do.

In this course specifically it is Agnieszka who provides the feedback and she has the perfect blend of pushing us further, sometimes setting us on a slightly different path or just cheering us on when we’re progressing. She is very creative in her solutions to any problems that arise and the feedback is so precise.

The content of the course gave me new insights in errorless and loopy training and I feel more confident moving on from this, though we didn’t reach my intended goal. But after all, it isn’t a competition, we are all on our own paths as teams with our dogs and the joy really is in the journey together, not necessarily the speed!

Carolina Sixt

January 22, 2024

In this course not only I understood how deep is the ocean of shaping, but Agnieszka also did great work in dividing it into small “chewable pieces” always perfectly described and explained in lectures.

The course as always was individualized- adjusted to the level of participants and their needs. We were working on our chosen behaviours but there were always many inspirations of behaviours to learn from Agnieszka’s lectures. The form of course allows also to see other participants, which is very valuable. I love that there is lots of knowledge but always presented in a practical way both due to Agnieszka’s videos and various practical homework. The content is packed, but after 6 weeks I can still use materials for our further work for many months. I recommend it for all dog handlers who want to teach their dogs more consciously and comfortably.

Janina Gmiter

January 11, 2024

This course is really important for me. I thought I was doing many things correctly but I discovered I wasn’t. The most important things I learned are how to describe the behavior I want to teach (we never do this. How can we teach a behavior if we don’t have in mind how it looks like? How can our dog learn it?), analyze it and divide it into small pieces. And this is really the key to shape behaviors. I really learned how to set my dog up to success. Agnieszka is an amazing teacher, her lessons are clear and so useful. I highly recommend this course even if you think you are a great trainer!

Arianna Tomassoli

June 30, 2023


  • Week 1 01 Jul 2024

    • Welcome!

      Read this before proceeding to the first lesson! Welcome, students! …

    • Shaping – what it doesn’t look like

      In the first lesson, we will embark on a journey to demystify shaping by dispelling its myths and misconceptions. Shaping,…

    • 3. Shaping – what does it look like? (Free lesson)

      This lesson will be theory-heavy, but don’t worry; we will break down each definition into teachable units! Definition of shaping: …

    • Extinction & Frustration

      Happiness is a function of reinforcement, depression is a function of punishment and frustration is a function of extinction” dr.

    • Learning cycle aka. loopy training

      Learning is defined as changing your behavior based on experience with consequences. The process of learning happens in…

    • Shaping – capturing – luring – moulding

      Learning strategies can be categorized into two spectrums: direct strategies and self-directed shaping behaviors. Direct strategies include guidance, luring, molding,…

    • Shaping your trainer’s skills: observation and operationalization

        Do you see what I see?  If I were to name one most important skill any trainer needs…

    • PORTL

      The Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab   PORTL is a tabletop game that provides an interactive environment for…

    • Shaping your trainer’s skills: operationalize behavior of your choice

      In this lesson, we will continue building on the exercise from Lesson 7. However, this time, your task is to…

  • Week 2 08 Jul 2024

    • Shaping your trainer’s skills: the essence!

      We’ve dedicated the past week to observation and operationalization, and you’ve done an impressive job delving into the minutiae, exploring…

    • Stairways to heaven or Legoland?

      I am not sure where I have heard it for the first time, but thinking of shaping as lego blocks…

    • How to get the behavior?

      One of the biggest struggles, difficulties I hear from my students is how to get the behavior?    How do…

    • Shaping your trainer’s skills: moduling

      We are so close to getting the shaping plan ready for your chosen behavior! There are only a few things…

    • Cue for shaping – revisited

      This lesson is just a “refresh” of what we have learned in Trainer’s Toolbox for those of you who hadn’t…

  • Week 3 15 Jul 2024

    • Backchaining shaping plan!

      When I think about putting together separate skills into one behavior – what comes to my mind is backchaining.  Even…

    • Transport

      Following a hand full of treats.* What can be easier, right? I can tell you from my own experience that…

    • Shaping your trainer’s skills: criteria: tag it!

      We have now reached the final skill trainer needs before starting the shaping program.  Picking out the criteria! You got…

    • Shaping spreadsheet

            Shaping Spreadsheet pdf…

  • Week 4 22 Jul 2024

    • Errors

      Until now (in Trainer’s Toolbox), we were just resetting the incorrect repetition with treat toss or delivery without the click. …

    • Are you ready?

      It’s been a while!  I know! We took three full weeks to break down all the necessary skills you need…

    • Flowcharts

      One thing I could not live without is flowcharts!  I think they are literally one of the best tools you…

  • Week 5 29 Jul 2024

    • Raising criteria!

      Rasing criteria?  Handlers often find it problematic to decide on the right moment for raising criteria.  If you do it…

    • Duration

      To begin with, we need to define what we mean by duration.  More steps in heelwork? Does that count as…

  • Week 6 05 Aug 2024

    • Stimulus control

      Stimulus control is “a situation in which the frequency, latency, duration, or amplitude of behavior is altered by the presence or…

    • Free Shaping

      In this lesson, I would like to cover a topic you may encounter in the animal training world.  Free shaping. …

    • Final Thoughts: Celebrating Achievements and Continuing the Journey

      Farewell and Keep Moving Forward! Mega Cheers…

Free Lesson

Shaping – what does it look like?

This lesson will be theory-heavy, but don’t worry; we will break down each definition into teachable units!

Definition of shaping: 

We will go through some of the definitions of shaping you can find in the literature:

  •  B.F. Skinner:

In Science and Human Behavior B.F. Skinner described shaping by creating an analogy:

“Operant conditioning shapes behavior as a sculptor shapes a lump of clay…The final product seems to have a special unity or integrity of design, but we cannot find a point at which this suddenly appears. In the same sense, an operant is not something which appears full grown in the behavior of the organism. It is the result of a continuous shaping process.”

  • J.Cooper, T. Heron, W. Heward:

“Using differential reinforcement to produce a series of gradually changing response classes; each response class is a successive approximation toward a terminal behavior. Members of an existing response class are selected for differential reinforcement because they more closely resemble the terminal behavior.”

  • Kay Laurance  

Kay discriminates between shaping and micro-shaping.

“Shaping often termed shaping through successive approximations, to a goal behavior. Shapi g can lead to a very high level of error and frustration and the learner will need good mental stamina and motivation to keep trialing. Error is calculated as any unsuccessful action.

Micro-shaping is at the opposite end of the spectrum when the opportunity for error is minimized by control of the environment, usually the placement of the reinforcer. This enables the subsequent behavior to have a chance of 95% success”

  • Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and Mary Hunter

“Think of shaping as a straw rather than a funnel. With this mindset, the teacher starts narrowly by reinforcing a particular behavior the learner can already do. The component is then extended to create a new behavior or combined in a novel way with other behaviors. […] Rather than moving from broad to narrow, the teacher’s criteria for reinforcement and the amount of variability of the learner’s behavior both stay narrow the whole time”


The common ground of these definitions would be:

“Shaping a procedure relying on differential reinforcement of successive approximations to achieve a desired form of behavior.

Where many (like even Kay) would see a space for interpretation in this definition, a space for use of extinction I would argue otherwise. For me, the crucial part of this definition is “successive approximations“. Successive means leading towards the goal, which means they need to be successful. If we also apply what B.F.Skinner taught us about errors:

“Errors are not necessary for learning to occur. Errors are not a function of learning or vice versa, nor are they blamed on the learner. Errors are a function of poor analysis of behavior, a poorly designed shaping program, moving too fast from step to step in the program, and the lack of the prerequisite behavior necessary for success in the program.”,

we will immediately begin to see that shaping is or at least should be an errorless procedure.


What does it look like?

One way to approach errorless shaping is by aiming for a specific success rate, such as Kay’s definition of micro-shaping, which suggests at least 95% successful repetitions. This approach eliminates ambiguity, which can be particularly beneficial for novice trainers.

Another approach involves analyzing each training loop individually and ensuring that error contingencies are not repeated. If a mistake occurs, avoid repeating the actions that led to it and make adjustments. Modify something in your setup to prevent the error from happening again. This approach requires more flexibility and adaptability from the handler throughout the session. While it still aligns with the 95% rule, it places greater responsibility on the handler during the training process.

It’s essential to remember that as a teacher, your role is to create an environment that facilitates smooth learning and progression through the approximations. Setting up the stage for the learner and arranging the training environment appropriately are key factors in achieving an errorless approach.

Scientific parts of the definition broken down:

Differential reinforcement:

  • a procedure where only behaviors that meet a specific criterion are reinforced, while others undergo extinction;
  • example: a teacher reacts only when a child raises his/her hand but does not react when the child starts screaming.

Successive approximations:

  • it is often highly unlikely that the desired behavior in its final form will be offered in the first stages of shaping the behavior;
  • some behaviors do not belong to the natural repertoire of the given organism;
  • without establishing successive approximations, i.e., consecutive stages of the behavior, it is impossible to achieve it.


A procedure where the reinforcement of a previously reinforced behavior is discontinued (this refers to both positive and negative reinforcement), which lowers the frequency of the behavior. We will talk more about extinction in a separate lesson this week. 


The reappearance of previously extinguished behavior during the process of extinction of another (recently reinforced) behavior. 

Read more here

Antecedent Arrangements:

They are antecedent manipulations of environmental events prior to the occurrence of the behavior. Could be either problem behavior or the occurrence of the behavior we target to increase, to replace the problem behavior.

From a shaping perspective, the antecedent arrangement is “setting the stage”. It’s the first thing you got to think about when creating a shaping plan. What can I do to increase my learner’s chances of success? What objects to choose? What location in the training room? Should I use any environmental boundaries? 

This is an example of choosing an incorrect object for teaching behavior. Look how many frustration behaviors got in since there was too much extinction involved.

What can we shape? 

J.Cooper, T. Heron, W. Heward: “The end product of shaping – a terminal behavior – can be claimed when the topography, frequency, latency, duration, or amplitude/magnitude of the target behavior reaches a predetermined criterion level.”

In other words, we can shape:

  • topography: refining motor patterns of sit, heelwork, throwing a ball 
  • frequency: increasing number of steps in heelwork during one minute, increasing number of pushups during thirty seconds session
  • latency: increasing the time between barking, decreasing the time between scent cue and freeze response in nosework
  • duration: increasing the time of down-stay, increasing the time of plank
  • amplitude/magnitude: increasing the height of the jump, increasing the strength of paws targeting the station in flyball

Within topography:

It means that the form of the behavior remains constant, but differential reinforcement of successive approximations is applied to another measurable dimension of behavior, like for example the accuracy of treat tossing. 

Across topography: 

More specifically across different topographies. It means that selected members of a response class are reinforced. Teaching someone to speak would be a perfect example. We shape through different topographies: lip movement, speech sounds, etc. but they all lead to a terminal goal; speaking. 


One crucial takeaway from this lesson and the entire course is that there is no single correct way to shape behaviors. The goal of this course is to equip you with the necessary skills and prerequisites to find a tailored series of steps for each learner, behavior, and environment, regardless of your previous experience. There is always another approach, another progression to achieve the desired behavior. However, there is no universal guidebook that outlines how to shape specific behaviors like X, Y, or Z. While the laws of behavior are universal, the practical application must be adjusted to the individual learner in front of you.

If you have any questions about this lesson or anything else, please let me know. In the first lesson of week 2, titled “Stairways to Heaven or Legoland,” we will delve deeper into a practical approach to shaping. We will explore a modular, nonlinear approach compared to the traditional “going up the ladder” method.

Feel free to reach out if you need further clarification or assistance.