Bob Bailey Gives a Shout Out

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Well I asked Bob to check out the blog and he wrote this amazing reply back in the comments section. I couldn’t waste it in the comments section, for fear some of you would not see it so I got his permission to use it as today’s blog.  He wrote this when there was only two questions for him, which is fine, my goals wasn’t for him to answer questions on my blog but to give him topic to address in a new project. Okay this from Bob:

Methinks Susan may be prone to exaggeration about me. I was a lucky person who happened to be at the right place at the right time. However, let me respond to Sue and Melanie’s questions. Two factors here- how good is the trainer and how good is the dog. I have a little saying; “training the animal is the easy part.”

If I am training people, which is most of the time, then I want the student to “stretch” their skills. I believe one of the best tests of a trainer’s skill is pure shaping of a behavior. Even the most skilled of trainers should shape at least one behavior in an animal (or a person) in a month. The final “exam” in my beginning level chicken training is shaping the chicken to peck at something that had already been thoroughly extinguished. The student could not lure, remove objects, hide objects, or do anything other than reinforce behavior.

Now I’m ready to make Susan Garrett’s teeth clench. When actually training, I seldom began by shaping behavior; waste of time! When I wanted behavior I targeted, lured, modified the environment, essentially anything to get the behavior going. BUT, and this is important, I never did any more prompting than necessary to get the behavior. I never lured if I could target. I never targeted if I could modify the environment. I never modified the environment if the animal simply offered the behavior, or something close to it. If I used a prompt, I got rid of the prompt ASAP. If I could start the animal working with one prompt, that’s all I used. If I was still prompting responses the same way 10 reinforcements later I would go the wall and bang my head very hard three times! If you are going to prompt, then do it properly. Prompting responses should be as planned and practiced as shaping. If you don’t prompt correctly it will slow down training, not improve it.

I am, and my company was, very much into production training. High quality, reliable behavior obtained in the least time and effort was very much the name of the game. We “over-trained” animals so they would work for others (usually strangers) nearly as well as for us. We got the behavior ASAP and at the lowest cost- our economic lives depended on that.

SO! If you are already a skilled trainer and your dog is experienced and you are in a hurry, GET THE BEHAVIOR! Use whatever tools necessary to get the job done. If you are testing or expanding your skills, or the capabilities of your dog, shape, shape, shape. Shape properly. Plan! Practice your timing. Video your training. Change your behavior quickly and as necessary (same as with prompting).

So, how did I train? I usually let the animal tell me what behaviors it had. I then (prompted)(shaped) as needed to get the behavior as quickly as possible. To change an animal’s behavior quickly you should change your behavior ASAP. Doing more of the wrong thing does not make it right.

About repressed animals, I suggest high rates of reinforcement for anything (non-destructive) the animal does. Don’t always feed in the same place, which will get the animal moving around. Don’t try to shape (A) behavior at first. I believe it might be best not to lock a behaviorally repressed animal into giving a limited range of behavior. Later, when the animal is more receptive to change and giving new behavior, you can begin shaping new behaviors.

Hope this helps

Bob Bailey

BTW Bob didn’t make my teeth clench, as his hierarchy of prompts are none too different from what I would use. The only major difference is that I will likely get what I am after with targeting or  environmental manipulation alone, but I am not afraid to move on if I don’t!  I have a reputation that I do not allow luring and it is a well deserved rep, because I don’t allow it:). It is not because I don’t see there may be an occasional use for it in dog training, it is just that I have found IF I allow it at all, it never goes away. People don’t need my help to learn how to use a lure, they need it to teach dogs to be willing to offer responses. If I don’t allow students to lure ever, they become brilliant with the great skill of learning to shape behaviours.  As I have said a hundred times (when people say to me “but Bob Bailey says just get the behaviour!”) “if you need a lure to prompt the easy responses from your dog, why the heck do you think your dog will start to offer you the more complex ones.”  In other words, if you get used to luring, and your session always starts with luring then you are not going to have an opportunity to work through the hierarchy of prompts that Bob has suggested (a golden list btw people), as your dog will always just stand around waiting for you to start the show!

This morning as Bob undergoes open heart surgery, I am grateful for the growing mass of people frequenting this blog, that I can call upon to keep Bob in your prayers and positive visual imagery today.


  1. Bob Bailey is truly a rockstar of animal training. I didn’t know about the surgery, but I will be thinking of him all day. Please let us know when you hear that he is out of surgery.

  2. I will be thinking of Bob today and hoping for the best outcome for him with as quick of a recover as can be expected. My father underwent a triple bipass many years ago and they really have this surgery down to ‘routine’ now.

    How wonderful of you to have brought him to us. THANK YOU!

  3. All our thoughts are good for Bob this morning … Positive thinking leads to positive results …

    As for this mornings BLOG, WOW! Check in on Susan’s Blog and get wonderful ideas and fabulous training ideas … and Now, a second fabulous mind on the world of animal training … too cool! i LOVE it! Today I am grateful to both Susan (and now) Bob Bailey for being so generous as to share their wealth of knowledge with us all this morning! Thanks to BOTH of you!


  4. Bob is in my thoughts and prayers today. Thank you for this post.

  5. I just know Bob Bailey ‘cos you speak about him in “Shaping Success”. Since I’ve been learning lots of things from both of you. It’s a blessing you share your knowledge, thank you!

    I keep my fingers crossed for Bob!

  6. “If you are going to prompt, do it properly… if you don’t prompt correctly it will slow down training not improve it”

    If possible could you please explain this in more detail?
    I just need something more concrete to grasp the significance.

  7. I will be sending good thoughts out on Bob’s behalf over the next few weeks! What a terrific and detailed answer he has given me! That list is a keeper for sure! And it totally clarified for me the confusion I had regarding the “get the behavior first” stuff in the DVD and why we don’t want to lure unless we can’t get the behavior by getting the dog to offer it, modifying the environment or targeting first. Thank you, Bob and Susan.

  8. I love the positve, transparent, energy of this blog! Always searching and moving forward, and sharing with others.

    Thank you Bob Bailey for providing so much food for thought and sharing your sense of humour! I was giving thought to a question for someone who probably has heard just about everyone, but a little voice kept saying how do you engage people. People own the dogs, and how can you show them how incredible life is when you take the time to enrich the dog’s life through shaping games and positive reinforcement training.

    Susan, I’m so excited about your upcoming foundation handling workshop! We’re new to agility and have been working from your dvd’s (crate games, one jump and 2×2 weaves…we just got them so we’re a long way off from being masters) thanks to your blogs, you’ve opened up our world to agility, and exciting times ahead and best of all positive energy!

  9. Best wishes to Bob in his surgery and his recovery………we are thinking of him and praying for him and his family in this trying time.

    While I’ve never met him, he is a legend among animal trainers………..

  10. Dear Bob,

    Look forward to the stories you will have about shaping your nursing staff & roomies as you recover.

    Keeping you and your surgical team in our thoughts and prayers.

    Best wishes for a successful surgery & speedy recovery!

  11. Very glad Bob Bailey is doing well. Please pass on a couple of” training tips” for him. Cough and deep breathe every chance you get, keep moving exercise until you are tired, don’t be impatient with your body -this was major surgery and it will take time to recover Do not “shape” the medical staff !

  12. Bob and Susan, thanks so much for posting this. Guess what kind of dogs I see on a regular basis in rescue and in family dog training classes? You guessed it : repressed! Having your words as a guide for me is going to help a lot of people and a lot of dogs. Bob, I’m sending best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  13. Great post from Bob – and GREAT comment, Susan! I agree 100% with you view on how to get the behavior, and also in that Bob´s hierarchy of prompts is not very diffent from us “non-luring instructors” in practise.

    If everybody used luring the way Bob does, there would be no need to make a big deal about about not luring at all. Well, I think it´s still worth making a big deal about it 🙂

    Keep up the good work with this blog! 🙂

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