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Behaviour shaping sounds like a very complicated concept, but it's actually very simple. The best way to illustrate it is by means of an example. Suppose you want to teach your dog to touch a certain drawer on the kitchen dresser with his nose (teaching the dog to touch various objects with his nose is called targeting and is a very useful training tool as it is something dogs do almost instinctively):

Shaping consists of breaking the behaviour you want down into tiny little increments, or steps, and training them one at a time. Although you don't know exactly what the dog will do, it's a good idea to have a list ahead of time. Here is one you might make for training the dog to target the drawer.
Things the dog might do:

  • glance toward the dresser
  • turn head slightly toward the dresser
  • turn head more toward the dresser
  • move head in direction of dresser
  • move head further toward dresser
  • take one step toward dresser
  • take two steps toward dresser
  • take (any number of steps) toward dresser
  • touch dresser with nose
  • touch dresser closer to specific drawer
  • touch specific drawer