When dogs are learning the basics, they are taken through simple, single behaviors. These include come, down and sit. Once the training becomes more advanced, the dogs are introduced to the chaining of several single behaviors. When it comes to learning behavior chains, there are two ways that are used in behavior training:
Forward chaining involves the dog learning to chain a series of behaviors, usually in an orderly fashion from the first to the last behavior. The behaviors are taught in the order in which they should be performed.
In back chaining, the order of behaviors is reversed. This means that the last behavior is performed first, with the preceding behavior following. The behaviors are carried out in a backwards fashion. If you are looking to teach a dog to drop a toy in the basket, start out by teaching the dog to drop the toy in the basket. Every time this is done successfully, reward the dog.
Repeat this action several times until it has a strong history of reinforcement. This will cause the dog to perform the behavior reliably. Continue the training by teaching the dog to walk and drop the toy in the basket. After every successful action, reward the dog.
By teaching the chain in sections and starting with the last behavior and making use of the hold and release, all sections of the chain end up being strong and well understood. The reason for this success is because each time the dog engages in the chain, he comes to the end and finishes the chain with something he already knows, something familiar.
There are several advantages to using back chaining as a way of training dogs. First, the small steps involved in the process are quite easy for the dog to assimilate and the small incremental successes only work to instill more confidence in the dog.
As the dog makes progress through the steps, there is a build-up of anticipation brought about by the eagerness to complete the final step and receive the well-deserved reward. Backchaining proves very successful when it comes to training a dog to perform complex behaviors.
The retrieve is probably the most common behavior chain taught during dog training. The retrieve chain begins with what is called ‘marking’. This involves watching the ‘retrieve’ object travel through the air and land on the ground. The marking is then followed by the chase, then the pick-up, followed by the hold, the carry, the return and finally the ‘delivery’, which involves placing the particular object of interest into the hands of the owner, ready for the entire chain to be repeated.
Even though back chaining has proven very effective as a training method, there are a few things to pay attention for.
- If the chain is long, the dog may start becoming sloppy and skip some behaviors so as to get to the final one as fast as possible and get rewarded.
- Identify the weakest link in the chain in which the performance of the dog is wanting.
- Work on strengthening that particular behavior separately. Re-introduce the behavior into the chain once it is fluent enough.