"Chaining" is a training method that involves teaching your dog to perform a series of behaviors in a specific order. This can be a useful technique for teaching your dog complex behaviors.
To chain a behavior, you will need to break the behavior down into smaller, more manageable steps. Once you have identified the steps, you can start teaching your dog each step individually. Once your dog is able to perform each step reliably, you can start chaining the steps together.
Back-chaining is the most common way to train complex behaviors. In back chaining, you start by teaching your dog the last step in the chain.
For instance, for "Fetch", you train the dog to drop the ball into your hand before you start tossing the ball for the dog to get it. You've probably met a lot of dogs who will sort of fetch, but won't drop the ball into your hand!
- Start by teaching the dog to take and hold the object. Then train the dog give it.
- Then train the dog to bring it and give it.
- Then to train to to pick it up, bring it and give it.
- Then to go out, get it, bring it, and give it.
Here's the steps in more detail:
- Teach your dog to hold the object in their mouth. To do this, hold a treat in your hand and present it to your dog. When your dog opens their mouth to take the treat, place the object in their mouth instead. Hold your hand over their mouth for a few seconds, then release it. Give your dog a treat and praise them. Repeat this over and over until your dog is reliably holding the object in their mouth.
- Teach your dog to drop the object on command. To do this, hold a treat in your hand and present it to your dog. When your dog opens their mouth to take the treat, say the command "Drop it." As soon as your dog drops the object, give them the treat and praise them. Repeat this several times until your dog is reliably dropping the object on command. Teach this daily for at least a week before going to the next step.
Once your dog is able to perform the last step reliably, you add the second-to-last step to the chain.
- Teach your dog to bring the object back to you. To do this, start by standing a few feet away from your dog. Place the object just a little ways away from you. When your dog takes the ball and then brings the object to you, give them the cue "Drop it", say "Yes!", and give them a treat.
Once the dog is able to do the second-to-last step and then the last step, increase the distance.
- So the dog will bring the object to you from a tiny ways away, toss it a little farther ways away. When they bring it to you, say "Drop it" and when they do that, do Yes/Treat when they bring it to you. Once the dog can do it from a distance 5 out of 5 times, increase the distance by a few feet. When your dog brings the object to you, always say the cue "drop it." As soon as your dog drops the object, give them the treat and praise them. Repeat this over and over.
Here are some tips for chaining behaviors:
- Use positive reinforcement (such as a treat) and a marker word (such as "Yes!") to mark reward your dog for performing each step correctly.
- Be patient and consistent with your training. It may take some time for your dog to learn to chain the behaviors together.
- If your dog is having trouble learning a particular step, break it down into even smaller steps.
- If your dog is getting frustrated, take a break and come back to the training later.
Note that "Fetch" can be much more complex that the steps above.
In competition, the steps are more like the following, and these can take months or years to learn. In this more complex chain of behaviorss, you can be training several of the behaviors, and then add them together (backwards) only once they know all the behaviors really well.
- Sit/Stay in heel position while object is thrown.
- Send out to object.
- Pick-up object.
- Return to handler.
- Sit in front of handler.
- Hold object while sitting
- Release the object.
- Move from "front" to heel position.