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The behavior chain game

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Even a relative beginner to dog training can start creating behavior chains and there are some real advantages to doing so early in your training career.

Chains are endlessly more interesting to dogs than single behaviors.  As a rule, single behaviors rely on external reinforcers to make them worth doing; chains are interesting in their own right.  Chains allow for natural proofing early on because your dog learns to pay attention to be successful; it’s a game! And finally, chains reduce reinforcement; the dog has to complete multiple elements for one motivator at the end.

Here’s an example.  Let’s consider a dog that has the following foundation skills:

Pivot with a disc (TEAM1). Back up to a target (TEAM 1). Take a position at a target (TEAM1). Recall to front  (TEAM2 simple chain). Stay for a short period (TEAM1) and…fetch under distraction (TEAM3).

What can you do with those pieces?

A lot!

How about this: place your dog at your side on the disc. Throw your retrieve object straight ahead. Now, pivot on that disk 180° away from the object you just threw. Heel a couple of feet forwards and leave your dog. After a short hold, cue your dog to back up to the disc and then recall to front, include a finish, and send your dog to retrieve the object.

Could you do it? Did your dog pay attention? Was it interesting? Maybe you didn’t get all of it the first time, but a little here and a little there  and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your dog buys  into the “Behavior chain game.”

here’s a video example of a similar sequence.   Notice that these are simple, single behaviors that are chained together:

What else can you do with those pieces? How about if you add in additional TEAM1 level skills, like a send around a cone or a position change at a short distance?

Playing with foundation pieces in chains will cause the handler to “think differently” about training – not just teaching the “tested” behavior chains, but really reinforcing the individual pieces. And, possibly most important, the combinations are endless!

Go ahead and try it. Think about the pieces that you have and create a unique chain.  Share your chains on the Fenzi Team Players list on Facebook; let’s see your creativity!

If you’re not familiar with the TEAM titling program, you can learn more at Fenzi Team Titles.


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

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