A try at back chaining

Back Chaining – an explanation

Take a complicated behavior and break it down into its smallest steps. Write them down!  Then train the dog at the last step, working backwards.  A wonderful explanation of back chaining can be found on Karen Pryor’s site:

Karen Pryor Back Chaining

Say you want a dog to fetch you a beer or soda out of the fridge.  Here are the steps:

  1. Dog walks to fridge
  2. Opens door of fridge. (Accomplished by pulling on a rope tied to handle)
  3. Dog grabs beer
  4. Dog closes fridge door  (You don’t want to have to do that yourself do you?)
  5. Dog brings beer to you. (While you are sitting on the couch of course!)
  6. Dog releases beer in your hand

Now ask yourself, “Whats the last thing the dog is doing?

He is holding the beer in his mouth and drops it into your hand.  I am assuming your dog probably doesn’t walk around with beer bottles in his mouth all of the time.  So you have to teach the dog to put the beer in his mouth.  I started with my dog grabbing a rag that would eventually be wrapped around the beer.  You can put peanut butter on the beer and reward the dog for licking it and eventually for putting the beer in his mouth without the rag.  Work up to the dog eventually holding the beer in his mouth.  (Bottles are better than cans if your dog likes to crunch and drink)  Say. “Get me a beer.” as he holds it in his mouth.  Click and treat every time he holds it in his mouth.  Increase time he holds it in his mouth.

After the dog reliably will hold the beer in his mouth for a few seconds.  He will need to bring it to you.

Have the dog grab the beer out of your hand.  (He is doing this reliably, right?)  Then walk a few steps backward while acting excited.  Dog should follow you.  Remember to say the words.”Get me a Beer.” Click and treat!  (Make sure to get that beer as he will drop it to get his treat.  A dropped beer is a foul on your part.)

Increase the distance you go backwards.

Then place the beer on the floor a few feet away from you.  Say, “Get me a beer.”  A quick dog will get the beer quickly, but some may need help.  You can walk over to the beer and act excited until he picks it up.  Praise excitedly as you walk a few feet back.  Then click and treat.  Keep increasing the distance between you and the beer.  Putting the beer closer and closer to the fridge.

The big step is next.  Closing the fridge door.

Open the fridge door.  Hold a treat in the air right over the open door so the dog jumps at it and accidently hits the outside of open door.  Click and treat every time he  hits the door with his paws.  Expect the dog to hit the door harder and more solid before he gets a click and treat.  This is raising the bar.  Some dogs will close the door on the first try.  Others may need several tries before accidently closing the door.  Make a huge hoopla when the door closes.  You can cue this behavior by saying, “close the door.” Every time he successfully closes the door.  Stop asking the dog to close the door, but just wait until the dog gets frustrated and starts offering behaviors.  He will eventually close the fridge door without you asking.

Now you need to link the two pieces of the chain together.

With you only a few steps away from the fridge, the door open, and a beer on the floor ask the dog to close the door.  Don’t click and treat!  Then ask the dog to get you the beer.  When he does.  Click and treat.  Eventually he will figure out that you want the beer every time he closes the fridge door.  Your dog just did a behavior chain!

Now here’s a problem.  The dog should already have the beer in his mouth when closing the fridge door!

Put some nice padding down in area around fridge door so the bottle doesn’t break if he drops it.  With the fridge door open, take a beer out and hand the dog a beer, see if he closes the door without asking him too.  If he does and keeps the beer in his mouth.  Horaay!  Have a big party and give lots of treats.  If not, you might have to start all over again training him to close the door but he only gets a click if he keeps the beer in his mouth.  At each new step, you need to lower your expectations all the way to the beginning.  He might only get a click and treat after touching the door with his paw while holding beer in his mouth.  Or even if he just approaches the fridge door with the beer in his mouth.

Once he has the closing of the door with the beer in his mouth down, time to expect him to get the beer himself.  Remember you keep giving him the beer out of the fridge.

Tell the dog to get you a beer.  He should be able to get the beer out of the fridge as he now knows where it comes from.  No praise until he closes the fridge door and approaches you!  If not, go back to closing the door with the beer in his mouth.  Keep increasing the distance between  you and the fridge when asking your dog to get you a beer.  Eventually, the dog should be able to bring you a beer from an open fridge, close the door, and walk all the way to the couch where you are sitting.  Just remember to only increase the distance gradually.

Next step?  He will need to figure out how to open the fridge door!  I think you can figure this out on your own.

Start by standing next to the closed fridge door.  Click and treat every time he gets close to the rope hanging from the handle.  Keep raising the bar.  He has to touch the rope, he has to grab the rope, he has to pull on the rope, finally he has to successfully open the door before getting a reward.  Get it?  Of course you do.

Continue with this reasoning going  back to the first step.  Which is you sitting on the couch and asking the dog for a beer.  Link those little behaviors together into a chain.  If he messes up go back to the step he consistently did well.  Work on that a few times, then ask for the behavior he messed up.

Soon, you will have a dog that can get you a beer!

Warning!  You may have to teach the dog to pull gently on the rope on the door.  A powerful dog can pull a fridge down on top of him.  NEVER leave the rope on the door.  He will help himself to goodies or play tug with himself when you are not around!

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