What is Chaining in Dog Training?

Adrienne Farricelli

Chaining is dog training is simply a sequence of behaviors occurring one after the other. Several types of chains exist.

Chaining in dogs training involves a sequence of behaviors which end with a terminal reinforcer (reward). Many behaviors in dogs are sequentially chained by skilled dog trainers, but sometimes certain types of chains may be inadvertently encouraged by dog owners, triggering unwanted behaviors to put roots and establish. Let's take a look at several types of chains in dog training and how they are purposely or inadvertently taught.

What are Chained Behaviors?

Chaining is a process of training dogs to complete several behaviors in a sequence, but this training method is also used among humans. For example, children can be taught to wash their hands or tie their shoes through chaining by encouraging them to perform several small behavior components in segments and then linking them together as in a chain. Parents and teachers can split tasks into small components and then can prompt them one- by -one until the sequence of behaviors operates as a functional unit. Reinforcement (rewards) are offered to keep the child motivated.

For example, to wash hands, the child is taught to first open the faucet, then to pass soap on the hands, then to rub the hands together, rinse the soap off and then close the faucet and dry the hands. The final reward is having clean hands, but parents or teachers may offer praise or a candy.

In dog training, a dog may be taught to open a crate door by approaching the crate, tugging at the attached rope enough to open the door, and then enter the crate and lie down.

Another popular example of a behavior chain in dog training is fetch. We think of fetch as one behavior, when in reality, it's composed by smaller units that needs to be taught (picking up a toy, carrying it to the owner, dropping it) In dog training, reinforcement often entails praise along with food or toys offered as rewards.

Desirable and Undesirable Behavior Chains

Not all behavior chains are desirable. Sure, many behavior chains trained by experienced trainers involve desirable behaviors, but sometimes chains of behaviors may involve inappropriate responses.

For example, a dog owner may wish to train a dog to sit as he waits for his meal, but if he isn't careful, he may inadvertently reward an inappropriate behavior. Perhaps the dog sits, then jumps on the owner and then sits again, leading to a a chain made out of appropriate responses and inappropriate responses too.

In another example, a dog craving attention may bark at the owner for attention. The owner ignores this, so the dog decides to bark and then paw at the owner's clothes. The owner, now frustrated, gives the dog attention by yelling at the dog and pushing the dog away.

Although this is a form of negative attention, to a dog craving attention, this is better than no attention at all, so from now on he will bark and paw when he wants the owner to focus on him.

A chain made out of inappropriate responses establishes. It is therefore important to make sure not to reward any inappropriate behavior chains.