Skip to main content

Backchaining in Dog Training

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

What is backchaining in dog training an how can it benefit your dog? You may have heard about the backchaining training technique and may wonder how to implement it. First of all, it's helpful to better understand how the process works. Interestingly, this technique is not only used for training dogs, but it's actually used also in classes by teachers teaching oral language skills. This method works great, for instance, when a teacher wants to teach how to pronounce polysyllabic words.

In this case, the teacher would pronounce the last syllable, the student would repeat it and then the teacher would add the prior syllable adding the last syllable and so forth. Let's say the teacher is trying to encourage a student to pronounce the word "catastrophic." In this case, the teacher will say "phic" allowing the student to repeat, afterward she would pronounce "stro-phic" , then "ta-stro-phic and finally "catastrophic"

Why would a teacher employ this method? Some good reasons are that it is less overwhelming, instills confidence and places less stress on the student. The same method can be used for teaching entire sentences. It can also be used when learning to play a piece with the guitar or other instrument. In this case, you begin playing the end of the piece to be performed and move back to the beginning by putting together small parts. According to guitar teacher Larry McDonald, recent research demonstrated how endorphins (the feel good chemicals) were released when the musician reached the end of the piece.

In a similar fashion, dogs benefit from backchaining as this helps them attain faster fluency in taught behaviors while minimizing the margins for error. So how is backchaing used when it comes to training dogs? We will see a few examples in the next paragraphs.


Using Backchaining to Train Dogs

So how and when would you use the backchaining training method? Just as backchaining turns helpful when putting together multi-syllable words in humans, backchaining is helpful when putting together multi-behavior tasks in dogs. When training dogs, backchaining instills enthusiasm and builds anticipation because the dog knows what is happening next and you can literally see the dog on edge from the trepidation.

In this case, just as the musician gets his load of endorphins when he finishes playing his piece, you want your dog to get a load of rewards when he performs the final behavior.

This is based on the Premack Principle, also known as "Grandma's Law, basically "eat your broccoli first and then you can have ice cream." In back chaining, the former behaviors are the dog's broccoli and the final behavior is the ice cream sundae with the cherry on top! Yes, more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.

So when can backchaining be used? This method can be used for when you are preparing to compete for a Canine Musical Freestyle event or any other competition that requires putting a series of behaviors together such as running an obstacle course in a precise sequence or tracking.

A common example is the retrieve. In a retrieve the dog must put together a series of behaviors. Here is the list of behaviors:

  1. The dog must first catch the tossed ball, or if he misses, pick it up from the floor.
  2. The dog must hold and bring the ball to the owner.
  3. The dog must drop the ball in the owner's hands.

These are three tasks in one, just as a polysyllable word! In this case, if you were to train using forward chaining you would train the units of behavior starting from step 1, then step 2 and then end up with step 3. If instead, you were to do back chaining, you would start from the last unit in reverse order moving forward to the beginning. Therefore, you would start with training step 3, then adding step 2 and then adding step 1. Here is an example:

  1. First, you would teach the dog to hold the ball in his mouth and drop it.
  2. Afterward, you add some distance so your dog would hold the ball in his mouth and have to bring it to you so he can drop it.
  3. Next, you would toss the ball, have your dog catch it, bring it towards you and drop it in your hands.

Some important considerations:

  • Make sure the prize at the end of the chain is very reinforcing to the dog!
  • Because you are building on the final behavior, you don't need to reward every behavior you insert into the front end of the chain, just the final part.
  • Because every behavior in the chain reinforces the previously reinforced behavior, you should never use a poisoned cue as part of your chain.
  • Make sure the behaviors you're adding to the chain are fluent and on cue.
  • Watch for the dog trying to anticipate! In his eagerness to go to the next behavior, he may skip some parts or rush through them in a sloppy way. Should this happen, don't reward, take a step back and re-chain the behavior again until it looks like what you want again.
Scroll to Continue

Back chaining with Kaiser for a Freestyle Event

Back chaining with Kaiser for a Freestyle Event

Backchaining a Canine Freestyle Routine by Pamela Johnson CPDT-KA See more here: www.YouTube.come/pamelamarxsen

For further reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli


Pamela Johnson on August 02, 2014:

Thank you! I appreciate it! Glad you love my videos! You are welcome for me sharing it. :)

Have a great day!


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 17, 2014:

Hi Pamela! I didn't mean to forgo giving credit links. I normally manually add credit links, but in this case I must have skipped that part because I probably saw that credit to your website showed at the end of the video. I'll be more than happy to add the link to your Youtube channel. I added it to the top of the video along with your name. Sorry if I missed that! Let me know if that works for you! Love your training videos! And thank you for sharing the article.Kind regards, Adrienne

Pamela Johnson on July 16, 2014:


I don't mind that you used my video in this article, but it would be nice to have a link to my YouTube channel or my website and give me credit for the video. www.YouTube.come/pamelamarxsen


Pamela Johnson

Related Articles