October 27, 2021

Episode 293: Forward-Chaining and Back-Chaining

In this episode (17:30)

In this episode, Jennifer, Sarah, and Esteban explain how they use back-chaining and forward-chaining to help dogs learn more quickly.

You Will Learn

  • What back-chaining is and when to use it.
  • What forward-chaining is and when to use it.
  • Which technique is more favored by Bad Dog Agility instructors.


(intro music) - [Narrator] Welcome to bad dog agility. A podcast helping you reach all of your dog agility goals. Whether it's competing under the bright lights of the televised finals at Westminster or successfully navigating a homemade course in your own backyard. We'll bring you training tips, interviews and news about the great sport of dog agility. Are you ready? - I'm ready. - I'm ready. - I'm ready. -

The show starts with your host, Jennifer, Esteban and Sarah. - [Jennifer] I'm Jennifer. - [Esteban] I'm Esteban. - [Sarah] And I'm Sarah. And this is episode 293. Today's podcast is brought to you by the Westminster kennel club. - [Esteban] The Westminster kennel club has announced that the ninth annual masters agility championship will be held on January 22nd, 2022 at pier 36 in New York city. And I've personally

competed at Westminster twice, and I loved it. Running in the nationally televised finals is one of my favorite agility memories. I didn't win, but I know someone who did. - [Jennifer] Yeah, winning Westminster three times in the 16 inch division was super exciting and definitely a thrill, but it wasn't just the runs. It was the experience, the fast forces, the lights, New York city, definitely an exciting and

fun event. So for 2022, your dog will need a mock title to enter the regular class or a puck title to enter the preferred class. They must have the appropriate title at the time of entry. Entries are limited to 350 dogs and will be first received and entries open on November 17th at 7:00 AM Eastern time. Westminster typically fills on the first day so you'll want to be

mindful of that opening date. - [Sarah] Westminster is going to make a $5,000 donation in the name of the masters agility champion to the AKC agility training club of their choice or the AKC humane fund. $1,000 donations will be made in the name of the highest scoring All-American dog, as well as each of the four remaining first place dogs in their high classes. Per New York city regulations,

everyone in attendance must be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to enter the venue. Entries closed December 22nd, and check out our show notes page for a link to the premium and all the details. - [Esteban] Westminster puts on a fantastic trial and I highly recommended it to anyone who's thinking about competing. - [Sarah] Today's podcast is also brought to you by HitItBoard.com and the Teeter TeachIt an easy to use

tool that controls the amount of tip on your Teeter so you can introduce motion to your dog in a gradual way, go to HitItBoard.com for the new Teeter TeachIt and other training tools and toys, use discount code BDA10 to get 10% off your order. That's HitItBoard.com. Today we're going to be talking about forward chaining and back chaining and how we use these strategies when we're training our

agility dogs. So first for anybody who has not heard these terms before, let's just talk definitions. So what we're really talking about is how do we build up behavior, and I typically think of this usually in the context of sequencing. And so one way that you might began teaching your dog sequencing is if you have a four obstacle sequence, you might start the dog at the beginning and

do one obstacle and reward. And then you might take them back to the beginning and do one, two and reward. And then you might do 1, 2, 3, and reward. So if you do it in this way, which seems very logical, you are forward chaining, you are adding something to the end of what the dog already knows. Backward chaining starts at the end. So you kind of start

with the last thing you want your dog to do. Like if it's a four obstacle sequence, you're going to start with the fourth obstacle, have them do the obstacle and reward. Then you're going to add one to the beginning. So now they're going to do three, four reward. Then 2, 3, 4 reward. Then 1, 2, 3, 4 reward. And both of these strategies are really powerful, and I

at least use both of these strategies when I'm training dogs and when I'm helping other people train their dogs. And so I thought we could talk today about first of all, what they are, and second of all, how you can use both of these together to really help your dog learn something new and to make it a very positive experience. - [Esteban] Well, let me start with a

quick poll. I'm going to poll both of you and then I'll put in my two cents as well. Do you personally use for you and your dogs right now, more forward chaining or back chaining, or you feel like it's 50 50? So I'll start with you, Sarah. - [Sarah] I really think that it is probably pretty close to 50 50. I really reach for both of these methods

in different areas, or sometimes I'll kind of, you know, do one and also do the other and then do the whole sequence and, you know, and kind of come at it from every direction at once to give my dog as much confidence as possible. - [Esteban] But you feel like you're pretty 50? - [Sarah] I think I'm, you know, I'm thinking I was just out in the yard

today and I was using more of forward chaining. And so, yeah, I think I'm probably pretty close to 50 50. I think part of it is that sometimes I like to start with the tunnel, so I don't have to do start lines. - [Esteban] Mm-hmm. - [Sarah] And so then I end up always starting with the tunnel, and so then I end up forward chaining because I want

to have that tunnel start and not have to have a helper and not have to worry about my start lines stay in that particular session, and so that will lend itself towards forward chaining - [Esteban] All right, okay, Jen, you're next? What do you think? - [Jennifer] Hands down for me, I do more back chaining. Do I do both? Yes. Do they both have their different uses? Yes,

but if I had to say percentage wise, it's definitely more back chaining. If somebody gave me a choice and they said you could forward chain or back chain, I'm definitely going to choose back chaining. I would say the split comes a little bit also kind of difference, um, The split is a little bit of a difference depending on whether I'm doing dog training or agility handling, meaning am

I out doing sequencing? Or am I out working on my Teeter performance? Um, I definitely have a higher percentage of back chaining when doing training, when I'm doing handling maybe a little bit more of a split, even then, I think it depends on the scenario what I have found in my experience is back chaining tends to be what I would go to for a dog that I'm trying

to promote forward focus and drive and forward chaining tends to be what I do for dogs that I want a little bit more handler focus, I want a little bit more checking in and paying attention to me so that the end is not always the same, and they don't just say, "got it mom", and then go. - [Sarah] Right. Yeah, That's exactly, that's, that's funny because that's literally

one of the, the advantages I was gonna say with back chaining is that you do always end up in the same place. And so the dog has this high degree of confidence of where they're going, the reward always appears there. And I think, you know, if I had, if I always had like a helper with me, I think I would do a lot more back chaining. Um, so

I do kind of like it as a strategy, but I, there are times when forward, forward chaining is just a little bit more logistically easier, um, but yeah, absolutely that forward focus at the end is a really powerful tool about back chaining. And so one of the things about back, well, do you want to answer the question, I suppose, you know, we should ask you, you, yeah. -

[Esteban] Yeah, let me put in my two cents, - [Sarah] Let's do it, - [Esteban] it's my question. - [Sarah] Yep. - [Esteban] Um, yeah I definitely use both, um, I generally prefer to back chain. I thought the way, the reasons that you gave for doing more back chaining in general, I think that's very interesting. Um, I think, I think about it more in terms of difficulty. So

like, let's say I'm running a, I don't know, 21 obstacle sequence and right around number 16, there's a very difficult threadle. So then you might stop and say, okay, I'm gonna work on this threadle, we're going to work on number 16 in isolation. So the dye is getting it with like no momentum from your side or, or whatever, and now we're going to add number 15. Okay. Now

we're going to add 14, 15, and then do the 16, and now we will go back forward. So we're going to go 14, 15, 16, 17, maybe, and now you can try the whole thing there, so you're kind of like spot training, but it's usually built around a concept or a sequence, a specific performance that the dog finds difficult. Maybe you're moving away laterally on a dog walk?

That might be another spot. So I want to dig a little bit deeper here and say, Jen, that you had mentioned training and the training obstacle that comes to mind for me, where I'm back chaining the specific obstacle itself. Like this has nothing to do with the obstacle before - [Sarah] Lucky guess, Family - [Esteban] and the one after. - [Sarah] Feud style. I know what you're going

to say. - [Esteban] What, what am I going to say? - [Sarah] Ah, Dog walk. - [Esteban] Well, I mean any contact, but yeah, - [Sarah] Yeah. - [Esteban] the dog walk is the prototypical one because that's the behavior where the most people use stopped contacts. And so it's a cheap way to get maybe 10, what I would call, we call them end behaviors. - [Sarah] Mm-hmm. -

[Esteban] So without doing the entire dog walk, you can get your dog up on just the end part. So you might have them get on by, um, or just kind of hop on, - [Sarah] Mm-hmm. - [Esteban] the end, - [Sarah] Yep. - [Esteban] and some dogs will turn themselves around, Some will actually learn to back into the dog walk, put their two rear feet back, back on,

but they can basically assume the position without doing the entire dog walk and that's a really powerful thing, right? Because they don't get as tired. It doesn't take as long and you can rip out 10 reps really, really quick. And now you've built a lot of value for that end behavior. Now you go and you add the entire dog walk, right? You make the dog, um, do thing,

So Jen, when you talk about training, what, what, what are the big training things that you're doing, where you're like, ah, back chaining. - [Jennifer] Contacts was the first thing that came to mind, you know, and you bring up the dog walk and the stop contact. Most of my dogs have a stop, dog walk and very much doing and warming up exactly what you said, these little like

wrap arounds, you know, just kind of putting them on the end. But you know, a lot of times we see, uh, videos of people doing the running contacts, whether you yourself are doing them or somebody else is doing them, and that's a great example, right? You do the mat, you do the mat, then you put them out at the end the board and you, and you let the

dog do half of one board, you know, and you do the reps there and all the angles and all the exits, and then you progress to the full down board and it might not even be at full height and then work your way up height and then half of the dog walk and then build in from there. So a lot of the training that I do, you know,

I think one example that isn't often done as back chaining is weave poles. Weave poles you almost are always doing forward chaining, right? - [Esteban] Right. - [Jennifer] Like if we just think of, regardless of method, let's just say, you're going from six to 12. That's what you do. You can go from six, you do one through six and then you add on seven through 12, - [Sarah]

Right. - [Esteban] Mm-hmm. - [Jennifer] Regardless of the method that you're doing. So weave poles are kind of one example that aren't so much back chaining, those are going to be the forward chaining. But I think even just behaviors, just basic behaviors that maybe are not pertaining to agility I find myself doing a lot of back chaining. - [Sarah] And I think one thing that I wanted to

mention about back chaining, one of the benefits of back chaining, one of, one of the reasons that you'll hear a trainer suggest it is that the dog is always moving from what they're least comfortable with, or at least familiar with, to what they're most comfortable with. Right? And so you, you can get this performance instead of forward chaining. You know, like if you just think about building up

a sequence, by the time you get to one through four, they've done obstacle one a whole bunch of times, they're very confident with that. They're not as sure about obstacle four, but with back chaining, it's the opposite. They, they know the end point and that gives them a lot of confidence and so it can create a lot of speed and drive. That's why I thought it was interesting

that you said, "forward focus was something that you associated with handler focus". And I think that's one of the advantages of back chaining is like you mentioned, the reward is always in the same spot and that's predictable. And so what, one of the problems with forward chaining is that like you do an obstacle and you reward the dog and then you do it again and the dog's expecting

a reward, but oh no, now we're doing number two. And so sometimes you get a little head check from the dog, a little confusion from the dog. The first time you add something new at the end. Now I think it's not a huge problem to work through. I'll typically just do, you know if I'm building something up, then I might, you know, do one, two and do one,

two again, till I see them really doing one, two with a lot of confidence before I add three, you know. So you can work through it. But that's one of the powers of that back chaining is like, by the time they get to the obstacle before the reward, they're just driving forward and really looking for that reward. - [Esteban] Yeah. I think I'll say one other thing is

when people are running into problems sequencing, typically it's going to be around obstacles, you know, like the contacts. But I think the weave poles are a really big one where, because of the rules, at least in the American kennel club, people get three shots to do the weaves, right? So you're running the course, your dog pops the weaves. What do you do? You take them out to the

beginning of the weaves and you try again, oh, they mess that up again. Okay, well maybe you'll do it one more time and now they do it correctly, but you don't get the benefit of the original mistake. And what I mean by that is when you first approach the weaves, it's at whatever angle, let's say you're approaching at 90 degrees, but when you take them around a second

time and you put them in the weaves without doing the obstacle before you are usually no longer approaching the weaves at 90 degrees, even if you are, you're not at approaching at the same speed with the same stride length, you're probably not in the same handler position that you were. And so essentially the dog is doing the weaves, right? But they're not doing the weaves that they messed

up. - [Sarah] Right. - [Esteban] Right, and if you take the time and this is what's great about the new AKC rules, right. You can go back and do the obstacle before. And so now you're doing the obstacle before and now you're, the approach that you're creating is much more similar if not the same. And so there, I can have confidence if I'm watching someone else run that

the dog gets to the second time. Okay. Okay. Now I feel like the dog has got it. - [Sarah] Mm-hmm. - [Esteban] Right. And so you want to bring this kind of mentality to your weekly class for example, right. Because so many people are just going to bring their dog around to do the weave poles alone, but you know, go back. Right. And then add that obstacle before,

and then maybe two obstacles before, and now you're not just getting a one shot at a, at a weave entry that your dog, that isn't the same one that your dog messed up. Right. So now if you do that, you're going to have several opportunities to get the difficult entry that your dog initially missed. Now you're going to get, you know, 1, 2, 3 different chances to get

it. Right. Yeah. - [Sarah] Right. And I think that, you know, we're talking about forward chaining and back chaining mainly, but like, as you pointed out, there's also kind of building from the middle out. And I think this happens a lot with single obstacles that you teach the dog so for example, you're teaching the dogs to weave, and then you add like one thing after the weaves, then

you add one thing before the weaves, right. So you kind of actually start with whatever hard thing is, and then you forward chain and back chain. Right. - [Esteban] Mm-hmm. - [Sarah] And I think another interesting one and, um, I remember seeing some of this training, I thought one of my dogs did a really good job with this kind of training. They would start with like the hardest

part of whatever the skill was. So for instance, it might be a serpentine. So instead of building a three jumps, serpentine up, you know, 1, 2, 3, or instead of back chaining, they would start with the middle jump of the serpentine. And they would start, you know, with the handler on the opposite side of the jump, kind of calling the dog over with whatever shoulder position that you're

gonna to have or whatever arm change you're gonna to have. And then they would add the jump after then they would add the jump before. So kind of building from the middle out. And so the main thing that I really wanted to highlight was if you're only doing things one way, you are probably limiting yourself and that there by kind of using some of these other tools in

different spots, depending on what your dog is struggling with, whether you need focus, whether you're working on a particularly hard skill, being able to use all of these is going to make training easier for you and your dog. And that's it for this week's podcast. We'd like to thank our sponsors, HitItBoard.com and the Westminster kennel club. Happy training. (outro music) - [Narrator] Thank you for listening to bad

dog agility. We hope you enjoyed today's episode. for more information, updates and links to all our socials. Just check out our website, www.baddogagility.com. If you haven't already signed up for our email subscription, we would love to have you join the BDA community. Until next time, take care.

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