Anatomy of a Behavior


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Most of the behaviors that we create with our dogs are really chains of small concepts and chains are only as strong as their weakest link. Dog trainers and dog sport handlers need to be able to break down complex behaviors, isolate the weak concepts and mark and reinforce them to make them stronger. We also need to be able to tear behaviors apart if we are going to create an efficient plan for teaching them.

This ability to break behaviors down to their component, conceptual levels is a key part of being a successful dog trainer.

Anatomy of the Retrieve

Go Get It and Bring It Here are too vague and too complex to effectively train, tune up and/or troubleshoot. This vague definition of the Retrieve behavior leaves too many gaps in understanding to teach the skill.

Falling Into the Retrieve

The reason that so many people can be relatively successful with the Retrieve behavior with high drive dogs is because it is easily back-chained. In fact, building a retrieve with Bitework is all about back-chaining.

Back-chaining is teaching a behavior by starting with the last piece first.

If we look at the Retrieve Anatomy, we see that the last piece of Behavior is the Release of the target in the handler’s hand. If our dog has been well reinforced for putting an object our hand, with Bitework perhaps, then it is likely to happen.

Of course if the Dog wants to put an object in our hand, he must be carrying it, so we don’t have to worry about that part. And of course for the dog to carry the object, he must have picked it up, and to have picked it up, he must have gone and gotten it.

Aah! So now we see where the Go Get It – Bring It Here-Give understanding came from.

Who Cares?

Now, Go Get It-Bring It Here can and does work for teaching a dog to Retrieve, and we’re going to use it here in this Bitework class, but doing things and understanding how to do them or to improve them are not always the same thing.

There are going to be times in our dog training where we have to stop what we are doing and look at what’s actually going on. We will have to find out what part of the behavior is weak and figure out how to strengthen it.