One of the basic problems that occur in many obedience-training programs involves the misunderstanding of the dog’s perceived anticipation of the next exercise. For example, if the dog is brought into a front, the dog is expected to stay until the handler gives the command to go to heel. When the dog fails to wait for the command and goes straight to the finish, most handlers use some measure of force to get the dog back into the front position. The dog experiences extreme frustration at this point because as far as he is concerned, he is doing the correct thing. As training progress, there is a consistent chaining of the dog’s correct response from one command to another. Some of the commands are oral, some hand signals, some body movements, and some are involved in the sequencing or location of the action. Hooking the front to the finish is simply another example of chaining as far as the dog is concerned, and it is incomprehensible to the dog that there is a difference between this and similar learning experiences such as the automatic sit in the heeling exercise. Viewed from the dog’s point of learning, this sequence is the new command to finish.
The best method to use to avoid this particular problem is to teach the dog a Chain Breaker command. Using the sit and recall as an example, this is how you would proceed. Sit the dog, walk away, turn, and execute the recall. The first time the dog gets up as soon as you turn, go to the dog quietly and cross you hands in front of him several times. Do not use any verbal communication with this signal. Reposition the dog and give the Stay command as normal. As you walk away, turn back to face the dog every few feet making the hand crossing motion. Once in position, do the recall. The first time you may have to run backwards to get the dog going, but within a time or two, the dog will figure out what is going on and wait for your command.
The Chain Breaker command can be started as soon as the dog reaches a point in training where it is needed. Through this method of communication, the dog learns to accept what is coming, be prepared for a command, wait for it, and then execute it as soon as it comes. This allows for several repeats of an exercise without worrying about the dog learning the exercise in sequence before you give the appropriate signal.
The dog learns by chaining what he knows to what he doesn’t know. Some of the earlier uses for this command occur when you teach the front and add the finish or when you leave the dog in a stay and execute a recall from a distance. Remember, you want the dog to make the chain when you teach the automatic sit when you come to a halt with both of you facing the same direction just as the dog learned to stop in a stand when you turned into him on the halt in the earlier training.
©2012 Dr. Mary Belle Adelman