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Teaching Chain Commands To Your Dog

Chain commands are several different commands given to a dog in sequence, in order to get them to perform a set pattern of actions smoothly and in one go. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to use one umbrella command to tell your dog to perform the whole sequence independently.

An example of a simple chain command would be sit-stay-come, whilst complex chain commands are often used on working dogs (such as herding collies) and dogs that take part in canine sport, such as agility and heelwork to music, where just one command results in several actions in a row on the part of the dog.

In this article, we will provide a short introduction to chain commands and their uses, as well as the basics of teaching a chain command to your dog with an easy to follow example. Read on to learn more.

Can all dogs master chain commands?

Chain commands are by nature more complicated to teach and for the dog to follow than a simple one-step command is, because it they require your dog to be thinking and processing information on the go, which means that they need to be alert, responsive and fairly smart.

Different breeds of dog have different levels of intelligence, and so, abilities-dogs with high to average working intelligence can usually master chain commands, with different degrees of success, although dogs that fall towards the very bottom of the scale and that are not good at retaining and executing commands may not be able to manage it.

However, it is worth giving it a go, if only to find out a little bit about what your dog can do!

Assessing your own dog’s capabilities

Whilst not all chain commands are highly complex, your dog must of course be able to perform basic commands reliably and have a basic understanding of each command and the learning process in order to be able to move on to more complicated things. In the first instance, working on giving your dog a firm foundation in the basics of training is important.

Your dog should be able to reliably execute around ten individual commands at a minimum before you can look at moving on to chain commands, and the best time to start trying out chains is when your dog is alert, interested in learning, and having a good time.

Chain commands can be good fun for dogs, particularly those from very intelligent breeds, as they provide a mental workout and help to provide stimulation for clever canines.

Why can chain commands come in useful?

You may be using basic chain commands already for your dog, such as the example we gave at the start of sit-stay-come. This is about as simple a chain command as is possible to demonstrate, but for clever dogs and if you wish to get involved in canine sport, or if your dog is intended to perform a working role, chain commands can be complex, multi-tiered and delivered on the move at speed and under pressure.

This can be challenging and rewarding for both dog and owner-watch half an hour of televised sheepdog trials to see some great examples of complex chain commands in action!

An easy example: Teaching your dog to put their toys away

For the purposes of explaining how to teach your dog a chain command, using an example is usually the best, and so we’ll start off with the basics of teaching a simple chain command that involves three steps, and results in your dog tidying their own toys away, which is a useful trick to have to hand!

In order to teach a chain command, your dog must first understand the individual elements of the command and be able to execute them reliably before they can be expected to perform the whole routine, as it were, and so step one is to determine the individual commands in your chain, and teach your dog the steps.

A chain command to get your dog to put their toys away is complete in just three steps, and in order to get started you will need your dog, a box (to put the toys in) some training treats, and some of their toys.

The three commands involved in this chain are the command to pick up a toy, the command to take it to the box, and the command to drop it in, each of which are simple commands in their own right, and that should be within reach of most dogs’ abilities.

Teaching this skill does of course depend on your dog being polite about dropping a toy when told to, and not being of the type to refuse to give it up or think that making off with it is part of the game!

  • When you have everything set up, put some of your dog’s toys out on the floor and instruct them to pick one of them up. Reward them with a treat and praise when they do, and keep repeating the process until your dog starts to head for the toys as soon as you give the command.
  • Stage two involves your dog keeping hold of the toy while you guide them over to the box by either calling them to it with a set command and a treat, or leading your dog to the box.
  • Stage three involves giving your dog the “drop it” command, and your dog placing the toy into the box.
  • When your dog will reliably perform all three steps on their own, it is time to start using them together.
  • Initially, go through the command in stages, using each command individually so that your dog gets used to following the pattern.
  • Then, when you begin getting ready to start, introduce an umbrella command, such as “tidy up!” or something else short and distinctive.
  • Give this command and repeat it several times interspersed with the individual commands when your dog needs prompting, until your dog learns what you are looking for and begins the chain when you simply give the umbrella command.

Following this process, you can then go on to experiment with different commands and chains of your choice, and really see what your dog can do!


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