On Engagement – Back Chaining and an Existential Experience

Allow An Existential Experience

Everything starts with having a sense of existence within your situation. Where am I? What is this place?

A dog should have the ability to exist without manically seeking out reinforcement or obviously avoiding work.

It is important to have a sense of existence within your situation as well as a sense of place and space. How can you do that when you are rushed out onto the field with a toy stuffed in your face? Or have done nothing but look into your handler’s face since getting out of the car?

Transition: Attention to Work (front chain)

Many times the transition from AttentionUnsolicited eye contact or Attention is a great way to hook up with a dog. If you have something the dog wants he should give eye contact in order to get access to it. This quickly becomes akin to asking permission for things that the dog wants. If your dog offers Attention when they see something they want, most dog... to work is where the Engagement problem happens. When the criteria gets muddy or the cookies stop coming,”I’m Outta here.” Cue sniffing and avoidance.

As soon as the dog gets confused or doesn’t know what to do the environment explodes upon the team. Grass, and bushes, and Butterflies, Oh MY!

The answer from many teaching Engagement is more Attention and more eye contactUnsolicited eye contact or Attention is a great way to hook up with a dog. If you have something the dog wants he should give eye contact in order to get access to it. This quickly becomes akin to asking permission for things that the dog wants. If your dog offers Attention when they see something they want, most dog.... Perhaps an active handler. Anything to get more Engagement.

Transition: Dismissal to Work (back chain)

When we flip the script by dismissing the dog first, all kinds of cool things happen.

The transition from DismissalGo Do Dog Stuff... Dismissal means that the handler is off limits. It doesn’t mean the dog has to go, or that work is finished, or stop doing that behavior, it just means that the handler is off limits now and the dog has to occupy her own time. This is a powerful concept that can be leveraged to manage... to work flows directly into cookies reinforcing the Engagement process.

Whether it is a great piece of eye contact, looking off of daToss and Fetch, aka: Distance & Accuracy, Toss & Catch, is a disc dog discipline that uses a single disc. It is a timed event and you get scored based upon the distance of each catch in 10 yard increments up to 40 yards. The object of the game is to accrue a high score.... squirrel, or simply orienting a bit towards the handler, these behaviors lead directly to cookies, work, and interaction with the handler and turn the entire engagement behavior chain and even Engagement itself into a secondary reinforcer.


It’s like a freight train, you can’t stop it. Destination: Engagement.


Back Chaining Engagement

Dismissal is the natural back chain of Engagement or Attention. It is an oppositional behavior. Dismissal is uniquely bound to Attention.

To engage, you must first be disengaged. To be disengaged, you must first be engaged. These are not just funky philosophical statements, they’re the truth.

Starting with Dismissal allows the handler all the power in the world to actually capture and shape the Engagement process. You can’t do that if you are too busy trying to engage the dog.

Back Chaining vs Front Chaining Gravity vs Flight

When you back chain something it always seems like the dog falls into the behavior. It’s like gravity. That behavior just falls right into place. The dog, handler, and team, can’t help but do it right.

Dismissal to Work is a back chain.

When you front chain something you build a series of steps. Each of these steps has to be able to hold the weight of the game and the stress around it. A weak step means a tottering and unbalanced staircase. The further you take the game or behavior chain, the higher the behavior staircase goes.

If we run the game fast enough, up and down the staircase, it gives us the feeling of flight. Leaping from one tottering step to the other in various stages of control. It is exhilarating, but make a mistake and it’s a crash in some unknown locale, and you better hope all the links in your behavior chain are strong. You also have to land at some point in time.

Attention to Work is a front chain.


Supply and Demand

The Economics of Distraction are in effect as well. A limited access reinforcer is always more powerful than a freely available reinforcer.

In the standard “get your dog’s attention” Engagement process, the Handler is a freely available reinforcer and the environment is a reinforcer with limited access. The more the handler pushes and prods for Attention and engagement, the more inviting the limited access environment becomes.

Flip that by dismissing early and often and turn the handler into the limited access resource and make the environment an obligation.

You’ll have engagement in no time.