Training Backwards: Building Reliable Behavior Sequences with Back-Chaining

Training individual behaviors effectively via clicker training can be challenging. Connecting several behaviors into a behavior sequence that will be reliable in performance, without rewards, is a next-level challenge. Every trainer wants behavior chains that result in enthusiastic and reliable responses from their partners.

Joining three to five behaviors into a dependable performance chain is a common goal for many trainers. Imagine creating a behavior chain of 30 to 70 behaviors! The sport of Canine Musical Freestyle requires developing routines (performance chains) comprised of many behaviors. The more advanced a Freestyle team becomes, the longer the performance chain.

In 2007, Michele first learned about applying back-chaining for putting sequences together, but she did not use it extensively. However, over the past 10 years, Michele has experienced impressive results from the back-chaining tool, expanding her use and confidence in its application. In addition to improved reliability with back-chained behavior sequences, she has also experienced its effect on improving performance duration without primary reinforcers.

In this Session, Michele shares her step-by-step process of building very long behavior sequences (60+ behaviors) via back-chaining. The presentation uses video examples of chains being built as well as the outcomes of those chains in actual performance. You do not need to take part in canine freestyle to appreciate the task of building performance chains of more than 50 behavior cues in succession.

Michele Pouliot

Michele Pouliot began her animal-training career through her love of horses. She attended the Pacific Coast Equestrian Research Farm, studying under the tutelage of Linda Tellington and Wentworth Tellington. After graduating at the school’s highest level, Michele remained there as an instructor, until her next position, in North Dakota. There, Michele acquired her first dog—a move that would change her life and career. With dog-training pointers from a former riding student, Michele became fascinated with her dog’s willingness to learn; she spent all of her spare time training him. It was then that Michele’s path changed toward a career in dog training, which progressed to guide dog training.

Michele Pouliot began her 42-year career as a licensed guide dog instructor when she joined Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), the second-largest guide dog school in the world. In addition to personally training more than 350 guide dog teams over 20 years, Michele contributed to major change in the organization by leading the adoption of clicker training in the formal training of guide dogs and in the development of puppies raised for guide dog work. Michele also developed the education program for GDB’s blind clients learning to clicker train their own guide dogs.

Since 2005, Michele has been a pioneer in the guide dog industry worldwide. GDB and Michele actively support and assist other guide dog schools in crossing over from traditional training methods to positive reinforcement and clicker training techniques. In order to provide education to more individuals worldwide, GDB and Michele have offered four International Guide Dog Clicker Conferences for professionals in the guide dog field. Recently, Michele was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award from the International Guide Dog Federation for her innovation, creative development, and service to blind clients and guide dog programs around the globe. She leads seminars and workshops around the world, for guide and service dog organizations and for dog sport training. Michele is known as a very clear and enthusiastic teacher who demonstrates her love for animals and people every time.

Michele has also been very active and successful in canine dog sports. She was heavily involved in competition obedience for 20 years, winning four Obedience Trial Championships with her personal dogs. Michele has also competed in tracking and in the sport of agility. In 2005, Michele discovered the new sport of Canine Musical Freestyle; she is now a leader in the sport, with help from her dogs Cabo, Listo, Déjà, and Saké. Michele and her dogs are winners of multiple national and international competitions; they are known for creative behaviors and entertaining routines. Michele and Listo made history in the World Canine Freestyle Organization as the first team to ever receive perfect "10" scores in both Artistic and Technical categories! They repeated this incredible achievement 23 more times with six different routines.

Michele loves to spend time at home, in Oregon, with her dogs and her horses. A member of the ClickerExpo faculty since 2008, Michele partnered with Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) to create an online Canine Freestyle course. The course has received rave reviews from students and is popular even with clicker enthusiasts who are not involved in the freestyle sport.