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Ask a Trainer: Increasing Duration

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Q: How do you increase the duration of a sit?

A: Most often a sit where the animal pops up immediately is not the goal. So how do you add duration?

The traditional way to increase duration was to ask a dog to “sit” and then to cue “stay.” What tends to happen, at least with my clients, is that the owner will repeat “stay, stay,” then sees the dog get up, so s/he starts saying “uh -oh” and “stay” again, this time using a hand motion, too! It is quite messy when you start asking for too much behavior from a dog.

Let’s say our goal is to build on the sit behavior with the goal of moving toward a 5-minute sit. How you accomplish this is by ever so gradually increasing the time you ask the dog to sit, then marking that duration with a click and your food reinforcement.

Standing in front of the dog, cue “sit” and delay the click just a second or two, counting silently in your head. Then, mark and reinforce. What you will be doing here is delaying the click for longer and longer intervals so that the dog waits for the click to get up. “Sit” now means rear on the ground until you hear the click. The click ends the behavior and tells the dog that staying in the sit behavior for 5 seconds or 10 seconds or 5 minutes is the behavior that you want.

While you are increasing the duration expectation, drop back to easier intervals occasionally. If you are working on 10 seconds, ask for 10, 9, 5, 2, 10 seconds, etc. so that the request does not become predictable and increasingly harder and harder for the dog. It is critically important for you to keep some simple type of records of these training sessions and criteria.

If the dog gets up before the click, the message is that you are asking for too much behavior. Drop the criteria to a shorter time interval. When you begin a new training session, drop the criteria down a bit from where you were in the last session as well.

When you add distance or distraction to the duration exercise, only increase criteria for one of the “3 Ds,”—as we call duration, distance, and distraction—at a time. When you begin working on duration, try to be right next to your dog in a quiet environment. When you add distance or distraction to the duration exercise, relax the criteria for the other “2 Ds.” As you can see, good record-keeping with this is essential!

With step-by-step planning, detailed record-keeping, patience, fair expectations, sensitivity to your dog’s attention, and a conviction that training should be fun, you will be able to set up your dog for success and achieve a sit behavior with duration. Good luck!

About the author

Nancy Driver is the communications coordinator for Karen Pryor Academy. Through her business, On Cue Training and BehaviorNancyDriver, KPA CTP, provides private in-home clicker training and behavior modification for puppies and adult dogs in the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and greater Twin City areas. Nancy often answers clicker training questions for the KPCT community.