Having our animals offer behaviours with duration is an important skill to learn and also one Fibi & I have been working hard on over the last few weeks (with the Fibi-Flop/lie on her side Behaviour). However, I often hear people mention that they find it significantly challenging to train! Consequently, I thought I would share some of my own thoughts, some ideas from my mentors & also ones ATA members have been discussing within the ATA membership community areas (private FB group & website forums).
P.s …want to learn more about me training Fibi to do the “Fibi-Flop” … check out this earlier blog post here >>> https://www.animaltrainingacademy.com/fibi-flop/
Below are 9 ideas to help you build duration behaviour.
1) Remember that each animal is a individual
I feel like this tip is just an important reminder to mention at the start of anything to do with training. There’s no recipe to how you train duration (& the speed at which you progress through your approximations). Rather, I believe that the skills comes in observing our learners & learning (ourselves) to go at their pace.
2) Train ‘easy’ behaviours to duration first
In my experience I have found that once we have taught what I would label as “the concept” of duration to our animals – it then can become easier for them to generalize it to other behaviours. Consequently I feel there can be benefit in training the concept with what one might think of as “easy behaviours” first & then using the concept for more challenging behaviours.
Of course as mentioned above every animal is an individual so “easy” is not defined by us but rather by the individual animal/learner in front of us. However, there are some common behaviours that I feel might fall into this category. For example a nose touch to a hand, a station or a paw offer (with it ending up resting in your hand). And the cool thing is that after you have these behaviours on duration they can be used for SO many different situations. The “Fibi-flop” behavior for example below one could argue is just Fibi targeting the side of her body to the ground.
3) Split split split
I feel a big temptation many trainers have (including myself) when training anything, let alone duration, is to push forward before the animal is ready. Training duration in small increments I find has been something that has been super helpful for me!
One way to do this might be to keep your sessions nice & short, have an idea on what approximation you would like to achieve before you start & also ensure these approximations are based on how your animal did in your last session/s. We can often get there (i.e. our end goal) faster if we go slower (& at the animals pace).
4) Ping ponging
Also as we increase duration we can also throw in reinforcement for smaller durations. One way I like to think about this, is via doing something I learned whilst doing Sarah Owings & Helix Fairweather’s cyber scent course last year. This is called ping ponging around a certain duration.
So for example I might be working on a 4 second duration target. And rather then only reinforce 4 seconds I might Ping pong around this number… So I might first reinforce 2 seconds… then 5 seconds, then 4 seconds, then 2 seconds, then 6 seconds, then 3 seconds.
The idea is the average should be about 4 seconds. And in the above example I went 2 seconds higher/lower on either side. Logically this means the behaviour isn’t just getting harder and harder – there are also reinforceable opportunities at easier approximations.
5) Relax criteria on other elements of the behavior
As we make the criteria of maintain (&/or repeat) behaviour for longer and longer durations we might choose (& often there is huge value in) to lower the criteria of other aspects of the behaviour.
For example with the “Fibi-Flop” behaviour the ideal criteria is Fibi lies on her side with her head resting on the ground. However as I started to go past 10 seconds I relaxed the criteria of head on the ground & started to count my duration as soon as she had finished eating her last piece of food. I can tidy the rest up later.
6) Up the value of the reinforcer
As what we ask gets harder and harder one consideration we might make is increasing the value of the reinforcer. In the past I have switched to a specific high value food item. In this instance (I.e. with the Fibi-Flop) I increased the number of pieces of food I was offering.
As always though, observe your animals body language at all times throughout everything mentioned here so far to assess how comfortable they are with what we are asking & if you are unsure seek the opinion of trusted & experienced peers.
7) Mix with fun easy behaviors
As doing a single behaviour for long durations might not be SUPER fun – for example lying on your side for 20 seconds. Mix asking for this in amongst other behaviours with long reinforcement histories for our animals. Behaviours that we might label as ‘fun’! You can see me doing this with the “Fibi-Flop” in this recent video.
8) Always work on improving your observation skills
Another challenge people sometimes have is knowing when to move from one approximation to another. Trainers might describe knowing when to do this as a gut feeling, but I feel in reality this comes from being great observers of minute changes in body language. For example… what are the eyes doing, what are the muscles doing? Ears? Legs? Tail?
Watch this video and look at Fibi’s tail… What do you notice?
Also, listen to the latest ATA podcast episode with professional animal training Steve Martin to hear some of his thoughts on how to improve our observation skills (listen specifically at~ 12:43) >>> https://www.animaltrainingacademy.com/podcast/training-tidbits/steve-martin/
9) Aim for nice clean loops
Another strategy to assess when/if both you and your learner are ready to move to the next approximation – is to do so when both you and your learner have accomplished three clean loops in a row (at a certain approximation)! When chatting with Alexandra Kurland about clean loops in an ATA podcast episode she mentioned that if you can do three clean loops in a row this can signal not only are you ready to move on but you should move on.
Listen to the podcast episode with Alexandra Kurland here (start listening @ roughly 30 minutes) >>> https://www.animaltrainingacademy.com/podcast/training-tidbits/alexandra-kurland/
Watch the results of my using this strategy with Fibi dog below;
I hope that these tips are useful to you! And I would love to learn more about what you have found helpful to help teach duration? You can leave your comments below & let me know.
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