Duration: sustaining a movement
4 min read
This type of duration asks the dog to continue, or sustain a movement in the behaviour we have already taught.
We may be asking the dog to use their paw and hold it still for longer, perform competitive heelwork, carry an article, run in a circle.
We need to put the actual behaviour under a microscope to look for exactly what the dog is doing. Does the behaviour have a beginning and end or it is the same all the way through?
A paw wave has a beginning, middle and end:
It is continuous action if we ask the dog to sustain it their question is surely – which part? Withholding the ending click does not let the dog know what to do and the outcome is often a repetitive action. Wave, Wave, Wave. Up, down, up, down, up, down.
If the paw is a push then we can see is has :
In these conditions, the ending click can occur during the pushing and the paw could stay in position whilst the reinforcer is delivered.
The same detailed behaviour profile should be completed for a chin rest, or nose target. Is the action an “in-out” “on-off” or is there a sustained element we can extend?
Extending by cueing
For most actions we can extend by simply maintaining the cue for the behaviour.
To teach the paw with a push, the target the dog is pushing should be continuous and not removed until completion. Ideally this target is under your control and as the dog makes contact the target moves fractionally asking for additional muscle engagement to prevent withdrawal.
Planning which type of behaviour you are seeking is important before you begin to teach it, a touch-and-go is not the same as a touch-and-push. Use different targets as cues.
When we begin the cue to maintain be clear about what your minimum length of time is successful and prepare to give the cue before that time elapses, do not give the cue after the behaviour begins to fade or you will have a rise and fall to the behaviour, a stuttering.
As you build the time you will be able to fade the cues from the rear, or last cue, forward to the first cue.
Extending with a terminating behaviour
If we have created a chain where one (“y”) behaviour leads to another (“z”)behaviour, such as carrying an item is terminated with the give or placement, we use the cue for the give to end the previous behaviour. By delaying that cue we can extend the previous behaviour.
This can only be used if the dog is comfortable and secure in the primary (“y”) behaviour. We have to ensure that this behaviour also receives plenty of individual reinforcement, without the need to progress to the terminal behaviour.
This can also be used where the terminal behaviour is a location, or target. The primary behaviour is cued further away from the target and it will be gradually carried out for longer until the terminal location is secured.
We can use this to teach backing to a mat, carrying over further distances, sending to a further target, or going around in a circle.
You can blend the extend-by-cueing and the extend with the terminal by giving the cue for the primary repetitively until the terminal is presented. But it should only be used temporarily as a support and confirmation that the dog is on the track. If the behaviour is not able to stand alone without the support for a set period then continual prompting can mask the lack of security in the behaviour.
Silence should be a confirmation of correct, not an indication of uncertainty or a cue to change.
When you are seeking a change, then the contingencies will change. You will be verbal, giving salient information, preventing continuation of the incorrect behaviour, prompting to ensure the desired or physically moving to place the treat.
In the absence of these changes the dog should assume, correctly, that they are doing the desired behaviour and that it will lead to reinforcement.