Putting Behavior to Work

Alexandra Kurland
Presentation given at the 2017 Conference

People often struggle to build any duration into the behaviors they teach. You’ll see this manifest in defensive clicking. The handler keeps busily clicking and treating in an attempt to keep her learner from offering unwanted behavior. It’s an “Alice Through the Looking Glass” approach – always running, but never getting anywhere.

Duration is an important part of any training program. We need duration for emotional stability. Duration gives us time to breathe, time to think about what’s coming next. Without duration, all you’re left with is frantic clicking and frantic animals. But if duration is that important, why are we so often so bad at teaching it? One word – it’s boring!

I remember years ago watching a friend of mine teach her dog to remain in a long down stay. She wanted her dog to remain lying down for five minutes, so for five minutes at a time she would watch the seconds tick by on her watch. How boring! We’ve all stood in front of a microwave counting down the seconds. When you are watching, one minute is long enough, never mind five!

I never thought of myself as a good duration trainer because I was not willing to clock-watch the way she did. I thought of myself as a quality over quantity trainer, and yet my horses will all back with me the full length of my arena. That’s a lot of quantity in a behavior that horses normally prefer to avoid. How did I get there? Two answers: I train in tight, clean loops, and I put behaviors to work for me.

This talk will look at both of those answers. What do they mean, and how do we use them to build duration in the behaviors we teach?  The answers will help you create stability in your overall training.

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