Duration - More bang for your buck | HotDogs K9 Training

Duration – More bang for your buck

Heeling with attitude
Sarah Ripley
If you’ve ever spent any time around dog trainers you’ll have heard them talking about ‘getting duration’ and how difficult it can be.  Getting ‘duration’ on a behaviour seems to be the holy grail of dog training and some behaviours seem to be trickier than others. So what on earth is all the fuss about?


What is duration?

Duration is the amount of time a dog (or horse or person) will continue with a behaviour before quitting.  This applies to heelwork, stays, holding an object, searching for a scent and any other behaviour that can take more than a second to complete.


How to teach it

Firstly, we need to be thoughtful about how we reward for longer duration.  It’s generally good practice to increase the value of your reward as the difficulty of the behaviour increases.  With that in mind, in the following graphs I’ve used stars to indicate the magnitude/value of the reward for each repetition. So, the more stars the higher the value of the pay-out given.

Next we have to build what we want carefully and slowly!! The trick with duration behaviours is to build them incrementally so the dog keeps winning and there is no loss of quality in the performance.  You don’t want to build wiggling into stays, chomping into dumbbell holds or look-aways and drifting into heelwork.



‘Hold’ for five seconds:

Film strip of duration hold for five seconds

duration hold for five seconds


Planning your sessions

First you need to work out what your current baseline is if you aren’t starting from scratch.  Using a timer to record the result, ask for the behaviour, time how long your dog can do it for, whilst maintaining the same standard (remember, no wiggling, chomping or drifting!).  As soon as the behaviour degrades stop your timer.  If you are working on heelwork you can count steps or distance covered instead if that is easier for you.

Repeat this at least twice more.  Add the results from each ‘test’ and then divide the total by the number of tests you did to find your average.

Now you have a baseline.  This is the starting point that your dog can already achieve. It sets the ‘average’ duration (or distance) of each repetition.  Let’s say you have an average of 5 seconds or 5 steps.  Go back one unit (5 – 1 = 4) so you know your dog is likely to be successful.  We also need to consider the reward we are going to use. Harder work = bigger pay, remember!


Next, plan how you are going to proceed

Let’s say you think 10 repetitions will be ‘do-able’.  What are those 10 reps going to look like? Maybe this:

table (01) showing repetition plan for start of teaching duration

Planning a duration training session


A graph of your session might look like this:

(01) Graphical representation of training duration


You might repeat something similar for the next session or two, assuming you were seeing success, your dog was still happy and engaged and there was no loss of quality.

Once you were happy that all was good, you’d want to push on a bit.  Maybe set your average at 6 this time – a little bit harder but not excessively tough:

table (02) showing repetition plan for start of teaching duration

Second session training plan


A graph of your second session might look like this:

(02) Graphical representation of training duration


Over a number of sessions, you would end up with something like this:

 Graphical representation of training duration


The key to building duration is avoid making the task harder in a constantly linear fashion. if every repetition is harder than the one before it your dog will quickly become disillusioned and bail on you.  You’re aiming to have the dog ‘believe’ he’ll always be successful.  You’re also wanting your dog to understand that the harder the work, the bigger the payout – so when you ask for more he has a positive response “just a bit more and I’ll get the BIG bucks!” rather than “this is hard work and it’s not going to be worth the effort; I think I quit now”.  Dogs are incredibly good at ‘noticing’ our training patterns, so best be sure they notice the ones we want them too.


Dealing With Errors

The second super important point to remember is that your duration behaviour MUST NOT lose quality.  If it does, you will build that ‘rubbish’ into your chain/duration:

For example, a duration ‘hold’ of 5 seconds (NOT!!):

five second hold with error at 3rd second - duration training



Ideally, you would notice the problem and abort the rep straight away; no reinforcement for that one.  The next attempt should be a bit easier so the dog can be successful.  All good?  Try the tricky one again.  Failed again?  Drop your duration waay down and build up confidence again from there.  You probably made it too hard too fast. Don’t be afraid to quit for the day and start again afresh.  Errors will often start to creep in as you both fatigue.

If you have made the mistake of continuing after an error and it is now part of the duration behaviour (as the film above shows), the only thing you can do is ‘edit’ your film strip – reinforce BEFORE the error occurs and build up again from there.

For example:

Session 1 average:

two second hold


Session 2 average:

three second hold


Session 3 average:

5 second hold




So, in a nutshell, that is how you build duration behaviours – slowly, carefully and cleanly!

Happy training!

– Sarah and the Gang

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  1. jill Strang

    Excellent Sarah, so very well explained. I will have to do all this with the new pup!!

    • Sarah Ripley

      You’ll be doing a lot of things with your new pup Jill! You’re going to be very busy LOL


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