E355: Heather Lawson - The Concept of Duration

 Duration is about so much more than just a sit or down stay! Join us for a conversation on how teaching duration as a concept makes it easier to generalize to new behaviors.


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive trending methods. Today I have Heather Lawson here with me to talk about teaching the concept of duration. Hi Heather, welcome back to the podcast!

Heather Lawson: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me again. This is, I love doing the podcast with you.

Melissa Breau: Aw, well I enjoy doing them with you too. To start us out, you just remind everybody a little bit about you and your current furry crew.

Heather Lawson. I'm Heather Lawson, dog trainer, long time certified, Karen Pryor Academy certified training partner, CPDT-K-S-A, a couple other certifications in there as well.

And also I have my own training business Dogwise in North Vancouver, Canada. And I have currently, I'm down to one German Shepherd in the family and that would be Piper. And she's the one that you see now mostly in any videos that I do, 'cause that's the only one I've got currently to work with. But, well, lots of things to look back on with my other dogs and, and showing them examples through them. Let's see, what else do I do? I'm currently not trialing, but normally I do too busy with business and, and working for Fenzi online, doing my in instruction and my courses. And so I'm having a lot of fun doing that and geeking out on the concept things that I'm coming across and starting to think about now that I've got a little bit more time.

Melissa Breau: Heck yeah. So, speaking of, I wanted to have you on to talk about duration. So I think a lot of people heal, hear duration and they kind of think stay. So first, is that true? And then can you talk a little bit about what the concept of duration truly is? Well, I'm gonna be approaching this from my point of view.

So yeah, when you say duration, most people think, you know, sit, stay down, stay of behaviors. That's very narrowed. For me. Duration can be two things. It's sort of a moment in current time. So from, you know, one second to five seconds that you're doing something. Or it can be like, how long is it gonna take me to get from, you know, Vancouver to Toronto? Right.

So there's two kind of pieces to duration. When I'm talking about the concept of duration, I'm thinking more of having my dog understand duration and being able to quickly apply that understanding to new and previously unpaired or unknown combinations of, of behaviors. And I also like to sort of play around with, okay, what could I do that's brand new?

She knows, say for instance I've, in my webinar I've got one instance where she knew a little bit of heeling, she knew the stand and I put the two together for a moving stand, like a stand in motion. And the first time I paired those two together, she aced it because she had that understanding of when I said stand, it just meant stand hold that position. So she understood the concept of standing still. So for duration it can be both, as I said, the how long something is, but also it can be a stillness as part of that concept as well. 'cause without sometimes duration, depending on what you're working, most of the time people want stillness as well.

Melissa Breau: Makes sense.

Heather Lawson: Kind of geeky, but I know that's what's going on in my head anyways.

Melissa Breau: No, but I think that's good. So before we can teach duration, we do need to kind of get that behavior itself, right. So what do you look for in a behavior to know that it's, you know, it's time or you're at a good point where you can start to build a little bit of duration on it?

Good question with, if I'm working with a puppy, I can start duration as soon as I can say sit, give them the hand signal and they do it. So I'm starting off right from the very beginning because partly the way that I'm doing it, I, we quickly get sits in a row and then we, the way we release them out of that sit is the piece of the puzzle that we use to later introduce the release cue. So if the puppy or the dog can do the behavior, then I start right off the bat doing the adding duration into it as quickly as possible.

Melissa Breau: Do you have an implied duration then on your sit and your down and your stand? Are you expecting the dog to hold it until released on one cue or do you also use a stay cue?

Heather Lawson: Well that, that's also sort of up for debate because fair enough, te technically, you know, if you're using marker training, the dog should hold the position until they hear either the release queue or the the click which ends the behavior. So that means then that the weight and the stay are basically just for the human. If the training is done right.

And there are, or you know, some circles where they don't use stay and they don't use wait, it's just sit and you, that means you hold that position. But because a lot of people do use wait and stay, I make a real distinction between the two. And for me, wait, if I tell my dog to wait for, let's say let's use a recall as an example, I have them sit, I say, you know, sit and then I say, wait, I walk my 20 or 30 feet out and then I'll call them to front. So that weight means wait, pay attention, there's more things happening. Okay. As around the house type of wait, if I was loading the dogs up when I had multiple dogs,

if I was loading them up in the van, I don't want everybody crowding around the door. So I would set them up on the lawn, go into the garage open, get everything ready, and then I would call 'em in one by one. So I would ask them to lie down, wait, and then when they heard their name, they were allowed to come in. If I was taking the garbage out, I would ask them to lie down and stay, take the garbage out, do what I had to do, come back in the gate, lock the gate, come back to them and release them. So the stay means stay put, I'll come back and release you or get you wait means wait, pay attention, something else is gonna happen. I might just release them from that, that weight. I might give them further directions from that weight. But it means just pay attention. You're not done yet.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha.

Heather Lawson: So duration is usually kind of seen as one of the three or maybe four depending on who you ask kind of Ds of dog training.

Melissa Breau: Right. So when you're working on a new behavior, is there an order you kind of approach those concepts in? How do you maybe fit all the pieces together?

Heather Lawson: Yeah, everybody says don't train more than one thing at a time. That's true to an extent. The first thing I work on is duration and stillness, if that's what's required in the behavior.

But at the same time, because of the way I'm working with my dog or my puppy, I'm moving. So there's your distraction right there. I'm not just standing stagnant in one, in one spot. I will start to move around quite quickly because I want to give the dog that understanding that one, once they've had the release cue installed, that they're just to stay put until I actually give them that either physical cue or verbal cue to move.

So what happens then is because I've introduced the little tiny bits and pieces of, of distance and, and distraction and all, also a changed environment quite a lot, when I come to actually focus in on those things and add more difficulty to each aspect, they've already gotten a really good solid understanding of holding position because I've also reintroduced the release cue as well. So they wait for the release cue.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha. We will get to that more in a second. I did, I do have a question on that for you too. So, okay, so when we're talking about kind of teaching duration, you talked about it a little bit there in that previous answer, but how do you, how do you build it? How do you actually kind of try and communicate to the dog that this is a bigger concept?

Heather Lawson: Well, number one, I start with the sit when they come in and I sort of apply that I start duration in everything that I do with the dogs. So if it's getting outta the crate, they have to wait. So they have to be still and they have to wait.

If they're waiting for their food bowl, they have to be still and wait while I put it down. So it's, it's, the concept is integrated into everyday living with the dogs. So when I come to actually working on a specific behavior in a more formalized training session, they already have a basic understanding of just hold, hold the horses there, mom's going to mom's working on something else, right?

And when I'm doing that, what I'm doing is I work on the sit and then the next behavior I'll work on is a nose target and then a chin rest because I can use the, the nose target and chin rest for a whole bunch of other things that are so handy. Not only when I'm, you know, doing my formal, you know, training, obedience training, but in everyday life. And I can use those things for all kinds of fun stuff to do with the dogs as well. You kind of mentioned puppies in there at one point. What age do you usually begin kind of working on duration as a concept?

Well, I have puppies come to puppy class and they're, they, we start 'em nine weeks, 10 weeks or eight weeks, whatever time they end up with their, at their new home, we'll take 'em in and we start right then, right there in class, right, right away. So because everybody, I mean the, we're not teaching the dog to sit, we're teaching the dog to sit when we ask. So we don't, and that's basically the way the reason humans did that is so the dogs aren't jumping on them all the time.

So 'cause dogs don't really sit all that often. They're either standing or lying down or running around. So when I get the puppies in, to avoid the jumping aspect of it, we get them onto this, the sit and and with duration right away. And same thing with down with duration. Once they've got the sit, we then transfer it to the down and the behaviors just kind of roll along that way because lots of people, you know, they wanna have some time, they don't wanna, you know, open the door and have the dog dash out the door. They want the dog to be looking to them and waiting for their release cue or you know, to tell them what to do next. So we get them, we get the puppy started right away, solves a lot of jumping issues. Pretty typical with puppy stuff.

Melissa Brau: Okay. So back to that release cue concept. So talk to me a little bit about the role that your release cue plays in the teaching process. And you're talking about duration. Okay, when I, when we're talking about duration, the, I don't know where it ever came from, but to me it doesn't seem logical where you ask the dog to sit, you count your duration, you click and you reward in position, and then you start your rep all over again, count your duration, click reward the dog who's still sitting in position.

To me that doesn't, doesn't flow right because it doesn't give a beginning and an end to the dog. And that's where you get this, you know, the, the feet patters, the, the barking, the, you know, shifting around and doing all that kinds 'cause they don't know what's happening. So when I do the release cue, I want them to know that there is a beginning and an end to the behavior. And when we're doing, you know, something like a, a sit, sit stay, I'm going to ask them to sit, I'm going to count my duration. And then depending on where they are in the, in the release queue aspect of it, I will release them. I'll click release and then put them back into that position again. So they are learning that there is a beginning and an end and I can easily begin to increase the duration that I'm asking them to, to hold still.

And I don't always make it harder and harder and harder. I ping pong a lot. So what happens then is the dogs start to listen for that release cue sitting still, it becomes more fun because okay, I gotta wait, I gotta wait, I wait, okay, there's my release cue, I can move now. So you get them to either settle into their stay while you go away and do something, or you get them settling into their sit and wait for the next information without a lot of hullabaloo and, and all the excess that comes along with it when they don't understand.

Melissa Breau: So you kind of touched on this a little bit, but I think a lot of the times when people are trying to convey the concept of, you know, stay here, they accidentally get junky stuff built into the behavior, right? So they're looking for a still behavior, but instead they get feet tapping and their sit stay or you know, kind of body, constant body shifting and their downst stay. So can you talk a little more about kind of what causes that and maybe what can be done about it Generally?

Heather Lawson: Okay, so the first thing that comes to mind is usually people say, you know, I can't, my dog won't stand still on, on the perch. And what happens is because they are clicking at the wrong time, they're getting actually more and more and more of the feet powders. So you can't, if you're, if you wanna get rid of garbage behaviors, you can't attach them to the behavior that you're trying to achieve.

And by that I mean if I have a dog that steps up and then starts to powder, but I don't want powder, I want stillness, and then they stop for that moment and I click it, what have I just taught them? Step up, patter stop. So if I wanna get rid of that, I have to catch them. The moment that paw is raised and going to the perch, the other one usually follows suit so I don't have to worry about that. So the moment that that paw hits the, the, the perch I click, that's my moment of stillness. That's my moment of calm.

That's my moment of duration. So then I can just, from that point, once they go up and there, I can just add those nanosecond more before I click and until finally they go up, they step boom, they're done. So you start, you kind of drop it back down to zero and build it back up. Yeah, yeah. You have to be even with some dogs, if they've had a long history of this foot patterns and barking and all that kinda stuff, you might even have to, to watch for just that muscle movement of the leg coming and just start clicking there.

And as that leg comes up, before it even hits the perch, you can click because the follow through is hitting the perch. So the dog is actually ending up in the, in the correct position. So that's the behaviors with that. If it's something that's every day, say lying down in, in a, in a stay or a wait, if the dog's staring at you and they start slipping back and forth, okay and then you click that, what are you just, what are you clicking? You're getting all that flipping and moving and shifting, that's now become the, the, the downs stay in a nice calm, relaxed manner that you don't want.

So we start, once the dog is down, we start adding duration and then we click and then we release and bring them back and lie them down, add duration, click, bring 'em off. And then finally, if we want to reward for being in that position, we have to be aware and watch for calm. And when you're gonna give a little bit of extra reinforcement, what that extra reinforcement is saying is basically this is a good place to hang out, continue what you're doing, but it's not attached to the end of behavior or causing the behavior to, to occur. We're just saying this is a good, good place to be.

So we're more likely to get the dog to wanna be there. And then when I release I will give them an absolute release. But when I'm feeding those cookies and I'm making sure that I'm, you know, giving extra reinforcement when the dog is not staring at me. 'cause if you give the reinforcement when the dog is staring at you, you're gonna get barking because they're gonna say, Hey, I'm staring at you, I'm looking at you, I'm giving you all this eye contact. Why aren't you feeding me human?

And then you get barky, right? And I don't want to click and feed and click and feed and click and feed because that's causing the behavior to happen. I want them just lie down. And then if they're quiet and they're calm and they even put their head down, I'm gonna just drop a nice little cookie there and I'm gonna be quiet about it. Nice and calm gets you more calm and I got dogs.

My dogs don't shift around when I do that. And when I've taught it to other people, the dogs have stopped barking at them. Dogs have stopped, you know, shifting. They go right into a nice relaxation stage because you can't say, well by looking at a dog, oh he is, he's, he's calm. You don't know what's going on inside.

All you can do is take a look at the outside to get that stillness and that calm appearance and that's how we get it. Are there other common mistakes that people make that listeners can avoid when they're starting to teach duration? Moving too soon and putting too many things all together in huge manifestations. And by that I mean the dog is doing we'll, go down and say, we'llstay put for 10, 15, 20 seconds. That's fine. But then on the first time that they start to add distance, they go from being close to the dog, maybe three, three feet around the dog to another room or to 10, 10 feet away. And what they'll do is they'll turn, they'll face the dog and they'll back away.

If you face the dog and back away to that 10 or 15 feet, you're basically kind of saying to the dog with your body language, come on, come with me. Versus just being natural in your movements. So the biggest stumbling block for me with things like, you know, down stay six stays is people going too far too fast and working too many things at the same time.

So they're trying to get the dog to stay there for a long time, but they're also trying to work, you know, 10, 15 feet away at the same time. It does, it doesn't work that way. You can't, you have to relax one to get the other.

Melissa Breau: So part of the reason we're chatting about all this, 'cause you have the webinar coming up, do you wanna just take a second and share a little bit about the webinar, which we'll cover and it is on May 2nd for folks listening at 6:00 PM Pacific time and you named it No More Ants in Your Pants teaching the concept of duration.

Heather Lawson: Yeah. Ants in your pants. You know, it's like if you got ants in your pants, you're gonna be shifting your shot lines.

It's like, you know, think of little, little kids in kindergarten. They're all sitting around and they're, they wanna get doing stuff and they get ants in their pants. So yeah, the duration webinar, I do not cover duration of heeling. I do not cover duration in tracking. 'cause those are separate types of duration. It's just building stamina.

Think of it that that's more of a stamina and heeling isn't one type of behavior. It's multiple behaviors and each time you stop and halt, you're starting a new rep of your heeling. So we wanna, I wanted to capitalize on just teaching the dogs the concept of holding still so that they can learn to apply that easily to new behaviors.

And so what I'm looking at is what I call my gateway behaviors, which is my nose target, my chin rest, and starting out on, on a sit stay and then adding all the everyday life events into that as well. And because, and I, it's in my webinar it's a, it's a quote from sort of Ken Ramirez says, "A lot of learning problem behaviors occur outside of formal training."

So if you're aware it and you can structure your, your dogs or your animal's life in a way that sets them up to do the right thing, you're gonna have a much easier time in training that concept and training them to do the behaviors that you want 'em to do. But if you're lax in one area, like everyday life and then you get formalized in your whatever sport that you're in, it's a much harder transition for the dogs. And that's why I, I like, you know, to be able to have my dogs pay attention to me in everyday life and then when we're training and doing other things or competing, there's, it's an easy transition for them to continue to pay that attention to me.

Melissa Breau: Any other final thoughts or key points you wanna leave listeners with?

Heather Lawson: Duration is actually fun. Lots of people say it's not fun, but it really is fun and it's useful. Okay. It's not only, as I said, useful in everyday life. It's useful all for everything that you wanna do with your dog. And if you are not training duration or training the concept, the idea of it to the dog the concept of duration or concept of anything means that the dog can take that what they've learned and apply it to new and previously unknown behaviors.

That, and in this my case on, you know, when you chain two be two or three behaviors together that have never been done before, that when they can do that, that means that they can understand that concept. So it makes your training that much easier down the road.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. All right. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Heather.

Heather Lawson: Thank you for having me. It was fun. Absolutely. It was a good conversation. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We'll be back next week. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com.

The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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