by Niki Tudge

Wheaton in BedWith our pet dogs they need to be able to respond not only accurately, but quickly as well. Very few behaviors are truly functional when they occur with a long delay after the antecedent. Imagine asking your dog to “down” and then the behavior comes ten seconds later. To be truly "mastered" and functional, behaviors need to have both accuracy and speed. This is teaching to fluency and is crucial for skills to be successfully acquired, retained, and generalized. To achieve fluency in training, the trainer needs to control for two variables: Latency and inter-trial intervals.
Latency is the time between the end of the antecedent and the beginning of the pet’s response, the behavior.  There should rarely, if ever, be a latency of longer than 2 or 3 seconds. The way to control for latency is with errorless learning. If the pet does not begin to respond within those 2-3 seconds, the trainer should prompt, reinforce, and run a transfer trial, quickly prompting for success and then again cue the behavior without prompting to ensure errorless trials. By prompting when necessary, you can keep latencies short and reinforce faster, independent responses. Training is minute to minute, introducing prompts when necessary as you move through your criterion. One of the most common complaints about errorless learning is that it “makes the dog prompt dependent” This can be true if we do not properly fade out the prompts.

In addition to short latencies, you also want short inter-trial intervals (ITIs). ITIs are the time between the end of the consequence for one trial and the beginning of the next antecedent. This can also be referred to as rate of training, since this variable is purely related to the trainer. Again, Inter trial latencies of no more than 2-3 seconds are preferable. Short Inter trial latencies allow for more training to be done in less time and it enhances motivation and learning. As I say to my clients in fun “no need to narrate and editorialize everything” Lets train!