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Techniques Conditioning > Prevention > Delaying

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



When a subject is performing an unwanted action at any time, a way to prevent this is to insert a delay into the proceedings. Rather than try to stop them doing what they are doing, just wait until a better time or take some action that will improve the situation for you.

Assess the cause of the problem in order to decide on the best length of delay. Some situations you may want to consider include:

  • If the subject is willing but confused, then use a short 'calm down' delay followed by starting again.
  • If they are unwilling, pause a little while to wonder why this is. Perhaps a little non-directed attention will help.
  • If they are just too energetic start later when they are less hyperactive.
  • If they are easily distracted, remove distractions or perhaps move to some other location where there is less to distract them.
  • If they are tired and lethargic, time out from training and see if you can energise them with some play.
  • If they are too anxious to perform an action for you, get them to wait for a second or two to stop any pre-empting action.
  • If they are not interested in your rewards (such as food), wait until they are.

Delaying is also good when you are feeling irritated or annoyed in some way. When you are emotionally aroused, your decisions are less likely to be reasonable or wise.


A dog snatches at food offer to it. The owner quickly pulls the food away and holds a finger up in front of the dog. After a few seconds, it offers the food again. The dog now moves more tentatively to take the food.

A child loudly demands chocolate when it is out with its parents. Its mother tells the child that it will not get any chocolate when it speaks like that. Further demands are then ignored. When the child has calmed down and is no longer demanding chocolate, the parent offers the child a small piece.


Your subject is not always ready to learn when you are ready to teach. Sometimes it is better to put things off until they are in the right frame of mind. If you can be flexible when you teach, you can catch them in 'teachable moments' and save both of you a lot of time, hassle and energy.

Sometimes subjects are just too keen, either wanting to please you or want to get to their reward. In either case, they are focusing on something other than the cues and actions. Inserting a pause puts you in charge, letting you dictate when who does what.

A delay creates a 'reset', giving time for emotions to calm and for everyone to collect their thoughts. It gives the ability to forget and forgive mistakes and so move on.

See also

Disruption, Delay, Using Pauses, Short Pauses, Pausing


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