Building duration when teaching a behavior with Mary Hunter.

Including examples from animal traning and PORTL.

Recording of a Webinar with Mary Hunter:

Mary Hunter

Using cues and chains to build long-duration behaviors

Most of the behaviors that we teach to our animals involve some amount of duration. That is, for the behavior to be practical, the animal must do the behavior for a certain length of time. For example, an owner may want her dog to be able to walk on a loose leash for multiple minutes or a zoo trainer may want a sea lion to open his mouth for a prolonged period of time for a dental exam. 

However, teaching duration behaviors can be difficult. When the trainer tries to increase the amount of duration, the animal may offer other behaviors. It can be challenging to get the animal to continue doing exactly the same behavior. 

In this class, we will explore one strategy for building duration that involves cues and behavior chains. We’ll start with a little bit of theory about reinforcement and cues. This will help you understand why building duration can be difficult and why using chains to build duration can help. Then, we’ll look at several examples using both PORTL and animal training that will illustrate how to use a chain of two behaviors to build a long-duration behavior. 

About Mary:
Mary Hunter earned an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in behavior analysis from the University of North Texas. She teaches people and their pets, working mainly with dogs and horses. In addition, Mary serves as president of the Art and Science of Animal Training.

In 2019, Mary and Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz published their first book, PORTL: The Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab. Mary’s research interests include studying the process of shaping and finding better ways to teach people to train animals. She is a full member of the Association for Behavior Analysis International and has presented research at the organization’s annual convention. 

You can find Mary online on her personal blog, Stale Cheerios (, and at Behavior Explorer (

Mary Hunter is in this webinar talking to us about a technique that she uses for building duration when teaching a behavior. She talks about how to do it and shows video examples from both animal training and PORTL.