Dog Training Language: What is latency?

ready300Today’s article is part of our ‘language of behaviour’ series.

This is where we look at some of the terminology involved in dog training, work out what is useful, and try to make sense of it all

You’ll most likely hear dog trainers talk about latency as something to get rid of or decrease.

That’s because latency is the gap between you delivering a ‘cue’- and your dog responding.

Getting a sharp response

If you say ‘sit’ to your dog, and he always sits immediately, you don’t have a problem with latency. dog training language - what is latencyAt least, not with your sit.

If you say ‘come’ to your dog and he bounds towards you without hesitation, you don’t have a problem with latency in your recall either.

Removing latency is all about removing that gap.

Getting rid of delays, reducing the space between cue and response to the absolute minimum so that we have a nice ‘sharp’ reaction to our cues.

Isn’t this just speed?

Latency is not the same as speed.   That’s because latency is about the gap between a cue and the moment that the dog begins to respond.  Not about the time he takes to carry out that response and complete it.

If you give your recall whistle and your dog begins to come towards you immediately, even if he strolls towards you unbearably slowly, you don’t have a problem with latency – you have a problem with speed.  And we’ll look at that in a different article.

If you give your recall whistle and your dog finishes sniffing a leaf, or just stands there wagging his tail for five seconds before obliging with a response, you have a latency issue

Dealing with latency

To reduce latency, we need to reinforce responses with less latency and omit reinforcements for responses with greater latency.  But this can be difficult to judge.  So its a good idea to look at ways of measuring latency.

A simple way to do this is to count in your head whilst awaiting a response from the dog.  You can count the seconds (one thousand, two thousand, etc) between giving a cue and pressing your clicker to mark the start of the response.

Once you have figured out the range of latency durations that the dog is currently offering, you can begin to address the problem by refusing to mark and reward the longest gaps.  And by only reinforcing responses with shorter latency.

Like any other aspect of training it is important not demand too much, too soon.  Reduce the gaps gradually.

Fluent behaviours

Our aim in dog training is to have a dog perform a behaviour fluently.  Latency is just one of the three components of ‘fluency’ in trained behaviours.  The other two are ‘precision’ and ‘speed’ and we’ll be looking at those in a later article

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This website is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson

Pippa's book Total Recall is a complete recall training programme for puppies and adult dogs, and her Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to puppy care and early training

by Pippa Mattinson on November 4, 2014

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzy November 8, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Hi Pippa – does that mean I shouldn’t mark (either with a click or a ‘yes’) a long latency response that I’m not going to reward? I have been using ‘yes’ as a marker in my training. If I’m not going to reward him should I not use the marker?


Pippa Mattinson November 10, 2014 at 11:07 am

Hi Suzy, yes that is correct, don’t use the marker without a reward, if you do this too often, you will weaken the effectiveness of the marker


Michelle July 10, 2015 at 11:13 am

I am really excited about new terminology and ideas. ..we find Rusty responds to all family members re. Certain commands eg. “Pillow”..which means he must go to his pillow while we are in the dining room.
Is it advisable to have one person only who gives the command ?..It is usually me who gives the command but my 6 year old son is Rusty ‘ s owner. Perhaps he should be the one to give the command? I have only come across the term ‘latency’ nik, so I will be able to gauge how well we are doing on this tonight.
Thanks..very informative !


Pippa Mattinson July 12, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Hi Michelle, its fine to teach a dog to respond to a variety of different people, probably best to make sure he has learned the cue thoroughly first.


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