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The Limited Hold


Techniques Conditioning > The Limited Hold

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



The limited hold involves placing a strict time limit between a cue and the required action. If the action is completed later than this time limit, then no reward is given.

A key purpose of the limited hold is to ensure a prompt response to a command. It is particularly useful when a subject is slowing in its response or has never learned to respond with speed.

Make the initial hold period slightly less than the current response rate. Then when the subject has learned to respond within this hold period, you can steadily decrease the period until the subject response with reliable and due alacrity.


A trainer calls a dog to come in and sit. The dog takes its time but eventually obeys. The trainer gives no reward or comment. Next time the dog comes more quickly and gets rewarded.

A child does not come to the dinner table within the two minutes that have been stipulated. Their parent gives the child's dinner to the dog. The child quickly learns to arrive at the dinner table quickly!


The limited hold offers an alternative to frustrated trainers who may be tempted to resort to punishment, even if they know how counter-productive this may well be. Anger is a natural human response when things do not happen as they have planned, and this easily ends up directed towards a puzzled and alarmed subject.

For the subject, the limited hold may at first be puzzling if they are expecting a reward -- and indeed they may have been conditioned to expect a reward even after a very slow response and with much encouragement.

When the subject does not get their 'due' reward, they need to learn that they must move faster to get this reinforcement. As with other training, they may initially be offered more encouragement, but the hold period should not change, otherwise the subject may be confused or make incorrect assumptions. Starting with a hold period just short of the normal response give the subject a reasonable chance of discovering this.

See also

Discriminative Stimulus, Response Lag


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