Bridges!! What on earth are they I hear you ask? Well, let me explain. They are a way of communicating with your dog, a way of telling your dog it is doing the RIGHT thing and to keep going, or conversely telling him it’s not the right thing so try again. With all the techniques I have discussed on my blog, largely, they are all about communication in some form, providing feedback for a dog thereby increasing the chance of successful and fast learning. Bridges, are no different, let’s see what they’re all about!
There are two types of bridges, one is a “finishing'”or “terminal bridge”, which effectively ends the behaviour signalling it has been done successfully. The other is a “mid way” bridge, or an “intermediate bridge”. This tells your pup they’re on the right track and getting the task done well.
These are additional signals to your dog, extra feedback, which aim to speed up learning and provide more information for the dog during the teaching of new behaviours. They can keep focus, work to encourage a pup to keep going, and provide that added communication we sometimes need.
Often people will use the clicker or verbal marker (ie. Yes!) as a ‘terminal bridge’, a completion and ending of the behaviour signalling to the dog ‘that was right’ and reinforcement is coming. As we know, this terminal bridge is a great way of marking the behaviour the exact second it is completed correctly.
The intermediate bridge however is slightly different, and quite interesting. I have not used intermediate bridges myself with my own dog, however I do find the subject fascinating and I do know dogs who have used this technique with huge success. If I had a plan to teach a hugely complex behaviour, I may well consider using this kind of communication with my dog however. It may SOUND incredibly complicated, however it isn’t. An intermediate bridge is a continual audible sound, which signals to the dog they are going down the right path and to keep going! Whilst a clicker or terminal bridge will mark and effectively end a behaviour and signal reinforcement is coming, the intermediate bridge will merely tell the dog to keep going down the route it is going because it’s RIGHT.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the game hot/cold? We keep signalling to someone ‘warmer, warmer, colder, warmer, colder’ as the person gets closer and closer to the correct behaviour! Well, the intermediate bridge is remarkably similar to that. The continuous sound will increase in volume or tempo or indeed pitch the nearer the dog gets to the final behaviour, but will cease if the dog makes the wrong choice. Thereby, providing feedback to the dog on what is, and indeed isn’t, the correct path to go down for reinforcement.
These intermediate bridges or ‘noises’ vary, I have seen trainers using ‘chichichichichichi’, I do believe a wonderful border collie I know uses ‘g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g’ or similar! (Nat and Button!). There is debate out there as to whether ‘good’ is simply enough, however ‘good’ is used so indiscriminately in our everyday lives, a more distinctive and ‘unusual’ sound is said to be more effective.
So we can see how and why these intermediate bridges work, offering additional feedback to a dog that they’re going down the right path, also signalling when they’re NOT. So, more feedback, that’s great isn’t it? But…….can’t we just shape using a clicker??
Well, yes we can. However bear in mind a clicker does and usually will end a behaviour. We can build up duration of certain behaviours very nicely with a clicker, but when thinking of complex behaviours, for example target training using body parts, or reverse weaving, or other such intricate and challenging movements, this intermediate bridge is a great way to provide feedback, encouragement, keep interest and most importantly KEEP the behaviour going.
So, are we all going to start using bridges?? Or maybe, like me, you’re open to most (not all!) types of training and willing to have a go! Not all techniques and methods suit all people, or dogs for that matter…………so many techniques and methods and so little time.