Using ‘bridges’ in dog training – Cambridge Puppy Training


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.

For more information about anything discussed, just get in touch!


Puppy biting and nipping – Cambridge Puppy Training

puppy biting

This is probably one of my favourite subjects! Every puppy I have seen has an entirely unique personality and entirely different lifestyle/routine to every other. So, in my experience, there really is no ‘one size fits all’ with regards to dealing with puppy biting. Considerations such as your lifestyle, family members, crate/no crate, toys, exercise levels/needs, etc must be examined before deciding on an approach to tackle this behaviour that will suit you, your family and your lifestyle. There would be no point in me advising you to get up and remove all attention from your pup and leave the room when he bites, if his primary carer throughout the day lives in an open plan apartment! Or advising you to redirect his attention to an appropriate toy, if it is 9pm and he is merely overtired. So, it’s important to see the puppy, his lifestyle and your routine before deciding on a definite plan of action.

Nipping and biting is normal for puppies, I would hazard a guess that all of your pups displayed this behaviour at some time albeit with varying intensities. It’s normal, natural, and painful! I’ve discussed this topic before, however it is probably THE most commonly asked question I receive, and probably one of THE least understood.

Pups will learn a huge amount from their littermates and mums, they will learn crucial social skills that they will take off out into the world with them, they will also learn a certain degree of bite inhibition. What is bite inhibition? Being aware of the hardness of a bite and controlling it appropriately. There are varying ways to tackle biting in pups, but it’s important to look at WHY pups bite in the first place. There are varying reasons, identifying the reasons for biting behaviours can be hugely helpful in minimising the behaviour.

A few ideas may be:

  • tiredness
  • over stimulation/over excitement
  • attention seeking/learned behaviour
  • teething/sore gums

Once you’re getting a pretty good idea as to what causes the nipping behaviour your pup displays, you have a slightly better chance of tackling it. Of course, a puppy may bite for various reasons, including all of the above, so having a good relationship with your pup and understanding his basic needs and wants will help you decipher his behaviour a bit better.

So, what can we do?? How do we curb the puppy biting??

There are various techniques which are appropriate for when your puppy STARTS biting, and we have discussed these before. If you need more advice on this just get in touch. However, it’s really important to try and get in BEFORE the behaviour even begins, and by this I mean we can start NOW encouraging the behaviours we want to see more of, thereby minimising the behaviours we don’t want to see ie. teeth on skin! I’m not suggesting by following the below techniques your pup will never ever bite, he likely will, most do, but it may well be with less intensity and quicker to curb and discourage if you have done some preparatory training before hand.

One of my favourites is a game I call ‘Flying Toys’. Essentially, this means we encourage and teach our pups to leave objects alone which fly by their faces! How often does a pup grab a trouser leg? Or a sleeve? Or our hand? These are fast moving objects and SO so tempting for our pups! However if we train them from early on to get used to and indeed ignore objects moving very quickly, and mark and reward their lack of ‘grabbing’ and interest, we are setting ourselves up with a far better chance of saving our clothes! This will also come in handy further down the line when you start work on your distraction training.

Another of my favourites is encouraging the ‘gentle’ cue. I would much prefer my pup lick my hand rather than bite, paw or mouth my hand. Encouraging our pups to see our hands as something fairly fragile which must be treated ‘softly’ rather than something to be grabbed, pawed and bitten, is hugely beneficial. Encouraging a ‘gentle’ cue early on can really help in the intensity of any biting behaviours further down the line.

Target training! Another favourite of mine, getting pups used to targeting our hand with their nose. Not only is this a useful training exercise for varying reasons, it encourages pups to see/approach our hands in a more controlled and gentle way, with their nose rather than their teeth! Also, overly exuberant pups can really hurt when ‘grabbing’ treats during luring of behaviours, by target training we can minimise this by encouraging them to follow a target, rather than a lure. This will also come in handy when teaching other behaviours, for example recall.

Teaching our pup to ‘leave’ on cue is really useful too. Marking and rewarding the ‘leave’ from an early age can really help our pups learn fairly quickly that backing off from something is incredibly rewarding! Usually we start to teach this using treats in our hand, then build up to other objects, so again we are encouraging some control and appropriate behaviour around our hands/skin!

As with any kind of training we do with our pups at a young age, largely it is based around impulse control. Pups are by their very nature opportunists, they will do what works, if running around grabbing your trouser legs or leaping at your hands to bite works, if they gain satisfaction from this behaviour more than anything else around them, then they will of course repeat the behaviour. So we can think about providing other options for our pups which will be equally if not more reinforcing than our trousers/arms/hands, and encourage from a very early age some basic control around our hands, skin and clothes!

Remember, encouraging our pups to engage in alternative appropriate behaviours from a very early age will minimise the intensity of any undesirable behaviours. Encouraging a ‘gentle’ cue before the biting really takes off, or encouraging a ‘touch’ before the pup becomes a bit ‘grabby’ with your hand, can and will really help when you come to face the dreaded biting phase!!

If you need help with teaching any of the above or would like more information about the services I offer just get in touch!


Does a marker end a behaviour when dog training? – Cambridge Puppy Training

does a marker end a behaviour

Does the marker end a behaviour? This is a really valid question, and one which I think is important to answer! I find marking behaviours really useful, not only when I’m working with pups who are just starting out but with my own dog who is 8 years old! Marking the behaviour, in my experience, really shows the dog exactly which behaviour is getting reinforced, and speeds up the learning process.

For example, say I am teaching a puppy to sit, if I lure him into his sit position and start praising ‘good boy oh you’re so good you’re so clever!’ and then reach for my treat pouch, I get a treat out and by this time my pup has got up and I am still telling him he is such a good boy. What exactly am I rewarding? Am I rewarding the following of the hand signal? Am I rewarding the actual sit? The getting up after the sit? The following of my hand (target) to the treat pouch? I want my pup to know exactly what behaviour earned that treat!

However, there is a very valid question when using any reward marker, be it verbal or clicker, does the marker end the behaviour thereby giving our pup a signal to get up, move and end the behaviour? I, myself, found this tricky to get my head around, for if it DOES end a behaviour, how are we ever to build up duration? In ANY behaviour? Or how are we to start teaching a behaviour chain?? If we want to teach our pup to retrieve, or send away, or stay, we need to surely mark and reward along the way, no? But this ends the behaviour? All very difficult.

Except it’s not, not really. Essentially, yes, a marker does indeed end a behaviour. It signals to a dog they have performed a behaviour which will be reinforced. If they are at a distance, or in the middle of a down stay for example, your dog will likely either come toward you for the reward or at least get up! So, we are clicking or marking at the end of a behaviour. One important point to remember is that once a behaviour is established, we don’t really need to mark that behaviour any more. When we’re teaching a new behaviour or shaping one, indeed those markers are very important, they help the pup to understand which behaviour is getting reinforced increasing the likelihood of it being repeated. Once that pup has the behaviour down to fine art, and it is put on cue, we don’t need to click and treat as we once did! If we click or mark a behaviour without following up with our reinforcer, we are essentially ‘unpairing’ the two, which we definitely do not want to do.

So, how do we go about this? Rewarding behaviours without ending the behaviour? Well one way is to see duration training as a different training exercise completely to the actual behaviour you are teaching. Say, for example, you are teaching down stays. You start off by teaching a fairly reliable ‘down’, this will be marked fairly quickly in those early stages. You may start off by marking the behaviour the second the body hits the floor, you then may mark after 2 seconds of being in the position. Then, you will start to work on duration. You will indeed mark to end the behaviour, however you will in tiny increments increase the time before you mark. By seeing the duration as something separate from the actual down position, you can start to build duration effectively. Many people may click and mark throughout a sit stay for example, which I have done myself, but this isn’t always as effective although you may have success. You may well still be pairing the marker with the reward but what exactly are we marking? The sit? Or the duration of the sit? Or the eye contact? Or the lack of eye contact? There is no obvious behaviour that we’re marking. Also be mindful of either ignoring undesired responses i.e. breaking out of position or using a no reward marker to signal to the dog ‘that’s not right’. 

Another example may be when teaching a send away, I want my pup to go out to a target and drop into a down. How do I do this when I want to mark the going out, I want to mark the targeting, and I also want to mark the down! Lots to mark but I don’t want to ‘end the behaviour’ each time or we’ll never get a chain of behaviours. Well, we can shape. We can start off by marking the going out, we then will only mark when the pup targets, we then will only mark once we have the down, we then will only mark once we get to the pup to reward. Also, it’s worth bearing in mind ‘behaviour chaining’. I detailed this in another blog article, however to recap it is the process by which a cue becomes a reinforcer for a behaviour PLUS a cue for another behaviour. So, we mark, reinforce and cue the next behaviour all in one go!

So, as stated above, essentially a marker does indeed end a behaviour. However we can build duration in tiny increments by teaching it as an entirely separate exercise to the position or behaviour being performed. Bear in mind once a behaviour is established and attached to a cue word, we don’t need to repeatedly click and treat every single time the pup performs the behaviour forever more! Also, we can use our cues as markers, reinforcers AND cues all in one go!!

For more information about anything discussed just get in touch!

Travelling with your puppy – Cambridge Puppy Training

travelling with your puppy

Travelling with your pup can be hugely fun! With proper preparation, including your little one in your holidays and adventures is enjoyable for you and your pup. Whether you’re venturing off to far flung lands, or travelling a few hours down the motorway in the UK, there are a few things to consider before taking off on your travels.

Ensure your pup has a secure collar with id tag on at all times, it is a legal requirement for dogs to have some form of identification around their neck. Also, ensure your pup is microchipped with the information correct and up to date. You will need to think about how your puppy is travelling, you could invest in a safety harness designed for the car, with a seat belt clip. Alternatively, you could use a crate/carrier for your pup, making sure it is tethered/attached to something secure within the vehicle. Make sure the sleeping area has a comfy bed inside, preferably one from home which is used regularly by your pup. It may seem rather obvious, but ensure your pup has access to fresh drinking water at all times.

You may want to provide toys/treats/chews etc for the journey. It’s best to make sure these are fairly durable and long-lasting, you don’t want to have to keep checking for wear and tear of the toys/chews and any potential swallowing hazards! It’s always a good idea when travelling anywhere to take a couple of spare leads/collars, just in case any are chewed by your pup or you lose one.

We want to ensure we build up exposure to any new environment positively and gradually, so make early experiences fun, enjoyable and short. We are aiming to gradually habituate your pup to this strange new place, to us it’s just a vehicle but to our pups it’s something very large and new! You could try possibly feeding your pup in the vehicle a few times, really trying to build up positive associations. You could also do a few small training sessions in there too, working on some calming behaviours such as ‘downs’ or ‘wait’s. Fairly passive behaviours which encourage settling are best, nothing which creates excitement or raises arousal levels. Try not to do too many training sessions, just a couple, we don’t want our pup thinking we just get fun training sessions in the vehicle and annoying you when travelling for more training fun!

You could sit in the vehicle with your pup a few times prior to travelling anywhere, encouraging calm behaviours. For example, give your pup a stuffed kong in his crate/pen whilst you read for a while, thereby rewarding him for settling in the vehicle and amusing himself in an appropriate way. You could extend this further and even sleep in the vehicle at night a couple of times if you wish! (I’m thinking of caravans or motorhomes!) Make sure your pup is aware of where his bed area is, make sure he is comfortable with it, and this may really help him settle down when it comes to long travels.

If possible, try to do a couple of short journeys in the vehicle prior to your long journey, this can really help your pup acclimatise to the motion of the vehicle and the movement. Car sickness in pups is quite common, however by doing lots of short regular journeys, making sure breaking/accelerating and corners are done ‘gently’, you can really help calm the sickness down. Most pups do grow out of it fairly quickly, but if in doubt, do ask your vet who may be able to provide anti-sickness medications. You could consider some ‘calming’ aids, such as an adaptil collar or some rescue remedy drops for your pups water. If you feel your pup is finding the process unsettling these may help him relax.

Some top tips to remember when travelling with your puppy!

  • Plan your rest stops prior to travelling– where, when and how often you will be letting pup out for the toilet and walk/sniff etc
  • Check and make a note of the local vets in the area you are going to, including the nearest 24 hour emergency vet, and possibly a few along the way too
  • Take your pups medical records with you including vaccination history
  • Invest in a dog first aid kit (lots of pet shops will sell these, or amazon online)
  • Consider buying a long tether/peg for the ground, dependent on where you’re going, ensuring your pup can’t run off whilst away!
  • If you have a particularly small pup, you could consider a ramp for easy access in/out of the vehicle

As with any new environment we aim for our pups exposure to be positive and enjoyable. Try not to expect your pup to immediately settle in a new and strange environment without a little pre-planning and habituation!

For more information just get in touch!