Animal training is essential in helping dogs develop good behaviors and new skill sets. So they can become detection champions, good patrol dogs, wildlife detection dogs, service dogs, or just well-behaved members of society. Knowing the difference between a bridge and a keep-going signal (KGS) is essential to help dogs understand what is expected of them and how to reward them for good behavior. But when these two techniques are not used clearly, dogs can get confused, and trainers can get frustrated.
I use a bridge signal as a cue that indicates to an animal that a reward is coming. It is an auditory, visual, or haptic cue that is given immediately before the reward and serves to bridge the gap between the behavior and the reward. The bridge signal reinforces the behavior and helps the animal better understand the relationship between the behavior and the reward.
This understanding can help the animal learn new behaviors or perform existing ones more accurately. By providing the bridge signal, the trainer can communicate to the animal that the reward is coming, while the kgs encouraging the animal to continue performing the desired behavior. For this reason, the bridge signal must be clear, honest, the same and always is followed by a reinforcer. Also, the animal must be able to perceive it. A deaf dog cannot hear a clicker, but a haptic or visual signal can function as a clear bridge for this deaf dog.
Trainers must ensure that the bridge signal is given consistently and immediately before the reward. It is also essential to ensure that the bridge signal is distinct from other cues or environmental noise, as this can help the animal to understand the signal better. It is also important to ensure that the bridge signal is associated with a valuable reward, as this will help increase the animal’s motivation to perform the desired behavior. Finally, it is essential to remember that bridge signals are only effective when used consistently and appropriately, so it is crucial to ensure that they are used correctly and consistently. Timing and criteria are playing a important role.
Dog trainers often change the definitions scientists give us because they are trying to develop new methods of training dogs that may be more effective than traditional methods. As new technologies and techniques become available, trainers may want to incorporate them into their training approach, which could mean changing some of the definitions that scientists gave. Additionally, different trainers may have different approaches to training depending on the dog’s individual needs and their own teaching style, so changing definitions may be necessary to customize the training for each dog.
The risk of changing definitions that scientists gave us is that it can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. If trainers are not careful to ensure that their definitions are consistent with what the scientific literature suggests, it could lead to incorrect information being shared with dog owners. Additionally, changing definitions could lead to trainers leaving out essential elements of canine behavior and training, which could have a negative impact on the training, the dog’s welfare or confuse other trainers and handlers.
For this reason, I emphasize in this blog that there is a difference between a bridge and a keep going signal (KGS). To make it clear and simple, a bridge is a conditioned reinforcer given as a cue and immediately followed by a reward for a desired behavior. This reward can be a sound such as a clicker, a whistle or a haptic signal such as a touch or vibrating collar. Or a visual cue like a hand-, light signal, or just throwing a treat. Whatever you use as a bridge, the dog must be able to perceive it. A keep going signal is a long or repeating cue given to an animal to continue doing a desired behavior. This cue can be a sound, physical movement, pulling the leash, verbal instructions, and more. In short, the bridge is given as a reward for the desired behavior, while the keep going signal is used to prompt the animal to keep doing the behavior.
Why animal trainers change these scientific definitions is not always clear. Some like to start a discussion; others like to come up with ‘a new way of dog training’; some trainers never knew the existence of the KGS in the literature, or some trainers want to slam their name on a method that was out there but not so familiar by the mainstream handlers. As I always explain at the beginning of my workshops, there is no Simon Prins method. What I use for techniques to train dogs is using classical and operant conditioning. And I was blessed to learn this from the people that brought operant conditioning out of the laboratory into the real world, Marian and Bob Bailey.
Yes, I did design the laser-, and radio-directional protocols that are used worldwide. The key success was using classical and operant conditioning, the bridge and keep-going signals in combination with targets, developing innovative and smart protocols, and collecting lots of data.
Interestingly, Keller and Marian Breland introduced the clicker as a bridge signal in animal training right after the second world war. And they started to use Keep Going Signals in their Animal Behavior Enterprise (ABE) company in the ’50s. So the clicker as a bridge signal is not new, and the KGS is not new. But how trainers introduce it and frame it these days is different. The focus must be on what a bridge or KGS actually is and how it can benefit your training. So if you are training your detection dog and start pulling the leash when the dog is alerting a target odor, ask yourself if you do this as a bridge, as a KGS, or as a distraction.
I am not judging people that explain to me they are using it as a bridge signal but actually are using it as a keep going signal. I like to make people curious about what has already been done in the past by the pioneers and scientists in animal training and research. To help each other to understand the often subtle differences between those definitions so we all can learn, grow and do a better job.
When using a bridge or keep going signal, it is crucial to be consistent and use the same cue and a reward with value each time the dog does the desired behavior. This helps ensure that the dog keeps doing the behavior to get the reward.
Additionally, it is important to design your protocols so that you can ‘push’ for a little bit more behavior each time. In this way you can train toward the next level. Take good notice of the dog’s body language. It is also about understanding the dog’s body language. Because it can help you as a trainer to know when your dog is confused or when he is getting frustrated. And when learning is going fast, in an optimal flow. If a dog is getting frustrated, it is important to take a break and try again later.
Finally, it is essential to know the dog’s individual needs and tailor the training methods to meet them. Different dogs have different energy levels and personalities, so finding the right balance of challenge and reward for each dog is important. Animal training is a complex process, and it is vital to understand the difference between a bridge and keep going signal and why animal trainers may change scientific definitions for their own benefit. By understanding these concepts and being aware of the dog’s body language and individual needs, trainers can help their dogs learn faster and reach the level of performance they want and need to get the job done.
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