The Bridge

The bridge, usually a sound like a click or whistle, is an important part of training with positive reinforcement. You may already be familiar with bridges, especially if you have attended a dog obedience class. Metal clicker boxes have become a popular way of training dogs: ask the dog to “sit,” and as soon as his butt hits the ground, you click and give a treat. The click marks the sit behavior, essentially telling the dog, “THAT is exactly what I want you to do, a treat is coming!” It is more precise than using treats alone. After sitting, the dog might stand up by the time he eats the treat; without a click, the dog might think the reward was for standing. The clicker acts as a bridge, appropriately named because it bridges the gap of time between the behavior you want (sitting) and when they get the reward.

The bridge can be any sound or symbol the animal learns to associate with food. I simply make a “cluck” sound with my tongue for our birds. In this short video, I use the bridge to teach Carson to touch the target stick. Now that you know what the bridge means, watch the video carefully to answer these questions:

  • What mistake do I make with the bridge when Carson touches the target stick?
  • How can you tell that she understands what the bridge means?

Could you spot my mistake? In this session, multitasking with my camera divided my attention and I actually bridged AFTER she touched the target, a second too late. If she didn’t already understand the target behavior, a late bridge could have confused her even more. Did you notice how she responded to the bridge? Looking around in different directions, she searched for the food she knew she earned. Rest assured that after I set the camera down, she got a juicy reward!

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