The moment you say, “Yes!”

Within the positive reinforcement training strategies, there are plenty of different styles that trainers use to best utilize these training methods.  The beautiful thing is that everything fits in this box, but one is definitely faster than the other.

Over the years, I’ve talked to many trainers about their techniques and what worked for them.  Some decide to reinforce primary every time they bridge, others choose not to.  Others said they would only deliver primary reinforcement when progression was made.  Every strategy works perfectly fine here, although one has a different learning strategy for the animals than the other.

If I think about my own style, I would say that I try to make the animals think for themselves most of the time and catch them making the right steps through shaping with successive approximations.  After the reached approximations I planned for, I will play with my reinforcement history to let the animal know, “Yes! That’s it!”

Sometimes after eight times giving them a bridge, I get what I need and they get their first primary.  This differs a lot, depending how fast the animal gets what I want with proper bridging.  Some of us do this after every bridge and so on.

What I’ve found is you can do this with one animal while another may have less patience.  When bridging and reinforcing with primary more often, I make sure that particular animal has a higher success rate by smaller approximations due to the patience level the animal has learned.


This also got me thinking.  When you tell the animal, “Yes!” and the way you get there affects the animal’s learning.  They learn differently when I’m reinforcing after every bridge with a clear reinforcement or when I reinforce at the conclusion.  Can we encourage them to understand the concept of the bridge?  If that’s possible, our relationships with our animals and our way of learning will reach a whole new level.

I often see animals responding to bridges with an encouraging amount of excitement.  I think it’s a beautiful thing to see; animals who understand the bridge so well that they get excited when they heard it.  I remember a video I saw from Dolphin Research Center where the dolphin got really excited and started to leap again.  Here at Kolmårdens Djurpark on the east coast of Sweden, we have some dolphins that make some funny and awesome vocals after a bridge.  Would this be just because they understand that something else will follow but they don’t know what?

Is it possible to actually encourage that behavior aside from reaching the right criteria in the asked behavior?  What I mean is encouraging the learning part and the response to the reached criteria.  It is putting your focus somewhere else first to reach those steps.  To come back to the, “Yes!” moment, we are trying to put the animal on the right track.

I always try to go back and forth in my training plan for these particular behaviors.  In my eyes, it is more important to teach a stronger history on the steps it took to reach the goal than actually reaching the goal itself.  It won’t take long to retrain a behavior you lost by accident.  Therefore, I’m going back and forth through my training plan and building the history a confirmation what sounds like, “Yes!”

Peter Giljam

“Thinking Outside the Zoo”


Peter is a passionate Animal Consultant that beside teaching you about Operant Conditioning makes sure you will go home motivated and inspired. Make sure you read his Bio!


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