Animal training is evolving all the time and we have to keep ourselves open to any and all options that will help the animals we work with learn. There are many techniques we can use, some better than others but the focus should always be on the animal. Some of the techniques we cover in our articles you may or may not be familiar with. So what is the intermediate bridge and the keep going signal, how are they different and how can they help your training?
Going back through old training papers and materials, I tried to find as many different articles about the intermediate bridge and keep on going signal as I could. Unfortunately, both of these training techniques have not been used in scientific articles about behaviour, that I could find. This means that they are not scientifically proven techniques and therefore may be labelled differently. I did however, find some articles about these two topics from Kacey Cover who wrote a guest blog and invented the intermediate bridge in the early 90s. Lacey has a great article about this topic on her website. The other was Ken Ramirez, who has also written a guest blog here at Zoospensefull, he wrote an article about the ‘keep on going signal’ in 2009 and wrote another article in 2018 for the Karen Pryors Clicker Training website about the ‘keep going signal’. Interestingly enough, none of them clearly explain the difference between a keep going signal and an intermediate bridge.
Both the intermediate bridge and the keep on going signal are tertiary bridges which means that it is a reinforcer conditioned through association with a secondary reinforcer. This doesn’t mean you could teach an animal differently. Here is an example of a keep on going signal where the KGS is paired with primary reinforcement instead.
The similarity you see between both of them is that us trainers use it more often than we think, especially in situations where we need to teach duration. Read more about duration here. Another similarity they have is that you are working towards the final terminal bridge.
The Keep Going Signal
A KGS tells the animal you are doing well, keep it up! It can also be suggested as a reminder signal. Such a signal is very helpful when training a duration of a behaviour.
For example: You have conditioned an animal to stay for about 15 seconds. The animal has never done a stay longer than this. Your next step lengthening the time for this behaviour. You give the stay signal to the animal and you wait until 10 seconds pass, after the 10 seconds the animal decides to stop the behaviour and comes to you. Through a predictable practice, the animal might have been conditioned to only do 10 seconds and not longer. If we add a KGS you are easily able to extend the behaviour. You ask the animal to stay again and at 9 seconds you give the animal the same signal, this time the animal stays for another 6 seconds until you bridge. Now as the trainer, you have successfully achieved a stay behaviour for 15 seconds instead of 10.
Another example of a keep going signal is used in the following video. Namsai is asked to back up and is encouraged with a repeated signal and the word “bra” (good in Swedish). Namsai does the behaviour perfectly.
Do we think Namsai can perform this behaviour without the KGS? There is no harm in using a KGS but there is a chance that the signal becomes grey, if over used, as it can be done easily, it might start to lose its strength. The signal can become weak and looses the meaning. Think of it when you hear someone calling their dog over in a park. They shout the name, many times, often with no response.
This is just another explanation how the KGS can be used.
The Intermediate Bridge
The intermediate bridge is functioning as an encouragement signal or a form of intricate coaching to keep working towards the goal. It gives nonstop feedback to the animal. The signal stops when the animal starts doing the wrong thing and repeats when the animal is back on track. It is used in the stages for training a new behaviour. I can ask an animal to stay and say good, good, good, good, good, good until I reach the 10+ seconds where I use a terminal bridge directly after completion.
We can suggest that the intermediate bridge is like a game of hot and cold to the animal.
As we all have our own training style it is good to know those techniques exist. I personally have never used an intermediate bridge but it seems like a very successful and fast way to reach your goals. The article from Kayce Cover even says that the pace you can train goes up by 25-75%. For everybody who says they don’t have time to train, this might be a technique you want to try.
I also want to mention that there is a big difference between an intermediate bridge and a terminal bridge. It kind of says it already in the words. The intermediate bridge is an ongoing signal where the animal shows ongoing behaviour the trainer is looking for. The terminal bridge is nothing more than a signal (clicker, whistle, hand signal, tactile signal) that tells the animal it reached the asked criteria and come back to the trainer for the next information, reinforcement, another signal etc. In my opinion you could call this a release cue as well.
The terminal bridge should not be mixed with a intermediate bridge, KGS or an end of session signal. Those signals are part of the communication we have with our animal and we have to be very black and white in the meaning and use of those signals to not get any confusion.
Working with many trainers and animals, I discovered that some of the teams did mix them up. The outcome was a slower learning process for the animals, confusion and frustration. A terminal bridge should terminate the behaviour, a KGS should tell the animal good job, but keep going and an end of session signal should tell the animal either the session ended or there is no primary reinforcement coming anymore.
Animal training is evolving all the time, you could say it is a living document. We get to understand behaviour a lot better and discover more and more how we can help our animals become effective learners. The most important part of all the techniques used is what the animal shows you. Only then will you know if the animal understand what you want.
Be observant at all times.