Capturing a Behavior

Being able to communicate with animals is something all animal lovers and trainers aspire toward. Having an expression that signals to the animal that they did something correct and a treat will be provided, is essential if you want that behavior to be presented again.

This expression is called a bridge. Bridges in training like actual bridges make an association between two distant points of interest. They make a connection for the animal. The animal performs a behavior, they receive a bridge and then they receive a treat. The bridge communicates to the animal that the behavior they just performed was correct.

Bridges can be seen in the form of words like good or okay, a whistle or the noise of a clicker. One of the reasons why bridges are used is because treats are not always readily available the instant animals do a behavior.

When being reinforced animals generally associate the behavior immediately before the treat, as the behavior that is being rewarded. A delay of a few seconds could mean reinforcing the wrong behavior. Sometimes it would be impossible to give a treat immediately after the behavior. They could be flying around the room or across the yard jumping through a hurdle. The use of the bridge allows us to delay the reinforcer.

Julian my cat and I have a ritual. Most days I come home from work and fall on my stomach on my bed exhausted. With my back exposed, Julian jumps up on the bed and starts kneading me. I get a kitty message most days after work.

The way I trained this behavior was I came home one day and flopped on my bed. Shortly after this, my cat jumped up on the bed and started kneading the bed and made his way to my back. After 4 or 5 kneads, I said “good” and ran to the bathroom closet where the treats are kept and gave him some reinforcement.

If I had the treats with me on bed, the cat would be paying attention more to the treats than my back. To get an animal use to a bridge you must pair it with the reinforcer a few times. Having one constant noise as the bridge works best. Let’s say that word is “good.”

But I want my cat to do this to me.

In the beginning every time you offer a treat to your pet say the word good immediately before the presence of the treat. Through this pairing, your animal will gradually learn that after the word good a treat will follow. Then during your training session when you say the word good your pet will anticipate a treat after they performed the behavior.

After the bridge is set in your animal’s repertoire my favorite technique can be employed: capturing a behavior. The best thing about capturing behaviors is that you can do it anytime and anywhere, as long as you have some treats on hand and can say the word good.

Capturing a behavior is like taking a snap shot of your pet’s behavior that you want repeated. If you want to capture your pet giving you a back massage its easy. Once they start kneading your back or arm, say your bridge and reinforce. If the treats at not within arms reach or can’t be delivered immediately it should still be okay. That bridge should signal to them that what they did during that noise was correct.

Any complete behavior you see your pet doing can be captured. If you want to capture vocalizing on cue, it’s easy. The next time your pet chirps or barks say the bridge and reward. After a few times of observing your pet you will be able to see what makes them vocalize. Right before they vocalize you can introduce a cue, like the word bark, and then when they bark say the bridge and reinforce. You could capture quiet chirps, with your cue “hush”, and loud barks with a cue of “loud.” This will work best if you can guess when they are going to be loud or quiet. You will soon be capturing many behaviors. Scratching their ear, stretching their leg and rolling on the back all just got a lot easier to train, using this capturing technique.

Using the technique of capturing, saying a cue, bridge and then reinforcement, really only works for when you see complete behaviors. If the animal doesn’t do the full behavior and you bridge they are going to keep presented the behavior a little short. Don’t worry there is hope for behaviors that are offered incomplete. But for that technique we will have to wait until next week.

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