Me, around the time of the development of the IB

Our latest podcast is:  IB:  Supertool for building duration.  I hope you are revved up with interest to claim this tool for your own and maybe you are seeking additional information.  Here is some background that may be helpful.

What is a  (Terminal) Bridge?

A bridge is a signal, or marker, telling the animal that it has successfully met your request.  It’s a term coined by Keller Breland, who helped initiate open ocean work with dolphins and other marine mammals, with the US Navy.  In oceanariae, trainers could immediately toss a fish when the animal was successful.  But working in the open ocean, often the animal was too far away, or too deep underwater.  So Keller fashioned a signal that told the animal it had met success and food would come later.  (It should have been food ‘could’ come later, but that’s a discussion for another day.)  So a ‘bridge’ bridges the cap in time between  an animal’s success, and his primary (or other further) reinforcement.  This bridge is the Terminal Bridge.

What is the Intermediate Bridge?:

An Intermediate Bridge is an immediate, continuous signal that the animal is headed toward success. It breaks a long interval into tiny, achievable, pieces. (about 8/second, versus the slower clicker).    I bridge at the rate of 7.82-3 beats a second (which coincidentally is the main Schumann resonance – another fascinating subject for another time!)..  If, during the behavior’s progression,  the animal diverges from ‘correct’, he is within an eighth of a second of his last correct response and tends to self-correct without any other prompting or consequences.  

Shorthand:  IB

The Intermediate Bridge can be notated IB for short.  It is a reinforcer, not a Keep Going Signal, (claimed by Karen Pryor, who defined the KGS as a re-cue, during my workshop at the ABAI in Boston, 2004).  The IB is conditioned with a primary and a secondary reinforcer, so might be considered a tertiary reinforcer, except that there is evidence that it is intrinsically reinforcing to animals that have no conditioned association with the IB  or its sound.

History of the IB:

In 1990, I was working with the University of Maryland Swine Unit staff, to teach pigs to cooperate with blood draw from the vena cavae, in order to test for various diseases (required by law).  The University was seeking to decrease stress from this procedure, and approached me to see if there was a way to improve the process.  The traditional process appeared to be very stressful and scary to the pig, and took three people to accomplish.  In the video below, two of those people were vets and one the lead scientist, but could be a technician.  

The pigs hated the procedure so much, I doubted our success, but just started training anyway (one of our mottos is ‘suspend disbelief’).  There was a small but dangerous risk in this procedure.  The site of the blood draw was  the vena cavae which is about an inch from the pig’s heart, and near the vagus nerve.  If the nerve was nicked, the pig could drop dead immediately. 

How to reduce this risk?  We increased the feedback for the pigs, during training, so that they were confident they were on track for success, even though the duration of the behavior (time they had to stay on target) was rather long.  We introduced a signal that broke the duration into tiny intervals, each interval getting a ‘mini’ bridge, telling the animal that he was progressing successfully toward a Terminal Bridge (the big success for that behavior).  Since these signals came between the Terminal Bridge and the request for the behavior, they were called Intermediate bridges.

The blood collection project was very successful, and was the first attempt we know of to use bridge and target techniques with farm operations.  It took an average of 1 hour per pig to accomplish the task.  There was one significant problem with our procedure.  Instead of being afraid, the pigs all wanted to be first to give blood!  We had to teach them to only come forward when their name was called.  In the video, check over the tech’s shoulder and you will see the next pig quietly waiting in line. Ironically, this video shows the success of using the IB, but not the IB.  That is because it is a teaching tool which is dropped out when the animal no longer needs the success.

What do other trainers think of the IB?:

It seems to depend on whether they know how to use it.  I introduced this tool, and this video, at the 1991 IMATA conference – to an enthusiastic response when these professional trainers saw the traditional procedure versus the trained cooperation. The IB was included in IMATA’s lexicon of training terminology.   But, in online discussion, wow,  did I get grief for this innovation!  I was publicly told, by highly respected trainers, that it was unnecessary, redundant, a gimmick, and that I had named it wrong!  However, trainers that actually learned to use the IB reported saving 25-75% of their previous training times, and did not give up using this tool once they tried it.  However, I see many trainers who think they are using an IB, but are not – or at least are not optimizing their use of it.  But greater results are within easy reach.

Uses of the IB:

The IB has at least 13 distinct useful applications, including decreasing latency, intensifying any aspect of a behavior, leading the animal to self-correct and give virtually errorless work even during learning, and more.  It helps us build duration on behaviors, with a quick and predictable progression, and virtually no errors.

What is ‘Duration’?:  

The amount of time the animal is asked to stay on target, for example, for blood draw, milk collection, examination, wait, stay, and delay to execute command – just to name a few places we need duration.

Video of pig blood draws, old procedure and our procedure:   Pig blood draw