Introducing the Intermediate Bridge

The Intermediate Bridge leads to engagement!

The Intermediate Bridge:  a Powerful Tool for Trainers

In 1990, I was on a project to teach pigs to voluntarily cooperate with blood draws.  (see video link at bottom of page)  This procedure required the pig to stand steady while someone plunged a 5 inch needle into the vena cava in a blind stick.  There was a small, but significant risk, that if the pig moved, it could cause the needle to nick the vagal nerve, which would be fatal to the pig.  In order to lessen the risk of this event, I wanted to decrease the frustration that occurs in free shaping when we increase the time on target required to earn a reward.

Our team developed two ways to decrease uncertainty and frustration as a response to extended duration on target before getting reward, both of which are effective and have been extensively tested by professional trainers in the field.

The first is ‘Name & Explain’, which is a process of telling the animal, verbally, in plain English (or whatever language that animal is immersed in) what will happen, thus reducing uncertainty.

The second is the ‘Intermediate Bridge’, which is explored further here.

In other words, we can share information so the animal knows what to expect, and we can give earlier feedback on his progress toward success. so he is confident he is headed in the right direction, even though payoff is not offered yet.


  • What is the IB (Intermediate Bridge)?
    • Continuous, immediate conditioned feedback (does not require conscious processing, processed in .025 seconds, vs .2 for light or touch);  Faster than a clicker, which takes .33 seconds to deliver and is a compound sound (2 edges), marring precision
    • Confirms correctness for animal, relieving uncertainty in early learning and encouraging the animal to continue in success
    • Increases speed and efficiency of training, confidence and success of animal, and improves trainer/animal relationship


  • How do you condition  it?
    • Takes 3 trials to condition; with initial conditioning of the terminal bridge and the 2-finger target, takes less than a minute.


  • Uses – here are fourteen
    • Reduce latency
    • Remove uncertainty
    • Reduce repetition and trials
    • Reduce learning error
    • Accelerate progress
    • Intensify focus
    • Intensify effort
    • Support effort, or ‘try’
    • Support self-correction
    • Define limits of a behavior
    • Extend duration
    • Counterbalance 
    • Anchor animal to correct behavior through change, distraction, or challenge
    • Smooth transitions between behaviors
    • Fade or change cues


There are hundreds of trainers certified in the use of SATS and the IB.  Trainers report cutting their training time – sometimes in half.  The Intermediate Bridge is very easy to learn and use for both trainer and animal.


Many expect problems from using an IB – ranging from decreasing the effectiveness of the reinforcers, to needing to use a standardized sound.  As you will see from the video, these fears are unfounded.


Video of IBs in action:


Why use an IB?

Horse,  upon hearing IB

What IBs sound like

The ‘xxxxX’

Various other verbal bridges

How to condition the IB

Condition the Terminal and Intermediate Bridges, and the 2-finger target, dog

Condition bridges and 2-finger target, horse

IBs to build components and behaviors:

Sue Ketland, Squidgee and Mushie

Aligning withers and saddle

Full body x-rays, cat (edited from 13 min for entire training session)

IBs to anchor

Anchors dog with needle trauma

Anchors cat to correct behavior, extends duration

In the beginning…

This is the project, at the University of Maryland, Swine Unit, where the Intermediate Bridge was developed: You won’t hear it here because the pigs are already proficient in this behavior and don’t need the support. However, we designed the Intermediate Bridge for this project, because we wanted a signal to decrease frustration with increased duration on a target (without being told that it would increase); if the pig moves and we nick the vagal nerve, it can be fatal, so we wanted a rock solid duration on the target, and we got it with the IB. Many jump to the conclusion that the pig is being lured. The pig does not get fed during this video, nor during this task (we don’t want the motion from the swallowing). You can verify this by slowing the video and observing. The reason that the bottle is used as a target is because the trainer is working on a technique that allows one person to do all the jobs previously done by 3 people.  AS we see, he succeeded!