A TARGET -- can be a verb or a noun. The dog is to TARGET (verb) to a TARGET (noun).

An example might be that the dog is to TARGET (aim for -- move towards) a TARGET such as a mat placed on the floor. Additionally, to confuse things even more, the dog can TARGET a TARGET with a TARGET. For instance, I've taught my two Standard Poodles that their different body parts (nose, chin, head, neck, shoulders, hips, rump, fanny, tail, ankles, hocks, feet, chest) are TARGETS (points of contact) that they can use to TARGET (aim for -- move towards) a TARGET (a reference point). Now, you're really confused, right?!

Here's what I mean.  My dogs' hips are target points.  I can touch a hip with a target stick and the dog will move that hip towards the target stick (targeting their hip to the target stick) until I give them the (terminal) bridge that lets them know the behavior is complete (they have reached the goal or destination I had set).

One of the things I'm teaching Sydney and Jyah is a canine musical freestyle routine in which both dogs are participants. 

For those unfamiliar with the term, canine musical freestyle is a choreographed musical program performed by a handler and her dog (or one person with two dogs, or two people each with a dog, or any number of combinations).  Dogs and their handlers are performing in national and international competitions, as well as just for fun and exercise.  When done well, canine musical freestyle is one of the most exacting of all dog sports.

 For the (terminal) bridge (the bridge that ends the behavior), I use a click (clicker) or a word such as "Yes!" 

The terminal bridge is an audio or visual signal that has been conditioned by heavily reinforcing it by pairing it with other (primary) reinforcers such as food, play, or something the dog desires.  It is used to signal the dog that a primary reinforcer will be forthcoming.

The bridge gives the trainer a way of pinpointing the exact instance the dog does a desired action, behavior, or movement, and bridges the time between the desired behavior and when the dog can be rewarded with other reinforcers.  It is used EXACTLY as the goal behavior is reached.  (Note: The bridge itself can even become reinforcing, like praise, to some dogs.)  

The IB is a continuous audio (or visual) signal that trainers use to guide the dog toward the "correct" action, behavior, or movement that he is learning.  It is used BEFORE the goal behavior is reached and helps guide the dog similar to a game of "hot/warm/cold." 

The IB signal is not mechanical and dull.  It is continuous and varies in volume, tempo, and pitch as the dog gets closer to, or deviates from, progressing to the desired action, behavior, or movement.  It stops when the dog makes an error and resumes when the dog is on-track again, whether he corrected himself or whether the trainer had to re-direct the dog.

For an intermediate bridge, I use a sound such as "chichichichichi."   Kayce uses the syllable "x" as in  "xxxxxxxxx."  I knew I wanted to use the intermediate bridge in public with my dogs and the "chichichchi" sound which I can say while smiling without moving my lips  is not noticeable to other people whereas using "xxxxx" made my mouth chatter -- possibly startling observers.


In 2002, I bought a video titled Rhythmic Paws 2, The Gladiator which detailed how Attila Szkukalek, a brilliant and innovative trainer in the United Kingdom, had trained his Border Collie Fly for their amazing Gladiator freestyle routine.  In the video, Attila's uses targets to teach his dog precision at a distance, circles and figure 8 patterns at a distance, head and body positions, sideways walking at a distance, and many others.   This video was the first time I had seen targets used to such a sophisticated degree in dog training.
To teach Fly to walk at his side three feet away looking straight ahead, Attila had Fly on a curb (foot target) while he was three feet away in the street  A food station was set up about ten feet in front of Fly.  As they walked together and Fly looked straight ahead, Attila clicked and let Fly go to the food station for her reward.
In 2005, I attended a seminar where I met Attila and was privileged to watch and learn about this delightful man's positive and inventive training methods.

I use many targets in training my dogs.  In addition to distant targets such as the ones Attila uses, I use targets to get the dog to do behaviors away from me.  Mats and tables can be used as "marks" -- points the dog is to go to and perform an action, behavior, or movement such as Jyah circling on the mat in the picture below.  

"Freezing" Sydney in a birddog pose using three body targets - 1) "nose" forward and level, 2) "tail" held out and slightly up, 3) "wrist" bent with forearm level to the ground, and using the IB to keep each part in place until the goal behavior is reached.  

IMAGINE being able to describe to your dog exactly what behavior you want him to learn.  The idea isn't as far fetched as you might think.  By teaching my dogs a number of foundation behaviors, and by using bridges and targets, I am able to "describe" to them the behaviors I want them to learn, usually without going through a shaping process.  

 I had trained my Standard Poodle Jyah extensively by using positive reinforcement and the clicker.  I adopted Jyah in 2000 when he was seven weeks old and immediately began teaching him behaviors using the "click" to mark the exact moment he had done something I wanted.  The clicker works very well to shape a behavior when the trainer clicks and rewards closer and closer approximations of the desired behavior then ultimately only the desired behavior.  This method should have allowed me to teach Jyah anything he was capable of doing; however, I was having problems shaping some of the behaviors I wanted him to learn. 

Then I read an article titled "Introducing the Intermediate Bridge" by Kayce Cover in the Oct-Dec 2002 issue of American Animal Trainer Magazine.  In addition to the bridge which marks the instant an animal successfully completes a behavior, Kayce outlined an intermediate bridge  which she describes as, " . . . a tertiary reinforcer (in that it is a reinforcer conditioned through its association with a secondary reinforcer), that allows a trainer to give continuous and instantaneous feedback to an animal working to complete a requested behavior.  It can be given verbally, allowing modulation of tone, emphasis, speed, and volume, which can increase its effectiveness and utility." 

Kayce writes that the applications of the IB include:

*Extension of the duration of behaviors
*Acceleration of the animal's progress toward completion of cues request/behavior
*Reduction of latency
*Intensification of focus
*Definition of the traits and limits of behaviors
*Error reduction in learning
*Smooth transitions between behaviors
*Apprehension of increasingly subtle cues

Kayce states that the IB is a form of "intricate coaching" giving the animal feedback at every step in the learning process.  The animal is given the IB while in route to the behavior the trainer has in mind.  The instant the IB ceases, the animal realizes he is off-track and usually moves to correct the behavior.  The animal knows the instant he deviates from perfection and can correct immediately or be re-directed by the trainer to get back on track. 

Jyah: "Please bless dogs everywhere that they may have full tummies, soft beds and sweet dreams."

"I knew I shouldn't have eaten that extra hotdog."

Sydney: "Work, work, work!!
That's all I do around here."

In the above photo, Sydney appears to be dusting the chair with a feather duster.  The *foundation* behaviors for this action are the retrieve (hold, carry) and the "Go Around" cue.  Then I had her *target* the feather duster to (keep it in contact with) the chair and gave her the IB as she was doing it correctly.  After two times around the chair,  I "clicked" and rewarded.  

I taught this action using the intermediate bridge -- Jyah pulls a toy tied to a rope up to the top of the platform.

See how I taught this at: "PULL UP ROPE"

Sydney following a two-finger target to learn weaving legs

 who was using body targets to train her Norfolk Terrier Stamp.  In addition to performing in dog sports, Sassie's dogs are represented by an agent in NYC and are in demand for TV shows and commericals.  See:  Stamp's website

I watched in amazement as Sassie touched her fingertips to her little dog's left shoulder and he followed her hand to the floor leaving his little fanny in the air.  Next she touched his left cheek and he follwed her finger to lay his cheek on the floor.  Finally, she touched his left hip and his hip followed her hand in a circle.  He was breakdancing!!  I was hooked!

Sassie used an intermediate bridge as she asked for each movement.  The IB told her dog that he was doing the correct thing but that he had not yet reached the end of the behavior. 

Note: To see how I'm using body targets, go to: Body Targets .

At left, I'm teaching Sydney to pivot around on her front feet in a circle.  I can describe the completed move by using targets that she already knows. I have Sydney target her front foot to a small circular mat (target). Then, by bridging, to keep her foot on that target, and indicating with a target stick that I want her hip to follow (by targeting to) the stick, I lead her hip, pivoting her around on her front feet in a circle. I give the terminal bridge and reward. TARGETS ARE LIKE WORDS and I've just described the completed move to Sydney in one "sentence." (When the dog is requested to target to more than one target, it must learn which target to target to first, then second, etc. This is called TARGET HIERARCHIES.)

By Charlene Dunlap
May 2003

I am not a professional dog trainer; however, I have spent a lot of time studying dog training, behavioral principals, and working with my own dogs.  I've learned training techniques from many different sources: going to seminars, reading articles, books, and watching videos on all types of dog training.  I also watched videos and read books/articles by marine mammal trainers, horse trainers, parrot trainers, exotic animal trainers, and movie dog trainers. 

In 1984, I read Karen Pryor's book Don't Shoot the Dog which is not a book about dogs per se, but rather one about operant conditioning.  Because of the title, dog trainers read the book and were attracted to its content.  They soon asked Karen to teach seminars explaining these principals to dog people.  I signed up for a seminar and learned about using a bridge (a clicker) to mark the exact moment the behavior occurs.  The click is called a "bridge" because it bridges the time between when the correct behavior occurred and the time the trainer could reinforce the animal.  I also learned how to shape behaviors by clicking for closer and closer approximations.

Next, I attended a Ted Turner seminar.  Like Karen had previously been, Ted was a marine mammal trainer (at Sea World).  Marine mammal training was an area where scientists and professional trainers had evolved a sophisticated method of training and managing large and dangerous animals in a positive way.  Due to his excellent teaching skills, both in his seminars and in the two-set videos of The Power of Positive Training which features Ted Turner, Leslie Nelson, and Patty Ruzzo, Ted was influential in my understanding of learning principals.   Sheila Booth's book Purely Positive Training (1998)  clearly defines these techniques for dog trainers. 

Then I read a manual written by Kayce Cover, B.S. with Asst. Editor Jenifer Zeligs Hurley, Ph.D.  (Dr. Hurley is founder and director of the SLEWTHS project, a marine mammal research center in Califonia.)  The manual,  An Introduction to Bridge and Target Techniques,  is a compilation of the training methods scientists and professional trainers had developed over the past several decades for the purpose of managing and training marine mammals and exotic animals.  Besides the (terminal) bridge, the manual detailed how trainers use an intermediate bridge (IB), which appears to be a more sophisticated form of the KGS (keep going signal) in use by many dog trainers -- the IB having far more scope and capabilities than the KGS. 

Attila Szkukalek, Ph.D, an animal behaviorist and dog trainer from the United Kingdom, had also developed a method of using bridges and targets in training his musical canine freestyle routines.  Besides the (terminal) bridge which ends a behavior,  he had developed a "continue" signal, a bridge in the same family as the KGS and the IB. 

In her manual, Kayce mentions how marine mammal and professional animal trainers use body targets to train their animals, but gave no information on how to go about teaching these.  I was intrigued by the possibilities of teaching my dogs their body parts for training purposes.  However, it wasn't until 2003 when I met Sassie Joiris, a New York

Where I learned about training principals:


I also teach my dogs foundation behaviors that allow me to shorten the time it takes to teach more complex actions and behaviors.  Foundation behaviors are necessary in any type of training; most starting with basic obedience -- Sit, Down, Come, Stand, and Stay.  Each dog training field has its own foundation needs.  As I train my dogs for movies I produce, I have a rather extensive list of foundation behaviors that I want my dogs to know.  

To see some of these, go to HIDE AND SEEK

Close-up targets of different types are useful as well.  At left, Jyah is targeting his left foot to my leg, his right foot to my hand, and his nose to my other hand.

Target sticks and hand targets can "lead" the dog into any number of positions and locations and are extremely useful in many aspects of dog training. 

Away from trainer -- circling on a mat

I use targeting and the IB to "describe" to my dogs what I want them to do instead of waiting for an approximation of the the goal behavior and then clicking for closer and closer approximations.

At right, I am lightly touching Jyah's hip with a target stick which he follows until he has turned from a "front" position to the opposite direction facing away from me.  I then give him the "back" cue (which is a foundation behavior).  He backs through my legs and I tap his other hip to have him turn and back through my legs from the opposite side as I take a step backward -- backward weaving. 

Above I am using the hip target to "lead" Jyah into turning and backing through my legs. 

Here I'm using a hip target to "lead" Sydney around in a circle.  She is also targeting one front foot to a small target mat on the floor. 

Leg weaving, a popular freestyle move, is usually taught by luring the dog with a piece of food or a toy back and forth between the legs.   Since learning bridge and target methods of training, I rarely use lures.  I keep rewards in my pocket or in strategic locations around the area and reward separately from the behavior.  That's why the bridges are so enormously useful.  The dog knows a reward is coming and can concentrate on learning rather than salivating after a lure. 

Three target points

I first saw body targeting when I attended a seminar in 2003 and met Sassie Joiris, a professional dog trainer from New York City

Next, I will begin using the intermediate bridge without the stick when Sydney first starts her pivot and continue the IB until she has completed the circle -- or whenever I want her to stop.  At that time, she will hear the (terminal) bridge that signals her reward.  If I want to refine this move even more, I can describe to Sydney, using targets and bridges, exactly how I want her to hold her head and tail while pivoting.  When the entire concept is met, I will begin using a signal or word for the entire action.  When Sydney is proficient at this, I will remove the target mat from the floor and she will gradually be able to do the complete pivot at a distance on just the signal alone. 

Click on picture to see video of Stamp in Body Targeting article.

based professional dog trainer who uses a variety of methods learned in her long career as an animal trainer, that I saw body targets being used to train a dog.   One of the skills Sassie taught her dog was to recognize different body parts (i.e. feet, hips, shoulders, cheeks, chin, tail).  When I saw how Sassie used her dog's knowledge of these body parts to teach him different actions and behaviors, I was fascinated.





Training with Bridges and Targets

Other articles on this site about training with bridges and targets

Imagine being able to describe to your dog exactly what you want him to do.  It isn't as far-fetched as you might think.


I taught my previous three Standard Poodles many complex behaviors using positive reinforcement and the clicker to shape movements. However, after learning to use the intermediate bridge and targets, I was (and still am) amazed at how much easier it is to explain to my current dogs an action, behavior, or movement that I want them to learn.  I find that a thorough understanding of bridges, targets, and their own body parts, along with foundation behaviors, gives my dogs a better understanding of what is involved in learning any given behavior.

To see videos  of behaviors taught with bridges and targets, go to: Videos or Performances