What does bridging stimulus mean in clicker training?

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The clicker itself, which is the event marker in clicker training, signaling that the correct behavior has been executed is, in technical terms, the “bridging stimulus.” When the animal performs the desired task, the trainer uses the clicker and then delivers the primary reinforcement, which is usually a treat.

Depending on the species involved, over time, the click followed by praise may be all the animal needs in the way of reinforcement. Dogs, for instance, are very eager to please their “master.” This is literally a genetic imperative harkening to their role as pack animals. There is always a pack alpha, which in a healthy human / dog relationship is the human.

Cats are definitely not pack animals. They are lone predators. While a cat can be clicker trained quite effectively, the treat element of the process can rarely be eliminated. Cats learn the things that serve them best and disregard the rest. Even though felines are much more affectionate with their humans than is commonly understood, they are not “obedient” in the sense that a dog is obedient.

Clicker training is actually well-suited to cat training, however, because the sound is unique and not something the cat hears every day — like your voice. And anyone who has ever been ignored by a cat knows just how well these animals can tune out routine sounds!

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