#66: What does that mean?

Alright, we get it. Sometimes we use terms that make sense to us, but not necessarily to you. So here are a few of the terms that you might find useful when we talk about training:

Signal: Any touch, word, sound or visible gesture that cues the animals to do a particular behavior. For example: saying the word "Wave" directs a seal to move their flipper back and forth. The word wave is a verbal signal.

Putting our hands out and moving from side to side is a gesture that directs the seals to dance. We call this signal a hand signal.

Touching the top of a seal's nose is a signal that cues them to exhale. The touch is called a tactile signal.

Here you can see Jenny giving Lana the hand signal to dance - notice that Lana is raising her left flipper out of the water to mirror Jenny's right hand. Check out this video of dancing behavior.

Bridge: A signal that is used to indicate the precise instant that the seal did something correctly. When the seal hears or feels the bridge, they immediately stop what they're doing and look to the trainer for fish or other reinforcement. It "bridges" the time between the behavior and reinforcement. Like a signal, a bridge can be visual, auditory or tactile.

Some of the bridges that we use include saying the word "Good," a short blow on a whistle, or two gentle taps on the seal's body.

Here is Baranov using his bridge...

...and Paul is using his whistle bridge.

Reinforcement: Anything the animal wants, needs or wants more of. Here at the Aquarium, our main reinforcement for the seals is fish, but it can also be a favorite toy, a scratch on the chin or any number of things. It's good to have multiple types of reinforcement--just like people, each seal has it's own likes and dislikes which can change over time. Also, not all seals like the same thing. One seal might enjoy a scratch under the chin while another one may not want to be touched.

Here, Jenny is using fish to reinforce Lana...

...but sometimes Lana likes to have her neck scratched.

Target: Any object the animal is taught to touch with their nose, flipper or other part of their body. Targets

provide a focal point and can be used to train any behavior. The seals can be comfortable targeting for several minutes during ultra sound or blood sampling. Gradually raising the height of a target over the water helps teach a seal where to jump. Here at the Aquarium, we use three types of targets: a hand target, a target pole with a bead or ball target on the end, and a name target.

Each seal has a specific object for their name target. At the start of each training session, the seals will look or listen for their particular target. When they find it, they know where in the exhibit their session will take place and which trainer will do their training session.

Here you see Smoke is targeting on a trainers hand while Reggae targets on his name target (a plastic tire) and Amelia targets on her name target (a black plastic disc with slits in it). If you look in the background you will also see examples of other name targets--notice how they are all different.

In this video you can see how they all work together:

When I want to ask Chuck and Cayenne to go to their Name targets, I point to the targets (hand signal) while saying the word "Target" (verbal signal). Once Chuck and Cayenne touch their nose to their individual targets, I will say the word "Good" (bridge) and feed them some fish (reinforcement).

Using these four tools correctly is what has allowed us to train so many behaviors. It's fun. Try it with your friends!


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