equine clicker training

using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people

ASAT Conference 2018: Steve White on “Keep Going Signals.”

tracking dogThis is the third in a series of posts based on my notes from the 2018 Art and Science of Animal Training Conference that was held in Irving, Texas on March 24-25, 2018.

While I try to take accurate notes, it is possible that there are errors or that some detail is lacking. If you post a comment or email me, I can try to clarify or provide some additional information. Many thanks to the speakers and organizers who allow me to share.  To learn more about the conference, you can visit the conference website.

Steve White gave a presentation titled “Keep Going Signals: what you need to know before you even consider using them.”

Keep Going Signals (KGS) are often used by some trainers to build duration or train more complex sequences of behavior.  Steve talked about seeing Attila and Fly’s freestyle routine at Crufts and then  meeting Attila at ClickerExpo.  In his demonstration, Attila showed how he used a single click as a KGS, and multiple clicks as the end of behavior (EOB) marker.

Steve was intrigued by this, because it was a different use of the click.  He shared a quote from Karen Pryor, “A training method will be successful to the extent it complies with the principles of learning.”  Attila was clearly being successful, so maybe there was something to the idea of having another marker, in addition to the end of behavior marker.  I liked that he talked about how important it was to be curious when you see someone doing something different and how the dog is the “ultimate arbitrator” of what works.

Steve had already been using Keep Going Signals, but seeing Attila’s training made him look more closely at how he had been using them, and what you should consider before teaching one.  In this presentation, he talked about how they use them with police dogs.

What is a Keep Going Signal?

  • A “cue” that means “I like that, give me more”
  • May also be called an intermediate bridge (IB)
  • Useful in some training situations
  • The original KGS was continuous (used by Bob Bailey)
  • In his work they usually use an intermittent one

Why use a Keep Going Signal?

Operational uses:

  • Law enforcement tracking
  • Detector dogs
  • SAR (search and rescue)
  • Service dogs
  • Remote guidance

Training benefits of a KGS:

  • Useful for duration or repetition
  • Connect movement with position
  • Parallel shaping of multiple behaviors.  Police dogs need to do behaviors like indicate a gun while they are also doing another behavior like scanning the environment.
  • Maintain situational awareness
  • Can build/maintain behavioral momentum

Example of a KGS in police scent work:  The dog is following a scent, loses it and then picks it up again. They want to be able to tell the dog to follow it again. They train this by intentionally setting up a track and putting a break in it – maybe by stopping the dog at a road, putting him in a car and driving him to where he can pick up the track again. When he finds the new track, they use the KGS to tell him to follow it.

It’s an operational “cheat:”

  • They have to cover a lot of material in entry level k9 (the repertoire  includes tracking, obedience, search, evidence search, handler protection, suspect control, obstacles)
  • Compressed timeline – they have to work fast
  • They don’t always have time to finish training before the dogs go to work

Pitfalls of a KGS

  • It can be a form of prompting, and if used when the dog is struggling, it can lead to handler dependence. (It’s better to use it when the dog is doing well)
  • It can be a distraction
  • Preferred route to R+ – Most police dogs will prefer a toy over food – (not sure what he meant here. He made a comment about not making the KGS too valuable)
  • Must be used with precision. If mis-directed and you do end up marking the wrong thing, the only solution is to dilute it
  • You can’t be sure if the dog is responding to the KGS as intended.  With any cue, the dog may be paying more attention to some aspect of it (and not necessarily the one you intended), and this can also be true with a KGS.

You must have solid EOB (end of behavior) marker skills before you teach it – You should NOT teach it unless the trainer is clearly proficient. This means:

  • Clean mechanics
  • Precise timing
  • Being able to handle sublime criteria shifts
  • You need to know how to maintain the momentum of the behavior
  • You need to be able to divide your attention (multi-tasking slows you down)

“You can’t break the rules until you know how to play the game.”  Rickie Lee Jones

More pitfalls:

  • Shortchanging fluency – single biggest problem he sees is trainers trying to build chains when each behavior is not strong enough.
  • Shortchanging generalization – they also don’t have enough generalization before they start – the behavior should be able to be done anytime anywhere
  • Inconsistent criteria shifts – they are not paying attention to what else is happening, this is because they are distracted, multi-tasking

Building an effective KGS

Choose what stimulus you want to use:

  • They use verbal ones in police work because the dog is usually facing away.
  • If you already use a click as an EOB marker, a verbal “good” can work (he had a video of this)
  • Also could do “nice” as KGS, “good” as EOB marker
  • Any variation is fine as long as you are clear and consistent

Introduce it:

  • Train with all 4 classes of activity: stable duration, dynamic, homogeneous chains and  heterogeneous chains
  • At a minimum, train with stable duration and one form of dynamic behavior.
  • Introduce it as a “subliminal” pre-cue, inserting it before the next cue (cue2).
  • Gradually increase salience so the dog is more aware of it
  • Gradually fade cue2, if appropriate
  • Simple…but not always easy

Example:  They cue the dog to do a behavior (Beh1), and then give the KGS (“good”) while the dog is doing the behavior.  This is followed by another cue (cue2).

Beh1 -> “good” -> Cue2.

They want to introduce it very quietly so it doesn’t distract the dog from the task. If you were building duration, you would re-cue the dog to do the same behavior. If you were building a chain, you would use the KGS and then follow it with the next cue.

Remember about the J-curve of learning – don’t get frustrated when you’re in the low part of the curve.

Rounding out your KGS

  • introduce it in the remaining classes of activity
  • introduce it in environmentally cued chains

You should see an increase in the behavior after the KGS – this is how you know it’s working. He had a story about sending a dog out on an obstacle course without him.  He said “good” when the dog was at the top of jumps and doing well.  The dog learned to associate the word “good” with good moments.

Before you consider a KGS:

  • Benefits
  • Costs
  • Risks
  • Training
  • Operations
  • You don’t NEED it – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful in some way

Wrapping up:

  • KGS can have operational and training benefits
  • KGS poses very real risks
  • Develop a KGS installation plan – how are you going to teach it
  • Generalize your KGS
  • Use your KGS mindfully (keep emotion out of it)


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2 replies

  1. I can’t quite see how using a KGS isn’t just the same as building duration…?? And for building duration, we just re-cue. And form me, the re-cue, has more information – keep doing that behavior you are doing. So it’s not just keep going, but keep going at that particular behavior. What do you think Katie? How is a KGS more useful than the cue for the behavior?


    • I’d love to know what Steve would have to say as I wondered this too. In my own training, I find that sometimes it makes more sense to re-cue and sometimes it makes more sense to use a KGS. Steve defined his KGS as “I like that, give me more.” Mine means something closer to “keep going, reinforcement is coming” and I use it when I am working toward a clickable moment (maybe in a chain) or if I have to ask for a lot more duration than usual. In the latter case, I don’t like to risk re-cueing too many times in case that affects the value of my cue. I’d rather risk some deterioration in my KGS as it’s easy to build that back up. It’s a good question and I think both re-cueing and using a KGS have some of the same risks and benefits, so it may have more to do with your horse’s learning history and your personal preference.


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