"Pounce" - excited and responsive
 
 

Several years ago pro trainer Julie Knutson described balance in terms of five factors – retrieving, “birdinesss”, focus, control and responsiveness. When a dog does poorly, the first read is “the dog is out of balance”. The next step is to determine which of the factors is the problem (may be more than one). Once this analysis is completed, training is altered with the rationale to “adjust” for the weakest factor(s) and thus restore balance. The problem becomes how?

Lack of control seems to be a prevalent issue. Often times control is the result of weak responsiveness. It is difficult to “make” a dog pay attention and have it be rewarding at the same time. How does one “make” a dog have more control if in the process it is not fun? How does a dog learn that following rules is the best way
to do things? “Or else” training in the long run is often counter-productive. It is common knowledge that doing well and having fun is exciting and self-rewarding. Why is that?

Adrenaline is cool and can be very effective. Many years ago, when working on my Master's thesis, the effects of adrenaline on memory proved interesting. Simplified to the essence (no pun intended), adrenaline enhances memories.


Therefore, in training if we provoke adrenaline releases the long term effects will be beneficial when the action is rewarding and worthwhile. In contrast with the expression "avoiding mistakes" as it relates to dogs vs. trainer confrontations, adrenaline will often create lasting poor behaviors.

One of the difficulties with retriever training is how to make good behavior exciting. If one could cause a dog to produce an adrenaline rush when performing steady routines the skill would be greatly enhanced. However, often times when working on control there are corrections and it is not fun and/or exciting in a manner which is enhanced by adrenaline. Often times the dog is remembering the wrong message.

Recently, I have begun training a pup using Hillmann's approach and I could not help but notice the rapid development of a stable sit in my pup. She's too young, easily distracted and excitable to expect extended focus.............or so I was conditioned to believe.

After reflecting on this a bit, what seems to be happening is the "sit" is being quickly alternated with the excitement of chase in almost the same time frame. The key is both are taking place in the same, brief moment. The excitement causes adrenaline to be released and it is still there to enhance the good memory of sit. To say it in another way...sit becomes excitingly positive, rewarded and entrenched as a good memory because of the adrenaline "kick" elicited by the "chase".

The proper use of adrenaline is a powerful tool.  To repeat...the "lessons" are not protracted. The phrase "short and sweet" is an excellent description.

In contrast, if behavior becomes a painful battle of wills (weak or strong) while training.......and adrenaline is in the mix (which it certainly will be), a dog will remember those incidents "as not much fun". The dog may obey because of fear when training, but soon learns there is little to fear when testing.

With fewer "techniques" for
enforcement (while testing), standards may quickly erode. With continued testing, any repeated poor behaviors become adrenaline entrenched as negative expectations.

Adrenaline at the wrong time can undo "good stuff" (or worse).
 

                                      
                                                                     The eyes reveal responsiveness.