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
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
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
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).