It took me a long time to accept that when my dogs went to the line and didn't do what I wanted them to do....."It wasn't the dog." Once I "came
to grips" with that, the next step was to find a way to change.
Basically, a "troubled" dog at the line is out of
balance. Several years ago, at a pro's seminar, balance was described has
having just the right combination of five factors - retrieving, "birdiness",
control responsiveness and focus*. It's fairly simple to recognize that most
of the problems at the line can be blamed on not enough of one or more of
the last three. So what do you do?
*note: The five factor
concept is an idea promoted by pro
trainer and author Julie Knutson.
I knew that retrieving is what my dogs live for and "birdiness"
is off the charts. Therefore, training sessions were designed to maintain
the first two and increase one or more of the other three. I personally feel
"responsiveness" is the catalyst for change. If you are not totally
significant in the dog's mind, you are not there.
Calm, quiet and slow are good things to promote because doing so gets you
"noticed" by the dog. They know what's next and you are in control of
"when". The dog must be responsive. For my dogs it is necessary to emphasize
"focus" and "control" from the time we leave the house until we return. Teamwork
needs a leader.
Everything has become one giant expectation with "you
know who" in charge. “Ready-set-go" is not allowed to happen. Performance
revolves around permission to proceed. Steady, focused, responsive dogs must
ooze, "I am ready whenever you need me." That's the definition of a dog
I don't know how many times my dogs were loaded up for an HRC training day
and when their turn finally came it was "wham/bam" and we were back in the
van. What does this do for focus, control and responsiveness? Not much. No
wonder we ended up out of balance.
Basically, I reduced the number of really "cool" marking setups and focused
more on making sure the routines at the line were "truly important" for the
dog. What did they need?
If you feel like a "potted plant" at the line.......do something about it.
Here's an impromptu drill setup from awhile
back which focused on responsiveness and control in preparation for hunting
season. Kooly and Taffey had no clue of exactly what was going to happen. They are my oldest dogs (11 and 8 years old) and the focus
was "preparation for hunting season". I
had a rough idea of how the session should proceed. Mostly, they had
pay close attention. Each made a few minor errors, but were working with me.
That was the whole idea.........work with me.
This session forced them to be more responsive because rewards come from
following directions. Neither were allowed to leave the line for a retrieve
without coming to sit beside me first. Doing this reduces forward momentum
anticipations and eliminates the "ready/set/go" mind set. Best of all, this
routine reinforces the
when you need me." expectation.
It's not all about the retrieve.
note: My two,
younger hunt test dogs did the same drill.
Drill (YouTube Link)