Taffey at 11 years old - Iowa Opener
                                                              There She Goes..........Again!
                                                                                      (or not)

                           "When Hunting Season Is Near"

More threads on training forums are now dealing with "How Do You Steady Your Retriever?" The general answers involve efforts in “making" the dog be steady. Most approaches use forms of denial with corrections. These are supposed to reprogram the dog to new standards and expectations. The simple philosophy is “if you don't do this you won't get that and it may prove unpleasant”. In theory, if the process is repeated often enough new habits may be established. In addition, these new training techniques and corrections for “slippage” are now in place. 

The questions begs how did the dog get there (not steady) in the first place? The alternative “cure” is not to enforce new standards, but to establish a stronger state of responsiveness, new skills and different expectations.. A dog does these “things” (i.e. not steady) because she is ignoring established/limited methods of control and/or lacking exposure. In a word however, the dog is not responsive. In not so subtle a description, the dog doesn't “give a rip” for your input in certain situations. The dog is naive and out of balance. Is it her fault?

A dog can be “birdy”, love to retrieve and focused on what is in front of her. The problems occur when the dog is not under control or responsive. During these moments, a trainer will often have little input on the dog's perception of how to deal with his “birdinesss” or retrieving in terms of what is best for the team. She simply does what she wants and has been allowed to do....and will often accept any pressure applied after the fact (when it is too late).

So what must be done in the course of training to maintain a strong and powerful factor of truly being responsiveness? The first step is to recognize that training should involve a dog's sense of responsibility. It cannot be an afterthought. It's what every trainer must learn to think about in every moment. Does my dog “know where I am”......are all time? Does she even care? How do you know this? If at times you feel like a "potted plant".....who is responsible for that?   

Can you interrupt her focus anytime you want in an instant without having the dog become unraveled, upset or distracted? If not, a dog's lack of responsiveness will haunt you in critical moments......and then it's too late. You'll be asking for a quick fix to make a dog “not do something”.....when in reality being more responsive was the solution.

Responsiveness is a choice which must become an expectation. A simple contrary example is putting a rope on a dog to make them more responsive. If it is used as a correction for behavior this removes a significant chance or opportunity for a dog to develop the awareness of responsiveness. It's not as if the rope isn't a useful tool (when used in the proper sequence) but when it is applied after the fact of allowing bad habits to develop that is looses its effectiveness and impact in developing responsiveness.

There is often a fine line...and yet a significant difference between being forced to or choosing to be responsive.

     A dog that's not steady is not in balance. “Balance is a function of five  
       factors.......birdiness, retrieving, focus, control and responsiveness
                                              by Julie Knutson

                                       "I'm beginning to learn that 95% OB is not enough.........and 85% is much
                                               worse.........but 75% is pretty good."
 KwickLabs  Sept., 2006
                        updated 01/03/14