At The line
Much has been written about a retriever’s “action at the line”. The ideal is to be intensely focused and totally responsive with no “extra” motion. The sought standard is often elusive. Being focused and responsive requires a seamless process that takes a great deal of time and skill with respect to the trainer and the dog’s genetic potential. Much of the final, target result arrives through a flexible yet sequential process.
An interesting perspective could be drawn from comparing the trained retriever on a
sit waiting to fetch vs. the pointer holding a trance-like point on a hidden bird. For example, the intense point is embraced and expressed with a distant, focused gaze while the dog is seemingly oblivious to the surroundings. There is deep, slow breathing....often with a slight flow of saliva. The dog appears to be in a trance supported by instinctive increases in specific brain chemistry.
It can be revealing to compare the pointer’s “behavior” to what may be taking place with a retriever on a sit looking at distant fallen prey. Left to its own with no distractions, a well-trained retriever will remain on a sit, look intently at the fall and if allowed to dwell on this excitement begin to breathe deeply and salivate. However, this trance like state is rarely allowed to develop because the retrieve is more important (for the trainer). The trance/statue like behavior is short circuited before it becomes fully engaged. External management “skips right on by” and short circuits an extremely significant response. To clarify, for a well-bred retriever, the genetics of chase are stronger than those of the silent (stationary) stalk.
To complicate matters dealing with this reduction in the instinctive, motionless stalk, the retriever must learn the rules of the chase. These “rules” are often contrived and can be difficult to sequence properly. The strategy is often a combination of teaching and corrections instead of simply encouraging a young retriever to remain stationary and embrace his motionless stalk mode.
To repeat, a retriever’s natural tendency to remain still is often short-circuited by the desires of a trainer for the quick chase and retrieve. In addition, this reduces the possibility of accessing the available genetic brain chemistry of the stationary stalk. Thus, the potential of enhancing stationary euphoria is ignored and in its place a contrived and often complicated structure to delay and control the chase is implemented.
There are many approaches that attempt to make a dog sit reliably. Very few recognize and utilize the genetic makeup of a dog in that simply NOT moving when prey is involved is potentially, self-rewarding. What becomes too subtle to acknowledge is that not moving can be extremely exciting.
Essentially, there are two distinct alternatives for the stationary retriever. It may become genetically focused or focused with corrections. The ideal approach would be to avoid missing out on either. The proper combination may provide balance.
The conflict is realizing that sitting to avoid corrections appears to be much simpler and easier for the trainer to understand. When this becomes a high, mental priority the natural instincts angle is quickly pushed out of the way and "irretrievably" lost. The retriever is then wrapped in training where the control of corrections inhibits the development of what the dog should be experiencing - the joy of the stationary stalk and eventual release for the chase.
On top of that (piled higher and deeper), the trainer does not want the chase to be the dog’s choice. So now the dog is doing two things 1) most likely avoiding corrections and 2) not enjoying the brain chemistry of his genetics. He is in essence doing two things that have nothing to do with the ideal. The result is often anxiety…..which in a way is something like “payback”.
Now comes the challenge, how to get from this ABC intro to Z the finished retriever. It depends…….more to follow.
refer to the April 17th journal entry
Today we “shot” eight winger thrown mallards from an HRC line. Pounce did not move. She stared at each fall with an intense, slight forward lean and no dancing feet. The “no movement” behavior was “marked” with a quiet “good” (thanks to DG). After each spent shell casing was shucked, she was stroked gently and my gun went to the stand. A silent count to ten was meshed with a hand placed over her head. Her eyes were intense and her body had a forward lean as she savored the long exciting pause and being in no rush to leave this "state". She willingly awaited the eventual release and exploded from the line upon hearing a quiet “Pounce”.
The first set was four, close and exciting singles with fresh mallards left to right and the second round was from right to left. These were done after practicing a round of four walk-ups while emphasizing the same expectation…."bird in the air" means sit and enjoy the situation (savor the silent, stationary stalk)…..and then “pounce”.
There were three additional conditioned responses to mention.
1) twelve instances to practice marking, retrieving & delivering ducks
2) three times "from the van to the holding blind, to the line"
3) there were four times to practice a remote sit while returning
retrieved ducks to the wingers (during the "walk-ups")
Update.....February 2018 During Pounce's Senior hunt test run in the summer of 2017, there was a realization that her "no motion at the line" standard had degenerated. The new teaching approach was Hillmann's "Heeling Program" (restore responsiveness and practice the standard). This winter has proven to be a productive interlude. The plan is to
begin Master tests in late June (well after her spring heat cycle).
Update.....late March After a long winter of focusing......Pounce and I are now on the same page. A silent count to ten is exciting and effective. Pounce is now statuesque in "solo" training......group training begins in two weeks.
Update...August 31, 2018...Things did not go well leading up to Master tests. In retrospect, Pounce would have benefited greatly by running AKC Junior tests first. Running Seniors, she was always "on the edge "and "over it" once in awhile. This allowed the development of a lack of engagement. The responsiveness at the line in the HRC format training failed to evolve as she (and her trainer) became less engaged. Distraction proofing was not going well and testing came to an abrupt halt. Two thoughts began after thinking "outside the box".
The first was "kind of out there".If you can't train a dog without an e-collar, you can't train one with it." The e-collar was removed. The second was recalling how responsive Pounce was when "doing things" in the HRC format. We were engaged.....not so much now. It was not long before entering an HRC Started test. It is much more likely that any trainer and retriever will be engaged because 1) you sitting right beside her on a bucket, 2) you are holding on to the collar and 3) you are permitted to "talk to her".
I've run a lot of tests and have to admit, I was nervous.....simply just noticed it more than usual. WE needed that. I could see a difference in both of us. We rarely have issues "out there". So WE ran two more started tests......probably more for me than her.....I needed some serious convincing.
I (we) do not miss the e-collar. If things do not go smoothly, I change my approach....it is "on me" to maintain engagement. On the third HRC Started test, I shot the gun at the line
in the second series. She was good with it because of all the previous practice. The next day we ran an HRC Seasoned test. The only issue was a little "creepy" on the walk-up. This was a major issue in previous testing. That conditioned response is not totally erased, but the improvements made in such a short time were very obvious. Two more Seasoned tests are schedule for late September....then hunting. "Hoorah" for our side.
note: Someone asked me why I was running three HRC Started tests (two
passes provide the points necessary to efficiently reach the Finished
title). My reply was, "We need the work."
note: Her "work at the line" was/is done at a Finished level and has improved
with the HRC format (more engagement).
note: I am fairly certain she will be wearing an e-collar when hunting......mostly
as a safety issue. Hunting is much more unpredictable.
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