"Gigi" - four months old

It's winter and training is weather dependent which means when one is retired there is plenty of time to re-focus and review. In northern Illinois, it is cold and raining in late December. Both dogs are sleeping in the living room and I am very retired.

A recent dog training forum thread mentioned fixing an issue referred to as “hard mouth”. Having “seen a thing or two” that conjures up many different descriptions. The category involves not handling birds properly. There are too many “pictures to paint” to describe the different ways that a retriever can mishandle birds. However, this issue can be described in one phrase “the dog is out of balance”.

So it logically follows that the “fix” would be to restore balance. Fortunately, many years ago, I attended a retriever training clinic put on by an experienced pro that discussed (in great detail) the concept of maintaining balance. It is not about “working a program” but more about determining what the trainer and retriever must do to function as a team.

The structure depends on balancing five factors – focus, control, “birdiness”, retrieving and responsiveness.
* There is no step by step sequence or program describing “what’s next”. That is a different topic.

Starting from the beginning (when the pup first arrives) which of the five factors is initially the most important? Remember the thesis is balance. If responsiveness was selected, you are a rare individual. Nurture it first!

Fast forward to a forum thread seeking a solution for mouth issues. Point number one is the dog is out of balance. The “go to” process is most often increasing control which is usually at the expense of responsiveness. What about balance?  

For example, control is easier to develop when a retriever is responsive. Then again, responsiveness requires focus. The fact is “you can’t get there from here” without having all five factors in balance.

It is not so much about the sequence, but how the factors are kept in balance when training. Retrieving and “birdiness” are developed with the balanced use of focus and control. What binds it all together is responsiveness (teamwork). The picture is clear if it is painted correctly. Unfortunately, training is not a paint by the numbers process.

The “picture” of a retriever “ripping up” a duck indicates 1) a lack of proper focus, 2) an out of control issue, 3) a very low level of responsiveness , 4) an out of balance "birdiness" issue and 5) an out of balance "retrieving" issue.  More or less of each is required.

Unfortunately, many think corrections cause a retriever to do the right thing. In most cases the young dog is often clueless about just what it is supposed to do. Show him, practice precisely and repeat often with distractions before enlisting corrections. The key is  "seeing" and adjusting each factor.

As one might surmise, I am working with a young retriever with mouth issues. It would have been better if I had dealt with it sooner. A word of advice, do not become mesmerized with early, very high, “off the wall” prey drive and pay attention to mouth issues. 

A useful phrase which tends to re-focus many training issues is “It is not the dog.”

The following is a YouTube video of a young retriever working on her very first "live flyers". One can observe that Pounce's responsiveness, focus and control are in balance with her retrieving and "birdiness".

The five factor approach for balanced training was developed by pro trainer Juli Knutson.

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     Balance - A KwickLab Interpretation