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The 2014 Rationale & 2016-18 Updates
Pounce began the Hillmann Puppy Program Aug 10, 2014 (at about 2 months old)
Pounce is now going on four years old (June, 2018)
The initial Intro:
I am hesitant to jump into discussions involving Hillmann's program because this is my first pup using that approach. Secondly, I've not done any field trial competition and credibility is often measured in accomplishments at that level. In addition, I am once again a novice working a very different program. It is important to keep the newness of this effort as a significant perspective.
Fortunately, I have a strong mentor well versed in Hillmann's program that I can call anytime.
The key factor which convinced me this was the way to go with Pounce was the promise of "training a dog when they are high will make it possible to teach her how to perform properly when she is high”. I've never been totally content with how my other four dogs and I dealt with hunt test anxiety. It was improving..........but very slowly. My assumption had been that enforcement was not consistent and/or accurate enough to control a highly driven dog (and they all fit that mold).
If a dog learns because I am able to suppress their anxiety or “wandering desires” with pressure and I am effective in doing so, what happens when they are excited and the rules are different? Will Pounce be able to function well or loose it? My experience was relatively consistent with “losing it” at tests.....which essentially means “It was not just the dogs.”
In the past, I've created numerous techniques to expose my dogs to difficult situations and attempted to make them exciting while using pressure, a great deal of repetition, multiple and varied exposures, dog vs. dog competition, fun and drills, a healing stick, e-collar, etc. to enforce the standards. The dogs went to hunt tests and discovered (very quickly) that pressure didn't "appear" in the crucial moments. New expectations (which were rarely improvements) surfaced. The dogs and I did not deal with it very well. And I don't feel very good about the fact it wasn't just the dogs that were different in competition.
Now (from the dog's viewpoint) "If I have always been excited when training and learned via rewards and positive reinforcement how to behave (when high), the excitement of a hunt test is not unlike training......and most of all the rules are essentially the same. I'm still responsive, focused and under control because there is very little difference in levels of excitement”.
"Fast Forward" to April 2016
It is Saturday, April 16, 2016, and weekend mornings are "non-training" time slots. However, thinking more about Hillmann's approach vs. Pounce's temperament, it may be interesting to point out that early on it was very clear she was sensitive. Being dynamic and sensitive requires a different kind of balancing strategy. (interjection from much later)
In terms of a "new slate" mentality for training, the timing using Hillman’s program was perfect. It was very soon that I realized using Hillmann's techniques worked extremely well with a pup like Pounce. It has taken several months to wean myself of old habits and the transition remains a work in progress. Fortunately, I have had an excellent mentor to "keep me out of left field".
The initial interest was a desire to learn how to train a retriever in "drive". Keeping a naturally driven pup very excited might appear to be in conflict with developing focus, control and responsiveness. However, within HIllmann's approach, the axiom "train like you play" suggests the rationale of training "in drive" justifies the philosophy. Excite to a high level....and train.
In contrast, squeezing a dog into a small, tight and under control package while training and then going to a test where some of the “glue” does not exist can prove more than just frustrating.
Puppies come in a variety of packages and learning how to keep a pup energized can be more of a challenge when they are sensitive. However, when the signs surfaced with Pounce, it became a natural reflex to short circuit that negative tendency with "the game". Hardly missing a beat, she shifted quickly back into being dynamic when engaged in "the game". Gradually, training has evolved into one huge "game".
The key words for her training became balance, practice, repetition, "seamlessness" and fun (not necessarily in that order).
"Reading her" has been easy and to repeat "the game" works extremely well with a sensitive retriever. The present challenge is de-cheating a very smart, fast and driven "cheaty” retriever that thinks she knows the quickest way.
note: all of the above is prior to April 2016. The next phase of her training was focused
on working Hillmann's Land and Water Fundamentals.
update Feb 2018: I have learned there are many levels to "the game" which essentially means focus on balance when using it. "More or less" is an "in the moment" decision which is better described in a recent 2018 Hillmann DVD - "The Game".
note: more to follow in this time frame.....April 2016 - March 2018
(refer to monthly journals and the "Heeling Journal")
"Fast Forward" to a February 2018 update
A quick summary would be that Pounce earned her AKC Senior title and had two very productive hunting seasons. In addition, the decision to continue using Hillmann's program in advanced training proved to be the correct choice. Pounce was not the only one that benefited. As a team we both made great progress. She grew in terms of skill level and in addition, my training skills were enhanced. We are becoming a very good team and will continue to advance.
In September 2017 Pounce began Hillmann's new Heeling DVD.
The following was the "intro". We are almost finished.
There are several steps in Hillmann's DVD on "Heeling". Pounce had already begun some of them from information provided in earlier Hillmann YouTube videos. The heeling program is divided into several steps and a journal was kept to identify and describe Pounce's progress.
A YouTube video was made September 21, 2017 as somewhat of a reference point (an initial, visual perspective). When Pounce's heeling becomes "maintenance/practice" a similar video will be made for comparison. The goal is to complete this process by the end of March, 2018.