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Julie Knutson (pro trainer) presented an approach for training revolving round a single term – balance. There are five factors that contribute to a balanced retriever…”birdiness”, retrieving, focus, control and responsiveness. This “list” is the basis for problem solving.
The following is a brief interpretation (perspective).
Step number one is to recognize that things are not going well. The next phase is to identify one (or two) of the factors that are most likely to be the issue(s). Then frame training sessions to create specific situations to reftify the weakness. The “birdiness” and retrieving factors probably are the easiest to visualize and measure. Focus and control tend to be battlegrounds...not good. Responsiveness is often lost in the shuffle...because it is a special trait that sometimes requires a modification in the trainer's personality. It is a "two-way street". Something needs fixed? The dog is out of balance. How did it get there?
One of the reasons Hillmann’s approach is effective is that responsiveness is a very high priority.
“Human on Human” Description of "Responsiveness"
"Responsiveness is an approach you can intentionally cultivate by paying attention to what the other person says and responding directly to it BEFORE shifting the focus of the conversation to yourself. Give up some control and let the other person "play". You'll find that the results can be rather astounding. There is so little responsiveness going on in most communication that when you are responsive, you separate yourself as being somewhat special and "inter-personally valuable."
Paraphrased for puppy(dog) training.
Responsiveness is a factor a trainer can intentionally cultivate. Pay attention to what the puppy (or dog) does and respond directly to a behavior/action BEFORE shifting the focus. Give up some control and let the dog continue to interact. You'll find that the results can be rather astounding. When the trainer is actively responsive, he(she) quickly becomes identified as being special and valuable (to the pup or dog).
Providing consistent, sincere and positive responsiveness requires proactive persistence.
Once the five factor concept is in place, it eventually becomes simpler to recognize any issue and often deal with it immediately. The key motivation becomes "It is not the dog!" The “factor identification" approach can be effective with an older dog (and an evolving, persistently focused trainer).
Update: Hillmann's "Heeling" and "The Game" online video presentations provide exceptional visual formats for enhancing responsiveness and focus.