fwd: Training tip of the month
AUGUST 2009 TIP OF THE MONTH
More is not Better
I was listening to, overhearing actually Ė a group of people who train together regularly as they were discussing their last few sessions together. They had been running triples and blinds up the middle and had worked furiously to get in as many setups as possible before it got too dark and the mosquitoes took over. They did not have the luxury I have of having all day most every day to train dogs, rarely having to furiously do anything and so they tried to jam as much work into a training session as they could. They also had to take advantage of having throwers and other dogs to honor and maybe recreate the crowd atmosphere of a test or trial. As they spoke, fists were balled up and they laughed anxiously as they described the crazy things so-and-so did or so-and-soís dog did. Gee, I wonder why those crazy things happened.
It is the nature of our time right now to jam as much as possible into available moments. Places to go, phones to answer, text messages to reply to, errands to run, demanding jobs for the lucky ones, family issues and just not enough hours in the day. Drive for 5 minutes on any in-town freeway and the hectic nature of peopleís thinking will put you over the edge unless of course you are one of them. Then they are all just in your way impeding your progress. So people recreate with their dogs and occasional dog games and while doing so Ė create once again the demanding hectic nature of the life they wish to slow down and enjoy.
Hereís a newsflash: dogs arenít like that. Even the Attention Deficit Disorder dogs that canít focus on things very easily arenít like that. We can make them appear that way but folks, that isnít what is inside their hearts and thinking. If you could observe a dog that lived on its own you would find something very different from hectic and jammed. They do not benefit from stuffing one more experience, one more behavioral modification or one more Ďlessoní into what theyíve comfortably mastered. When theyíve caught a rabbit and filled their belly, they quit hunting. Instead they do the next logical thing and that is finding a place to rest and digest. Rest and digest. Essential for mastering training skills.
In the ideal world a dog can learn something, practice it enough to show some understanding and then they rest and digest. They are unable to rest and digest if they must next learn something else and then practice that, and then practice that skill they learned or messed up last week. In direct words it is not ideal to train marking, marking with multiples, diversions, blinds, blinds with marks and then do it over and over again. Since the dog cannot rest and digest they donít. That means they arenít learning what you think you are teaching. A person would be better off running a simple set up with a single challenging concept then to carry out several setups with a variety of concepts. Master a single concept before combining it with another concept already mastered. Then the challenge becomes the confluence of these two concepts instead of a mess of combined concepts which appear cloudy and potentially menacing to the dog in training.
There have been many successful people and dog duos that were successful not because they had an appropriately sized training group or because they ran enough triples and poison bird blinds. They were successful because they flowed information, experience and learning into their dogs heads at a rate that allowed rest and digestion enough to take on the concept as a mastered skill. Sometimes that means running many singles adjacent to one another and never putting them together as a multiple mark. That may mean running blinds near chairs and buckets of birds and in appropriate terrain so that over time the dog learns to master terrain challenges instead of succumbing to them because there was so much else to think about or worry about all the time.
Dogs do not go to events and say to themselves, ďLook at all the people! I think Iíll act like Iíve never been trained before today.Ē They go to events and find things more interesting or compelling than behaving and doing what theyíve learned to do consistently because theyíve never been taught that not responding is never an option. If sit meant sit and heel meant heel and retrieves were an important job the dog would do that even with a line of cars parked behind him and people standing in a group watching.
Dogs directly reflect their own nature and the thinking and approach of their trainer. When dogs keep breaking, or keep indicating they donít like the work or donít handle very well when they need to Ė they have not mastered the simple skills they need. The answer is not to go set up a breaking test to punish them, it is to teach them to sit and remain seated. Poor handling reflects poor training, so get some good help from someone whose dogs miraculously seem to handle well most of the time. Iíd like to write a book of excuses for poor dog work; one because I am certain I have used them all and still will if I donít catch myself, and because I hear them over and over and over again all the time:
- He didnít see the bird;
- I donít have a big enough training group or a training group at all;
- He runs better for so-and-so;
- He didnít see the bird;
- He canít see my arm to handleí
- He canít see me at all;
- He head a bird chirp so he popped;
- He couldnít hear the whistle;
- Heís never done that before until YOU were watching;
Sometimes bad things happen and itís just the way it is. Mostly it is poor preparation not because of the number of setups or people, but because of the lack of thought out simplicity in a training program. If that makes no sense to you then you need to learn the sequence of events in training a dog to do anything; then you can plan it out in a simple, non-hectic, nontime-constrained manner and actually train your dog enjoyably and without angst, balled up fists and nervous laughter. More is not better, it is almost always worse. Instead, try one thing at a time and master each one before moving on. Combine concepts carefully and simply as well. Donít set up a test to prepare for a test, just have all the skills necessary and then pull out whichever you need on test day. Maybe more than anything else, training should be something you and your dog enjoy. It is not a competitive event between you and the other trainers unless that is your priority. It ought to be an escape from the hectic world in which things are life and death and people get heart attacks over certain aspects. This should be a place of replenishment and reward Ė for you and your dog. Why not?
Once again my friend you find great stuff to post. I am surprised nobody responded, either to say, oops, that sounds like me, or, I agree.
For me, I get to say both. I remember back in the day pushing to get the big concepts covered. We tried to cover so much that the dogs got lost in the shuffle.
Now, my goal is to build concepts by doing repetitive single marks. Lots of single marks. I like to figure out a goal, and then find places I can set up singles that look the same and feel the same.
For instance, recently I was working with Roca to build long distance entries into water. We found a 1/2 dozen places, each with their own variables, to reach that goal. We started in one spot close to the thrower, and kept working backward slowly after each successful mark.
The next day, we would come back and repeat that mark from a bit further out than our initial starting point, and quickly work her out to the longest mark of the day before. Then we go to spot 2, and repeat the process from up close, extending that mark slowly.
After only a week or so, she knows that in those areas, she will be running across whatever is on land to make a retrieve into the water. Am I ready to test her? NOPE!
We'll go back and work them again after a layoff from those spots to reinforce that initial training and concepts. Then we'll test her. We'll go to each spot, and run the mark from the furthest distance. If anywhere along the way she hunts short, or has a problem, we'll stop the testing and go back into training mode.
This is such a more relaxed method of training than what we did years back. I am having more fun, because I am keeping the stress off of both of us. We are building concepts on successes, not failures.