Daisy presently is not
the best of markers. Once in awhile she will amaze me on a mark, and then
screw up on easy “stuff”. For the longest time her mother Taffey had issues
with marking. It was not for want of quantity, quality, difficulty or drive.
For Taffey, it was mostly about focus.
Daisy has her Senior title, and the next step is to start running HRC tests.
Therefore, our long and cold winter gave me time to really analyze what to
do about her marking. Not all of this will be applicable to another dog, but
the theme may provide a useful perspective.
To start with, the main focus of my training revolves around balance.
Balance is judged within a set of five criteria. These are “birdiness”,
control, focus, responsiveness and retrieving. Note, this approach is not
mine. It is something I learned at a training seminar about two years ago.
Last year, I did not run a single test. The reason was to work on my
teaching and training skills.
The first step for "improving Miss Daisy" was to clearly define the problem.
The second step was to determine what was out of balance. The next step was
to develop a plan to restore balance. The focus is “do what the dog needs”.
Here’s the analysis for
Daisy. She is high energy, intense, extremely “birdy”, smart as a whip, very
fast, through transition and easily distracted. Genetically and in real
situations, both parents are excellent markers. However, Daisy’s mother was
not, until she (Taffey) became more focused. So the history of her mother
and observable mental makeup of Daisy clearly points toward a lack of
focus as the issue.
One critical aspect in quality marking is focus. If focus is weak….the
results are “poor pictures”. “Poor pictures” inhibit memory. So how does
one create more focus? In theory, enhancing responsiveness and control will
positively influence focus. Thus, better focus means improved marking. In
training circles the usual way of stating this is, "poor line manners can
result in lousy marking". Better line manners can be the direct result of
better OB, but it is not always the solution. It may not be what the dog
Daisy is almost manic about birds and bumpers. Presently, her speed mentally
and physically gets in the way. Therefore, we need to slow the game down. It
is too fast for her. Somewhat like a skilled athlete that moves to the next
level…….often things are too “fast”.
Armed with this
information, it is clear that more marks, more singles and better placed
marks are not going to deal with what is out of balance.
For many dogs, the situational aspect of marking has a dog at the handler’s
side. In many cases this position is a cue for anxiety. Where else is a dog
under more pressure? This positional anxiety often is ignored and needs to
be dealt with. Handler perceptions are not always the same as the dog.
Therefore, a plan was devised to deal with Daisy’s dysfunction. Her marking
will improve if OTHER things are addressed. This is in keeping with “do what
the dog needs” and “not what I want”. Not surprisingly, if one does what the
dog needs…..I will get what I want.
First, Daisy sat beside me with the sole intent of making it less of an
anticipatory rush. I wanted her sitting beside me and feeling
bored......well, at least closer to that. Secondly, "de-speeding" a dog at
my side will require working very, very much more slower and quieter.
At first, we desensitized away from anxiety by keeping the marks simple and
NOT terribly exciting. For example, birds would be counter-productive for
Daisy. Since Daisy is easily distracted, we have begun work with an
extended focus (just staring) on close visible, marks before releasing.
Purposefully, distractions were randomly added. When she “fell for them”,
Daisy was corrected with quiet, calm verbal “nos” until she began to
maintain a zone where everything else was tuned out except the mark.
Improvement was very incremental......but encouraging. The "rush of the
look" needed nurturing.
This last idea comes
from working with the pointing aspect of my Labs. A dog on an intense point
goes into a mental state of concentrated euphoria. Everything around them
becomes insignificant and they are in an intense zone of focus (their own
world). This parallel was (in theory) expected to increase Daisy’s focus on
marks. It has.
There was an obvious “need” for Daisy to become more responsive. She has
started to give me more eye contact because I am consistently seeking
it.......this has become a conscious effort on my part. This will move her
into a “sharing anxiety” mode. Focus is the goal, but by working on
responsiveness her anxiety at the line will be reduced. The reasoning is she
will not be all alone in her emotions at the line. I will be able to have
some impact on that issue. By being more responsive through enhanced eye
contact, I will be able to calm her down some. This will lessen her anxiety,
improve her focus and positively impact her marking skills. She will
not be isolated in the "heat of the moment", and I do not enjoy
being a "potted plant" at the line.
To date, here is what we’ve done this winter. 1) She is enrolled in a weekly
OB class for two reasons, more distractions around her (other people &
dogs). OB work demands more eye contact because the skills are a team
effort. The OB classes actually increase the amount of OB we do daily, so a
comfort level of just doing “stuff” quietly and calmly together is
broadened. 2) Every day Daisy sits beside me in the heeling position
while I’m on an HRC bucket. We just sit there and “shoot the breeze”.......a
lot. It is becoming a calm, relaxed and pleasant position for her to be in.
I have a large indoor,
heated area in which I can toss short marks and do handling drills. Right
now, we are reprogramming her routine at the bucket. Slow, calm, no motion,
quiet mouth, long focuses on short visible bumpers are the norm. The time
taken is stretched out considerably. We are never in a rush.........it would
be agonizingly boring to watch. Action is deemphasized. She is being
reprogrammed....so to speak.
Distractions (looking away from the “fall”) are met with a quiet “no/watch”
command/reminder. A “sit” indirect pressure is useful. The little ring on
top of her pinch collar is easily accessible to lift up on and produce a
higher sit. The hand cue is extended and held for many seconds. The use of
quiet “goods”, “get your mark” and other dogs’ names are used to desensitize
her to distractions and increase focus. Intense, deep, lasting focus is the
A great deal of time is taken to properly position her on the retrieve, to
calm down, to establish meaningful eye contact, to eliminate mouthing and to
willingly release the bumper on “drop”. There is considerable time taken to
relax and prepare for the next toss.
With three or four “tosses” per day (using the above), the last few weeks have
produced these results. She 1) no longer slips into the “anxiety pant”
during the exercise, 2) can sit quietly on a remote as I prepare the area,
3) will make eye contact when asked, 4) no longer makes darting glances off
toward distractions (imaginary or real), 5) has transitioned into the
“focused trance look”, 6) she sits higher, 7) does not flinch on "verbals"
and 8) most importantly, loves every minute of the time spent.
The plan is to extend this to field training when spring decides to get
Now the question might be, "What has this got to do with her marking?" The
answer is everything.
A properly focused, aware dog is a better marker.
February 1, 2009
Update: March, 2010 - Daisy is much more
consistent. Here's why from journal entries last July.
- trained with group at Gallagher's FT grounds in Wisconsin,
ran two setups, the first was a water double with two blinds, ran a wide
blind first, then the double followed by the second blind up the middle,
water & a land double followed by a land blind, Taffey & Kooly did not run
note: Daisy ran the first water series and blind without any issues, the
second set she forgot the memory or something not sure what,
big hunt, popped and quit didn't run the blind ??????? again
the coming in heat issue ?????
note: spent the evening analyzing her history related to heat cycles,
ongoing thoughts revolve around continued inconsistencies in
training, brilliant work once in awhile and "ditzy dumb stuff" or
off the wall behavior on other occasions
of findings in past journals:
April 07 in heat......extremely erratic in training
no apparent heat cycle
during all of July 08, but she had consistently
terrible training sessions for a
month, then in August 08 she was extremely sharp
no apparent heat cycle until November 08,,,,regular cycle symptoms, but it
hunting season and the complex training wasn't going on
nothing since then – 8 months
a month ago (June and early July 09) she was stepping
on triples, "flashy"
and sharp, late July 09 she jumps to total “ditz” mode, can’t mark, popping
and quitting in several training sessions, can’t remember even the second
and easily distracted, zero bleeding or swelling not in heat.....yet?????,
t alk to vet tomorrow
- after a long conversation with my vet decided the best
course of action is to remove the heat cycle/hormone issue from the
equation, there were only slight thoughts about breeding her, but the
main goals are to make training more consistent and not miss parts of
every year during training & hunting season with a bitch in heat....that
is not going to be bred
Further analysis.....every bitch deals with heat cycles in different ways.
Some take it in stride and
even do well. Others that are totally off the wall could be placed on the
other end of a Bell shaped curve measuring how they handle hormone swings.
Daisy's history suggests that hormonal
problems may have irregularly impacted her long before and after erratic
She may have been asked to do "stuff" in training that was unfair. In any
event, by removing the
hormone issues from the equation, she will be able to function on the same
playing field every day
of the year. If a lot of bad habits were developed through warped manners of
coping with the problem, it make take awhile to level these out. Life will
be more fair.
In any even, her training this spring (2010) has begun with consistent
displays of brilliance and focus. In addition, the manic tendencies appear
to be more subdued and replaced with more awareness
and responsiveness. We
will see now this plays out. It might that I'm just seeing what I wish would
happen......then again she is at least being consistent. That in itself
should prove useful.
update: April 14, 2010.....she's more predictable and training is going
improved and her memory on multiples is a complete turn-around (she
work is sharp......running blinds is exciting.........she's fast and precise
consistent initial lines........but she is always going to be a high dog