Tera’s Training Tip Of The Day: Measuring Degrees Of Difficulty.
Theresa Kucan casting her retriever “Thunder” on a blind retrieve at Sharon & Hal Gierman’s northern property
Measuring degrees of difficulty for your retriever can be just that, difficult. In retriever training there are some constants in your retrievers instinctual tendencies. For example, retrievers will almost always drive to the top of a hill when faced with a side-hill mark. All retriever’s have a tough time negotiating angles as their tendencies are to square all obstacles. Most retrievers will be likely to travel the path of least resistance, running around the water or running a road.
When preparing, growing, and grooming a young retriever for competition or hunting I am constantly evaluating every aspect of the training day and taking all things into consideration. I need to know what factors are effecting the retrievers on that day, at their age, and in their level of training. To accomplish this I use an 80/20 rule. 80% of the time my young retrievers experience success in one form or another. If the retriever misses a mark I will offer help, if the retriever has a lack of focus I will simplify a task to increase my chances of success. 20% of the time I will challenge the retriever greatly, setting up a test knowing full well it is a bit over the retrievers skill set. The adversity and challenge the retriever faces is healthy in small doses. Our retrievers must be confident we will get them to the bird either handling, re-throwing, repeating, or using gunner help. Your retriever doesn’t have to do it perfectly, but they must be successful. This approach to challenge and adversity will teach the retriever to not fear the unknown challenge, stare difficultly in the face and attack it with good decisions, along with practicing some teamwork in the field. A true thing of beauty even if all things are not perfect.
The purpose for the 20% of challenge is to measure the appropriate degree of difficulty the retriever needs to be training, on a regular basis. Holes and weaknesses within your retrievers training will be revealed. This challenge will allow for the trainer to evaluate not only the retrievers performance, but the trends or stalemates of their own training program. While training retrievers everyday it is easy to become patterned, develop a style, and become fixated on particular set-ups we like. As a retriever trainer in a competitive world I am training with the percentages of probability to get to the bird in mind. “What skills will percentage wise get my retriever to the bird often, accurately, and with style.” A good rule of thumb is a retriever with a good water attitude can go far in the game versus a retriever that struggles in the water.
We as retriever trainers have to teach our dogs how to negotiate all obstacles correctly. However, I use the term “correctly” loosely. When training for Field Trials, I will have a different standard of performance in my training set-ups than I do if I am training for a Hunt Test or Gun Dog. In Field Trials because it is head to head competition all things are relative to the judging for that particular weekend. We can watch Judging trends and know the grounds provided to guess what kind of test maybe rendered. This knowledge can sometimes give a competitive edge, but is not a fail-safe. The best way to get the leg up on the competition is just to get up everyday, go to work, and give 110% at all times. The talented retrievers will reveal themselves when faced with the challenges. Good Judges will place birds where retrievers do not want to instinctively travel (good bird placement) or put birds where there is no straight path to travel in order to make the retrieve. In Hunt Tests the Judges have requirements within the rule book “A Testing Standard” to meet in order for that retriever to earn a particular title Junior, Senior, and the coveted Master Hunter Title. To become a Champion, the retrievers must be above average at many things, they must posses talent, a willingness to learn, and make good decisions in the field. Accurately, measuring degrees of difficultly for your retrievers will help you reach your goals and improve your training.