“Is it me or are there a lot of really talented handlers with leaky dogs?” I asked.
“They demand too much,” Marko replied. “Too much, too soon, and criteria with no compromise. Causes unsureness in the dog.”
Hmm. I though about this and it made sense. When attempting to speed up and complete my finishes, Ricky began vocalizing on the cue, something I wasn’t thrilled about. So I slowed back down, took my time, and more gradually increased my criteria. This brought to mind some of the popular systems showing dogs changing positions at super fast speeds, going from one thing to another in record time. What often is not made know is the heavy vocalizing going on, either from excitement, frustration or pressure. While in some sports this isn’t a problem, it is pointed in ours and, frankly, really irritating at least for some handlers like myself. Once it starts and is left unchecked for a period of time, it’s a massive b*tch to fix. Certainly, one key to avoiding vocalizing in dogs that are so inclined, is catching it early and adjusting your program. Most of the time it can be avoided if these changes are made quickly enough.
Certainly, there is a genetic component. When you’re breeding dogs to have massive amounts of goal oriented drive, a plausible side effect will be leaking. The ideal dog, of course, has all the drive, but maintains a level head and doesn’t vocalize.
However, every dog has their breaking point and expecting too much, too soon is a fabulous entry into the world of whining. So be ever vigilant. If you start to hear it, contemplate the changes that could keep this point sucker from making a permanent home in your training.
Some tips from Marko:
Reward small successes and create a clear path for the dog to win. Don't demand duration when you don’t yet have perfect technique or understanding from the dog.
Use food instead of a ball for longer.
If you do use a ball and have a screamer, try keeping it visible for awhile to break the habit of screaming. (visible ball usually quiets the dog).
Add pressure and criteria more gradually.
Refrain from saying fuss, then immediately going forward, turning and/or correcting at the same time. Instead, wait, never moving until the dog is clearly calm and stabile, concentrated and quiet.
And most of all, at the end of the day, train for your dog, not a system. Question what you are doing when you begin to hear it, instead of waiting until you’re 2 years deep with no effective tools to fix it.
Best of luck, this problem needs it :)