by Mike Stewart
An inversion in the Wildrose Way training process is what we refer to as a bridge, an intermediate step assisting the dog’s progression for one particular task/skill to another. Bridges would best be described as baby steps enabling the dog to better understand moving from one activity to another that is more complex, different or challenging. Examples: memories to cold blinds; pull/push whistle stops to stops going away from the handler; handling on land to handling on water.
Let’s consider the process of moving the seasoned dog from memories to cold blinds or unseens. Sometimes taking a dog from a “seen” situation where the dog knows the approximate location of a fall to lining for a retriever where the dog has no idea of a bumper/birds location proves to be a challenge. That’s a big jump in ability and confidence for an animal that learns best through causal relationships (see p. 121, Sporting Dogs and Retriever Training, the Wildrose Way) and consistent repetition.
The progression to running cold unseens the positive way is:
- Memories: sight, trailing, circles, loops
- Time delay memories: TDM
- Permanent unseens run in familiar locations
- Cold unseen
Between each of these levels one can experience a temporary breakdown in progress. A lack of understanding, confidence or ability inhibits the dog’s path to success. Here is where bridges come into play. Remember, in the world of canines, failure is not an effective teacher. We want success. This is where good handlers break the problematic exercise down into smaller subskills lessons, teach each thoroughly, and then link the smaller skills into the desired training exercise. Here inversions prove valuable. Inversions are not training exercises in and of themselves, rather an inversion is how the exercise is set up to stretch the dog’s ability slightly to overcome a limiting factor in the dog’s progress. It’s an intermediate step in train for success.
Let’s take two examples of the use of inversions. An inversion is simply reversing the way an exercise is set up from the dog’s perspective. On the road to running cold unseens, inversions are often utilized. A triple retrieve is normally set up as a circle memory; bumpers are placed at fixed reference points as the dog watches. The bumper is placed from the standpoint of the dog’s approach as they line toward the reference point (bush, pole, tree, rock, etc.). The dog is running toward the familiar. We can make the pattern a bit more challenging by inverting the way we place the memory bumpers. Rather than walking the inside of the circle placing our targets with the dog at heel, walk the outside of the circle tossing the bumpers from behind the reference points as the dog watches, in effect inverting the dog’s perspective. Complete the circle then run each memory, oldest to newest from inside the circle.
The dog’s approach as he lines to each reference point is less familiar. With practicing, planning and awareness on the part of the handler, one can discover many applications of inverting bumper placement in the use of all our memory exercises including off-the-ground finds and time delays keeping in mind Wildrose Law #9, “Dogs are extremely place oriented.” Reverse their perspective of the memory and the exercise becomes a bit more challenging.
Another application of inversion often proves valuable in helping a young starter overcome a limitation the positive way. Let’s take the example of a young gundog reluctant to enter thick cover to recover game. If the attempts continue to fail, running open ground into grass, basically through repetition we are conditioning the dog not to enter cover. The same for a situation where a dog shows reluctance to enter water. It’s never wise to condition in failure through the repetition of failure. Enter inversions.
After several failed attempts to encourage the youngster to enter thick cover directly without results, simply invert the situation. Place a highly desirable target (bird, tennis ball…an object the dog loves to retrieve) as a trailing memory outside the cover. With the dog at heel walk into the cover the desirable distance, turn and line the dog out of the cover for the pick. Normally, the student returns boldly with the prize, straight into the cover… exactly the desirable. The concept works well in any circumstance where a psychological or physical barrier encountered proves to be a problem: ditches, water, woodlands, row crop. Resistance is simply overcome by inverting the dog’s perspective.
There are so many applications of inversions as bridges in the Wildrose Way Balanced Training process. They are effective approaches when it becomes necessary to take a couple of steps back in a dog’s progression to refine a skill, simplify an exercise or improve confidence. Inversions enable training for success the right way, the positive way, the Wildrose Way.