Murph: The Training Begins, Week 1

As I promised I’m going to keep a blog journal on Murph’s progress. Murph is the black Lab puppy I picked up at Wildrose Kennels over the holidays. That trip was chronicled in Picking up Murph Part 1 and Part 2.

I’m lucky enough to be able to bring Murph with me to work. It’s cold up here, but we get at least three good walks in a day (a good walk for an eight-week-old is about 100 yards). Since day one, his training is part of the walk. It doesn’t last long, nor does it need to, and mostly it is just reinforcing the things he does naturally.

On the way up the road, I walk slowly and he naturally follows. Often he is on my left and I keep repeating the word “heel.” I don’t say it when he’s out of position. Occasionally I stop and by nature he stops, sits and looks up at me. I use that moment to say “sit” and blow the sit whistle. He’s doing it anyway. No force, just nature.

One day he picked up a stick. It was as perfect little stick and he carried it for a ways. I kept it and now when he sits naturally, I reach down and hand him the stick, but only if he’s calm and not jumping for it. It didn’t take long for him to realize that sitting quietly he gets to carry the stick. I let him carry it a few yards then gently take it from him and we do it again a few yards down the road.

On the way back down the road, I put the lead on him for about fifty yards and alternately walk and stop and give him the heel and sit command, but again I don’t force the issue. If he resists the lead, I just take it off and resume walking. Interestingly, he generally does what he is supposed to and I reinforce the sit with a slight pull upward on the lead along with the sit command and the sit whistle. This last about one minute. Then I turn him loose and we finish the walk.

We’ve been doing this about a week and half. He’s now about eight weeks old and there is noticeable recognition of the commands. Perfect? Of course not, but the intelligence is showing. It only took two days for him to realize that sitting quietly gets the stick and jumping does not. He’s not chasing the stick, we are handing the stick calmly back and forth. The dividend hopefully will be a calm dog in the blind in a few years. Whether he is sitting naturally or because of the whistle doesn’t matter. What matters is when he does it he hears the whistle.

These next few weeks are irreplaceable in terms of his learning curve. What I can accomplish right now will be the major factor in how well he does in the future. In eight more weeks his brain will be fully formed. I have eight weeks to make my greatest impression on him. I consider it a huge responsibility as his namesake Bob Murphy used to say, “Training a dog to its full potential is what is due the dog, not the trainer.”

Read Part II of the Series

(Photo by Tim Bronson)

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