Murph Training, VI: Murph Heels

Now we’re getting down to business. This is at once the most boring time, but the most critical time for solidifying Murph’s foundation that will be the basis for everything he accomplishes in his life.

Because it is so much fun to see your young dog do and achieve new things, the tendency is to push them by adding new commands on top of the ones you’ve recently taught. The danger to this is not locking in the foundation; or “building your house on sand,” to turn a biblical phrase. Unless the foundation is rock solid, the resulting structure will be flawed. Okay enough with the metaphors.


Murph Behaves
photo by Tim Bronson

Right now and for the next few months I will be hammering home the four basic control commands Murph and I have been working on: heel, sit, stay and come. There will be few if any retrieves, for a number of reasons. One of the things Mike Stewart at Wildrose warned me about was at this age, there is a tendency for a sore mouth while puppies teeth are changing over. You don’t want to force him to carry something if his mouth hurts. I already know the instinct is there and an occasional knotted sock across the living room floor will sate my appetite for watching his genetics come through.

It is warming up enough here for me to start taking long walks and the other day we began with both Pickett the elder and Murphy at heel. Pickett was off lead, Murph was between us on lead. We walked a long way in this configuration and my measuring stick was tug pressure on Murph’s lead. If I felt pressure, I gently lifted upward and brought him back to the desired position with the “heel” command. After a while the pressure began to diminish as he got it, and the ultimate was when I felt no pressure and I looked down and the slip lead was hanging loosely around his neck. With Pickett on one side and me on the other, it became obvious to Murph where the sweet spot was.

One great way to challenge Murph is to change speeds. This forces him to stay in a relative position to me and helps him understand exactly what that position is. I take it almost to extremes from brisk stride to painfully slow steps. I make sure to go very slow at the beginning and at the end to emphasize control at the beginning and end of any outing. Hopefully this will pay dividends in the field. Again, I’m looking for calm in everything I do.


Murph Heels
photo by Tim Bronson

During the course of the walk, so as not to be totally bored, I’ve begun dropping the lead and blowing the “sit” whistle, having both dogs sit immediately while I continue on for about 20 yards. It does my heart good to see those two sitting patiently, watching my every move. I walk back and go past them, walk around them, and get Murph to realize that until I pick up the lead and give him the “heel” command and start walking, he is not to move. It doesn’t hurt to have Pickett as an example. It didn’t take long to get pretty much 100% compliance from Murph. I can now give Pickett and Murph the “sit” command while fixing their dinner and have them sit there as long as I want once the bowls are on the floor. They now sit at the door until I give them the command to go through. The one place where Murph can still have his moments is the “come.” He is excellent to the whistle, but can be reluctant on the voice command. We will improve that in the coming weeks.

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