Murph Training XI: Murph’s Getting Steady

Murph Steady

Murph sitting steady while the author tosses dummies and tennis balls around him.

photo by Tim Bronson

A couple of weeks ago I talked about Murph and putting his steadiness to sit and heel together on a single blind retrieve. Over the course of the last few days, I’ve been continually working Murph on his steadiness in every possible situation, but I want him to begin to understand what he’s here for. As I said before, at this point I don’t want to give him a bunch of retrieves for two reasons. One, his teeth are changing over, and two, I don’t want to get him hyped up on retrieving like I did with Pickett.

I sort of stumbled onto a great exercise that lets Murph see bumpers flying through the air, but is less about retrieving than it is about continuing to solidify control. Trust me, I didn’t invent this, and I’m sure it’s quite a regular exercise somewhere. I just kind of discovered it on my own. 

I determined that one of the things I could do while working on all the boring sit and heel drills was to add something of more interest and still accomplish my goal. I had seen a steady-to-wing drill where a dog is out front quartering, a bumper is thrown, and the dog is whistled to sit. Murph is not there by any means, but I put him on the lead and began our regular heel and sit walk across the field. I pulled a bumper from my pocket, threw it and immediately whistled him to sit as he watched it fly. He marked it, and I then walked him over slowly, calmly at heel to about three feet from the dummy, put him at sit, and then sent him the two steps to get the dummy and hand it back to me, which he did nicely.

So what did I accomplish? A little less boredom, a new skill (sitting to flush), a calm approach (walking to the mark), and a bit of a reward in getting to pick up the dummy and hand it to me, reinforcing our ultimate relationship goal.  Suddenly the vitally important, but boring, sit and heel drills were a little more fun and more valuable to both of us.

This then led to my next drill of the day, where I put Murph at sit and began to walk around him, throwing dummies here and there, far out, close in, rolling tennis balls in front of him. Remarkably he sat there and didn’t move except once when I rolled the tennis ball right next to him. He couldn’t resist, but a quick “NO” and he sat right back down. After about 10 of these flying and rolling marks, I finally threw the last one about 20 yards out, walked around him twice and then went over, lined him up and gave him his one real retrieve of the day, which he brought back to heel and sat down and waited till I took it out of his mouth. Remarkable.

The point of all this is that we are still truly working on steadiness and control, but now there are things I can do without pushing him too fast to make it interesting for both of us.

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