Murph Training Part XIV: First Hand Signals

 murph sits

                     Murph (l) and Pickett (r) sit calmly with Mimi Fersen

Now that Murph is six months old it’s time to expand his horizons a bit and begin to inject retrieves a bit more, as that’s what he’s here for. That’s not to say I’m going to stand out there and toss marks for him for an hour, but I’m beginning to inject short retrieves and even the first hand signals into his routine and he is responding well.

Once again, we are building on the foundation skills we’ve laid for the past few months, listed in the Week XII blog. The new drills that I’ve added to the training regimen are a short triple blind and some basic right, left, and back hand-signal retrieves.

The triple blind is designed to do three things. The first is to get Murph to understand that when I line him up and send him, there’s something out there for him to bring back. We’re building trust. The second is to run in the direction I point him. There is a mowed field around the pond here at work, with an edge of high grass. I walk him down that edge, make him sit, and I throw three dummies along the edge. He sees them all. I then turn and walk him at heel back about 30 yards. This will get longer with time. I send him three times along that straight edge and he returns to heel and gives me the dummy. The third is not to “shop around.” There is a tendency to want to pick up two or drop one and pick up another. As soon as he gets one in his mouth, I give him sharp recall whistle to make sure he comes back immediately and doesn’t “shop around.” Today he brought back two at once. OK, that’s part of the deal.

On the hand signal drill, I put him at sit and walk away about 15 yards, face him and throw a dummy about 15-20 yards to his left. Teaching him to be steady at sit from day one pays off big time here. I then hold up my hand where he can see it, make sure he is focused on it and then make an exaggerated move in the direction of the dummy and send him. I repeat the exercise on his left and them behind him. Yesterday, I added a problem for him and threw one on the left and one on the right, and sent him for the right one. He did it perfectly. Today he didn’t, so I repeated it, exaggerated the move to the dummy even more and he did it correctly. I then went and picked up the other one myself. Eventually, the exaggerated move will become a simple hand signal.

Every day I try to throw in a small new challenge to see how he handles it. Today I had him sit, walked away and threw a dummy off to the side. I then blew the recall whistle. He came right to heel and ignored the dummy. Perfect.

It is important to note that all of these drills are done at close range. Slowly, (very slowly) but surely we will expand the range. Now if he makes a mistake, I am right on top of him to correct it. He’s only six months old, but already he understands a great deal and is making great progress.

Perhaps it’s time to reiterate here, I’m not using an e-collar. My goal is to train him without one and the only way to do that is start in close and slowly work your way out, bringing him back in close if a problem arises. I have no desire to start an e-collar debate here. In fact I trained Pickett using one. I simply wanted to do something different with Murph. So far, so good.


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