Murph Training, Week Two: Introducing Stay and Reinforcing the Calm in Murph

photo by Tim Bronson)

Read Part I of this Series

Given the weather up here in the Northeast, not only do I feel sorry for Murph having to go outside but I feel pretty sorry for myself sometimes. Standing outside at 3 AM and waiting for Murph to take care of business is actually pretty comical, but not much fun, particularly when it is below zero. In retrospect, I would avoid getting a puppy in the dead of winter again unless I lived south of the Mason Dixon. But, and it’s a big but, I wanted this breeding. I’m thrilled with Murphy, and I’m finding ways to work around the weather both inside and outside when it’s reasonable.

In the last blog, I touched on trying to instill a calm nature in Murph when there is something he really wants to do like carrying his stick. It’s easy to get excited right along with him when his tail is going a hundred miles and hour and he’s jumping up and down, but I resist the urge and have instituted a little rule by which every interaction between Murph and me is preceded by the sit whistle to settle him down, which by the way, he now after two weeks responds to almost 100% of the time. Now we begin work on Murph staying in one place and building on his sit behavior.

I was shocked how quickly he picked this up. I blow the sit whistle, and he sits. I pull out his stick and give it to him. He now knows he won’t get it unless he sits still. (I have resisted the natural urge to throw the stick. I know he can retrieve. Right now I want to build a calm give-and-take relationship. I made that mistake with Pickett and it has cost me a lot of work, but that’s another subject for later.) So, I whistle, he sits, then I pull out his stick. But now instead of giving it to him, I take a step back. His first inclination is to come forward, but a slight pull back of the stick and a quiet “no” and he sits back down.

In a few short sessions and a few quiet “no’s” he was staying in place, waiting. I was able to walk around him with the stick visible and he watched it intently, but didn’t move. I would then walk up and gently give him the stick, tap him on the head and let him know it was all right to move. Off he went with his prize and my prize is a 10-week-old puppy that is beginning to understand staying in one place until released.

To reinforce this, I use the same premise when it’s time to eat and I can assure you this little chow hound gets some excited when the bowls come out. He knows exactly what’s coming. This is a perfect chance to reinforce a calm discipline. I blow the sit whistle, and when he is sitting calmly, I lower the dish. If he moves, it comes back up. This was a little tougher as food is an overriding desire, but that makes it even more worthwhile in instilling this discipline. In just a few feedings, he was getting the idea, waiting until I placed the dish on the ground and then tapping his head and releasing him. I didn’t force it. I did it in little stages. The first stage was simply to stop jumping up and down and sit quietly. The second stage was to not move until the bowl touched the ground, and the third stage was to not move until the bowl was on the ground and he was released. Within three days and maybe six or seven feedings this was showing great results.

A quick note. I am not pushing the issue by making him sit there for an extended length of time. If I can get a few seconds of perfection, I’m thrilled. I don’t want to create failure by asking too much. I will extend the time little by little as he understands more and more.

I now have a 10-week-old puppy that will sit and stay within reason barring distractions. And I have a puppy that will go from a jumping bean to a well-mannered gentleman with one blast of the sit whistle. This is not something to try if there are distractions. After all, he is a puppy and solidifying this behavior with distractions will come with practice and time, but by himself he is surpassing my expectations.

I am now beginning the interesting task of introducing these commands to Murph and my older lab Pickett together just to see what happens. Murph’s first inclination is to want to play. Pickett looks at me as if I’m nuts, but the first shot at the sit whistle together worked. I will take this very slowly, training Murph alone to instill and reinforce the knowledge and then introducing it with Pickett who already knows it. This will become more important as we go forward. (Interestingly, I am finding that this may be as beneficial as a tune-up to Pickett if not more, as he has become a bit lackadaisical in his older years for which I am entirely to blame. Murph is good for both of us.)

More to come.

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