No, I’m not training Murph for black ops missions, nor am I training him in secret. Actually stealth training refers to training Murph when he doesn’t know he is being trained. This is not a revolutionary concept by any means and good trainers do it all the time, but it’s worth talking about. A lot of amateur trainers (such as myself) tend to focus on the training session and forget about the rest of the day. First of all this sends an inconsistent message to the puppy and secondly, it is a lost opportunity.
Murph’s training sessions last for about 10 minutes maximum. We are both focused on learning new skills and reinforcing what is already there. Murph knows when this is happening and thanks to his intelligence and breeding is spot on—for a while. At a certain point I can tell when he is getting bored with the routine and it’s evident when his puppy mind is beginning to wander. That’s when I shut it down.
Our training routine is done completely on lead outside (right now in whatever driveway or plowed back road I can find until all this snow melts). Once his attention wanes, I remove the lead, make him sit quietly for a few seconds and then release him with a tap to the head and the “OK.” He’s then off to play and be a puppy.
Murph on his way
photo by Tim Bronson
This is when stealth training begins. I just start walking. I give no commands (yet) and simply let him explore and chase leaves or pick up sticks and do the things puppies do. There’s no active training here as he is off lead and I can’t enforce the command. If I can’t enforce it I don’t want to give it. (Make sure if you do this it’s in a place where the puppy can’t get in trouble or danger. I use a private road right now and come spring I’ll head for the woods.)
During this walk opportunities arise to teach him something. I’m not big on training with treats, but this is one of the times I carry a few. Murph seems to always want to know where I am, but occasionally he will get distracted. I just keep walking, but I keep the whistle at the ready. Suddenly he will discover he is alone and come running toward me. Perfect. I blow the “come” whistle. He’s already coming and when he gets to me, I place him in the heel position, make him sit quietly for a treat and then release him again.
Murph comes all the way
photo by Tim Bronson
Without any real effort, and doing what is perfectly natural for him, I reinforced the “come” whistle, coming to the heel position, and sitting calmly. That’s certainly worth a treat. You’ll find that these opportunities arise all the time if you just pay attention. At the end of the walk, I put him back on the lead and he walks at heel back to the house. It’s important to go out under control and come back under control. We’ll talk more about the “walk” later as I found it to be incredibly valuable when training Pickett, and the opportunities can be expanded significantly as the puppy gets older and more advanced.