Murph Training, Week VII: Murph Goes to the Mall


Written by: Eric Rickstad

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Murph at the mall
Photo by Mimi Fersen, taken with iPhone

This weekend we took my son to the airport for an early-morning flight. Of course, Murph went along. Since we were in the big city for the morning, we decided to visit the mall. We got there an hour before the stores opened, but the mall was open and full of “mall walkers” doing their fitness thing. It occurred to me what a great time it was to work on Murph’s training and steadiness in a new environment. I went back to the car and got him.

I was given a new tool to try called a Leash Master™. Mike Quartararo, who heads up the pet division at Orvis, asked me to try it out. Basically it’s a big stick with a short leash on the end, but it has some interesting potential as it allows you to control the dog on lead, but at a little more distance because of the rigidity of the handle. Case in point, you can put him at sit and then step away and still control him—a great way to introduce steadiness.

I took Murph into the mall on the Leash Master with the permission of the security guard who succumbed to Murph’s charm. Normally they don’t let dogs in the mall except for service dogs, but given the early hours and the explanation that this was for training, he let us in.

This was a totally new experience for Murph, and I took advantage of that by walking him at heel around strange new objects like kiosks, signs, and benches, weaving in and out of obstacles in the middle of the mall.

I’m talking about heel a lot, but in terms of control of the dog, it is in my humble opinion, the most important command there is. This is the command that allows you to go anywhere and do anything with the dog, in any environment, and always know where he is and that he is under complete control. An invisible leash if you will, but it only works if you and the dog have absolute trust in it.

He’s really beginning to understand the concept and I’m finding much less pull and tendency to become distracted as every day goes by. One great tip came from Scott McEnaney who got it from a professional trainer down in New York. Basically, when the dog starts to move forward and pull, you simply give a quick correction tug on the lead and reverse course 180 degrees. This does two things. The dog is now in the right position again, and it eliminates his curiosity as to what is out there in front as you effectively shrink the world to the space in which you are walking back and forth, even if at first it is only a few steps.

This one tip really made a difference in just a few short sessions. On my long walks, I was experiencing times when no matter how much I corrected him, Murph was pulling like a sled dog and it was frustrating. This one drill has quickly eliminated much of that and now anytime he does it, I simply snap the lead and reverse course. Makes for a longer walk, but it’s working.

At the mall, even in a new and interesting place, I found him to be focused on where I was going and not what was around him.

Once we’d done that for a few minutes, I put him at sit in the middle of the entrance area, stood off to the side with the Leash Master and stood quietly while people walked in and out right in front of him. Effectively he was on his own as I wasn’t right next to him, nor did I put any pressure on him with the lead. The one time he seemed to want to move, a soft lift on the Leash Master and a quiet “sit” and he was back in position. He sat there for a full five minutes as at least 20 plus people walked right by him.

Given the totally new environment and strange new distractions, he did a nice job. I was also impressed with the potential of the Leash Master, particularly for a puppy this age. The foundation is solidifying, but there is much to be done.

A special hello to Lakshmi Sridhar in Bangalore, India who has been following Murph’s story. Murph sends his best and so do I.

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