As the Ole Miss football team continues to rise in the polls in its undefeated season, the coaches, players, and diehard fans have their eyes on the next game (a road matchup vs. LSU). The rest of us, well, we’re slightly distracted by a new addition to the squad: head coach Lane Kiffin’s dog, Juice. With more than thirty thousand Twitter followers, Kiffin’s seven-month-old British Labrador retriever has become a celebrity in the world of college football—and the unofficial mascot of the Ole Miss team.
Although you can typically find him on the sidelines keeping a watchful eye over his teammates, Juice runs his own drills to make sure he is in tip-top shape for the remainder of the season. We sat down with Juice’s “personal trainer,” Tom Smith of Wildrose Kennels, to get a scouting report, including an assessment of his growth since his August entry into Wildrose’s gundog training program and a look at needed improvements at home and on the field.
Jersey: He doesn’t wear one, but in his heart he is a No. 11, just like his dad when he was QB at California State University, Fresno
Position: Assistant Wide “Retriever” Coach
School: The University of Mississippi
Age: 7½ months
Weight: 60 lbs
Heelwork (4 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Heelwork involves the dog walking beside the trainer on a leash, keeping his front shoulder in line with the trainer’s knee. Wildrose trainer Tom Smith reports: “When [Juice] first got here, his heelwork was pretty decent, but since he started practice, it has improved dramatically. He has learned that when I stop, he sits.” How can he improve? “Do it off lead.”
Recall (1 star) ⭐
Recall simply means coming when called. Says Smith of Juice: “He’s very sticky; once he sits he doesn’t want to recall very well…He’s definitely a one-star on that, so a lot of improvement is needed.”
Sit (5 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“His sit is fantastic. He’s definitely a five-star on sit,” Smith says, though he deflects the credit. “Coach had taught him, and it worked really well. He was definitely a preseason five on sit.”
Place Training (5 stars/-1 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/ -⭐
“While Juice is with me during practice at school, he is a five-star on place. I can leave him unsupervised in different areas and he stays there—no issue,” Smith reports. “When he is unsupervised in [Kiffin’s] office, he has about a negative one for place. He has a tendency to wander to different offices to find pets and treats.”
Gunfire (5 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Wildrose pupils are trained to retrieve once a shot has gone off, a skill Juice has mastered, according to Smith. “Before preseason, he never had been around gunfire. We ran through starter pistols to 12-gauge, and he’s definitely a five-star on that. He has a very high retrieve drive and has definitely learned to associate gunfire with fun stuff.” Gameday brings about a different challenge: “The first time I took him on the field for a game, they told me where to stand but didn’t tell me the fireworks were right behind us, and it scared the living daylights out of both of us. So now when I take him to the games, I bought him some little earmuffs, [the kind] we wear to shoot in, but they are for dogs and have Velcro so you can tighten them up,” Smith says.
Hold (4 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
While holding is not welcome in football, it’s an essential skill at Wildrose Kennels—one a dog learns when he’s six or seven months old and has all of his adult teeth, enabling him to comfortably hold an object in his mouth. “So far he is a four-star,” Smith says of Juice. “He’s doing great—he’s got a very good soft mouth, he’s not crunching the bumper, not chewing on it, not rolling it around, and I can move away from him and walk circles around him and we hold it. That is only five days in, so he is definitely showing signs that he will be a five-star hold.”