Training your Labrador does not have to be a difficult time in your life, or in the life of your dog.
By following a few simple tips and strategies, the process can be pleasant and rewarding for all involved.
The major issue in training a dog is to make sure that your puppy is at the correct stage of its life to be able to understand and internalize the training.
As discussed earlier, there are seven distinct stages that a puppy goes through, and some stages will foster independence and assertiveness in the puppy, while others will be more “training friendly”.
By understanding these phases and stages you can avoid a lot of frustration and learn to work with the dog, rather than fighting nature.
For purposes of this discussion, the focus will be on training a puppy rather than retraining an adult dog. The strategies used will be similar however, and can be interchanged. Remember that different breeds respond differently to training techniques, and the individual personality of the dog will also impact on the strategies that are most successful.
In addition you should research your breed and talk to trainers about the different stages and temperaments of the breed. In general hounds and dogs from the working group tend to be high-energy puppies, and may be rambunctious and have difficulty focusing on training exercises.
Toy breeds can tend to be high-strung and prone to barking. The larger dogs such as Akitas, Shepherds, Rottweilers, Malamutes and Huskies tend to be very stubborn dogs and require firm and consistent training and work best with one trainer rather than multiple people.
Small breeds can also be very stubborn, and usually tend to bond closely with one or two people initially. They can then come to respond to others appropriately later.
MAKE TRAINING FUN
Make sure that you are in a positive and enthusiastic mood when you begin training sessions. If you are tired, stressed or unhappy this will be communicated to the dog, and it will make the session less pleasant and more difficult. Take time to praise the puppy when something is done correctly.
Small healthy treats and lots of verbal praise, pets and hugs make the dog feel positive about training sessions. Try to have a play session at the end of each training session when the session has gone well – this will help the puppy focus on the training.
In addition, always exercise your puppy before the training session starts. This allows their excess energy to be burned off and gives the puppy the opportunity to focus. If a puppy is not exercised before training, it may be focused on running around and having fun rather than on the business of learning.
Most puppies enjoy learning, being praised, and spending time with their owners. They will look forward to these training times if they are done in a positive atmosphere where the puppy feels successful.
MAKE TRAINING NATURAL
Remember that Labrador puppies are not full grown, nor do they have complete control of their body functions. Take the puppy outside multiple times per day, and positively reward the puppy when it urinates or defecates outside. This process can also work when the puppy sits on its own or comes to you. Catch them being good and reward swiftly.
KEEP TRAINING CONSISTENT
This is one of the most critical tips for puppies. It is very hard for the puppy to understand expectations if they change from day to day or between people in the house. Make sure that everyone is using the same commands with the puppy.
For example if one person is using “sit” and another is using “down” to get the puppy to sit on its bottom, the puppy will be confused. This gets even more confusing if, when the puppy jumps up, he is told to “get down”. Keep commands simple and consistent.
In addition to the command language, it is also important to keep the expectations the same between people in the home. If, for example, the children let the puppy sleep on the bed but the adults insist the puppy stays off the furniture, it will take much longer to teach the puppy.
Talk to other family members about the commands and expectations for the puppy. If you are attending a puppy training class, invite all the family to attend so they can see how the trainer is indicating the commands should be used.
PATIENCE IS THE KEY
Remember that Labrador puppies are just like toddlers, and will need to be given lots of opportunity to learn.
Housebreaking is one of the first lessons that most people would like puppies to learn, but it is also one of the hardest. Puppies have a small bladder and need to frequently urinate. Take the puppy out for a short walk or exercise break at least every hour or two during the day.
By avoiding situations where the puppy will have to mess in the house, you can positively reward for good behaviour.
Remember also that sound or movement easily distracts puppies. Try to plan training times in an area where there is a minimum amount of distraction. Avoid having the TV on, or the children playing in the same area.
Allow the puppy to focus as much as possible on the task at hand. Remember also that puppies have a short attention span, so stop the training when you notice the puppy is beginning to “tune out”. Short, frequent trainings will be more effective than long training sessions.
NEVER HIT A PUPPY
A puppy bonds with a human, and through this bond learns trust and obedience. If there is negative physical contact between the owner and the puppy, this trust and bond is weak, or is not formed at all. A Labrador that is afraid of its owner will be very difficult to train, and may become extremely shy or very aggressive.
Rewarding for positives, and using a sharp “No” followed by withdrawing attention will be more effective than physical punishment. It will also strengthen your bond with the dog, and encourage the puppy to learn to work for your praise and attention rather than fear of punishment.
GET IN A ROUTINE
Just as you schedule walks, exercise and feeding try to schedule a routine for training. This helps the puppy to understand the difference between play and training, and will encourage them to focus. Use natural training as well – when the puppy responds correctly to a command outside of the training session, praise them, hug them and give them lots of attention.
Have a positive attitude for the training, and be consistent with your commands and training methods. You will be amazed how quickly your puppy will respond to your commands.
Remember that there will be good days and not so good days, and try to focus on the positives. Understand the characteristics of your breed and talk to a breeder, trainer or veterinarian if you are noting any unusual behaviour.