How To Properly Train You Pup

Labrador retrievers are incredibly cute dogs. Their roly-poly bellies, happy smiles, and wagging tails just capture our hearts. However, these dogs do need some training. Labradors are high-energy animals, especially since their breed was developed to work, hunt, and run all day. Fortunately, Labradors are friendly and trainable.

Part 1Understanding Labradors

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    Note that there is no such thing as a 'naughty' Labrador. The concept of 'naughtiness' is a human characterization that has been incorrectly applied to an animal. Your Labrador is not innately "naughty" or "bad." Rather, your dog does what Labradors do in a Labrador fashion until you teach him new behaviors. Keep in mind that he wasn't born automatically knowing the rules of living in a human world.[2]

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    Read up on the breed. Labradors are generally intelligent, happy, and energetic dogs. They need substantial attention and an outlet for their energy. 
    • Labradors originated from and were developed in Newfoundland. They were frequently used by fishermen to help retrieve fishing nets and loose fish. To this day, they remain good "workers" and swimmers.
    • The versatility of the Labrador has seen the breed utilized in many "jobs," including search and rescue, police work, drug detection, and service work for the blind, among others.[3]
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    Treat Labradors in a manner that befits their breed. Giving them what they need will help ensure that they don't engage in "bad behaviors" as a way to cope with the insufficiency of their treatment. 
    • For example, Labradors need to play and be thoroughly walked.[4] If you don't do this, they often become bored and destructive. Keep them active by playing fetch and going on substantial walks at least twice a day. Increased physical activity helps a dog stay healthy and also tires them out. A tired out Labrador will, in turn, be less inclined to help himself to the food in your cupboards and dig up your garden. Swimming is also excellent exercise for a dog and playing fetch in the water is a great combination that expends a lot of dog energy.

Part 2 Becoming a Strong Trainer

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    Be precise and direct. Don't lecture your Labrador. Your commands need to be simple and consistent. "No", "Drop", "Wait" are strong, simple, and direct. "Stop doing that, oh for goodness sake" or "Oi, stop eating my shoe" will not work as they are too complicated. Remember that dogs don't process language like humans do. 

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    Be firm and in control. In general, shouting at any dog is ineffective. This is especially true for Labradors who are an excitable breed by nature. Use a firm voice when instructing your dog; don't yell or lose control. Dogs are very intuitive and will be able to sense your frustration and may react in kind. 
    • Firm and assertive commands will communicate to the Labrador what you want him to do.
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    Be timely in your responses and commands. Admonishing a Labrador too long after the incident is ineffective. If you need to admonish or correct your dog, it needs to be done during or within a few seconds of the act. Dogs will have forgotten the event within seconds of its occurrence, so it's key to address the behavior immediately in order to facilitate the retraining process. 

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    Coach the family. If you live in a household of more than one, your family also needs training. Explain to your family as well as visitors to your home about what your dog is and is not allowed to do. For example, if you do not allow anyone to feed your Labrador at the dinner table, then you need to let others know about that rule. If other family members or visitors don't know about this rule, they may feed your dog, which is confusing for him and will disrupt the training you have done. 

Part 3Use Standard Training Techniques

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    Never beat your dog. Beating or hitting Labradors when they behave in an undesirable manner will not help them become better trained dogs. Rather, they will become fearful of you, which will ultimately defeat the training process.[5]

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    Reward the behavior you wish to encourage. It is easy to apply human morality and motivation to your Labrador. But the fact of the matter is that your Labrador is not human and 'just is' and 'just does'. For example, eating the sleeve of your best work shirt is not a conscious act on behalf of your dog to upset you. Oftentimes, the shirt was just there and it was chewable.[6]
    • Rewarding good behavior is more effective than punishing bad behavior. Instead of becoming exasperated with and angry at your Labrador for chewing your shirt, encourage him to chew his play toy and reward him with praise for doing so.
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    Try clicker training. Click training enables the immediate delivery of positive reinforcement. Labradors are highly trainable because they are so food motivated, which makes clicker training ideal for them.[7]
    • Clicker training uses a sound—a click—to tell the dog when he has done something right. The clicker itself is a tiny plastic box held in the palm of your hand, with a metal tongue that you push quickly to make the sound. The method works by teaching the dog that every time he hears the clicking sound, he gets a treat. Eventually the dog will come to learn that clicks are always followed by treats, which is a very powerful incentive for Labradors. One your dog makes this connection, you can use the click to mark the instant the Labrador performs the right behavior, such as sitting down. Over time, he will learn that sitting down when told gets him rewards.[8] Learn how to clicker train your dog.
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    Appeal to your Labrador's belly. Most dogs are perpetually hungry. Labradors in particular are food-oriented and motivated. Reward desirable behavior with food and you’re likely to get a repeat of that good behavior.[9]
    • For example, if your Labrador is gnawing through your settee, encourage him to pick up his play toy and then reward him with a treat and make a great fuss of him. The treats can gradually give way to praise and over time, your Labrador will learn not to eat your settee.
    • Treats should be small, such as Mini Zukes, Charlie Bears, Bil Jac, or freeze dried liver. Cooked kidney is a cheap alternative to buying dog treats and is also very easy to prepare and cut up. Many dogs will even work for their regular dog kibble.
    • Giving treats as a reward for the behavior you wish to encourage should be used only as a starting measure. Treats should soon be replaced with praise as the reward, otherwise the dog may become overweight or even obese.
    • Some trainers recommend having a dog with attention problems have to earn every kibble in his bowl, instead of being fed large meals at one time. That way, your dog is very focused on you and the food, making it easier to convey the message that he needs to “learn to earn.”[10]
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    Employ distraction techniques. For instance, if your Labrador has taken to either launching himself at passers by or other dogs or barking at people and other dogs, then you should try to distract him. You need to temporarily interrupt your Labrador's stream of thought by talking to or commanding him or by an action (such as stomping your foot). 
    • Anticipate and work on distraction techniques with treats in low distraction settings and at home. Make sure you follow through with praise and treats. As you get more confident where it is quiet, increase the level of difficulty by walking around the block or near a dog park to work on his skills. Gradually work up to busier areas once your Labrador is consistently responding to commands like “leave it” or “watch me”. Work up slowly to added distraction and you will both gain confidence in your Labrador's ability to handle a crowd.
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    Consult a professional trainer. A professional dog trainer, such as one from the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), is very knowledgeable about dogs and can help you learn basic handling skills.[11]
    • You may need to start with a few private lessons to learn the basics before you and your Lab join a group lesson.
    • Though it is an added expense, having professional assistance is beneficial in the long run because it will help you and your energetic dog communicate effectively.
    • You may even consider consulting a veterinary behaviorist. These are veterinarians who have additional training and expertise in animal behavior. Your veterinarian can refer you to one of these specialists from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB).[12]
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    Enjoy your Labrador. They are wonderful dogs. Be fair, consistent, and clear. They'll reward you in turn with love and affection!