How to train your Labrador dog
The friendly, food-orientated Labrador can make a great family pet. However, as relatively large dogs, it is essential that they receive thorough socialisation and appropriate training. This doesn’t mean you have to go out of your way looking for a specialist retriever breed trainer; Labrador dog training shares common ground with the training of almost any dog, and any ABTC (The Association of Behaviour and Training Council) registered practitioners will be able to help you.
Good basic training should cover teaching your pet to sit, stay and, of course, to come back when called. Even after the very best initial training, it is not uncommon for problems to arise at a later stage. For example, Labrador owners frequently report some or all of the following problems:
- Dogs that jump up at people
- Dogs that pull on the leash
- Dogs that won’t come back when they’re called
The key is not to panic. With persistence, the right knowledge and, sometimes, a little professional support, you and your dog will soon be on the right track again.
As an example, we’ll look a little closer at the first of these common issues.
Dogs that jump up – why do they do it?
Dogs that jump up at visitors to the home or strangers encountered on walks are a frequent occurrence. Rarely, however, is this behaviour welcomed. Teaching your dog to keep all four paws on the ground when saying hello can seem a daunting task, particularly when it’s a naturally bouncy Labrador.
Jumping up is instinctive behaviour in young puppies. If you watch, you’ll notice how they jump at their mother, licking the sides of her mouth. In wild dogs, this behaviour is thought to stimulate the adult to regurgitate food for the pups – and this ancestral memory apparently lingers on in domestic dogs. Additionally, young pups jump and spring at their littermates as they play. It’s natural that this behaviour carries over into their interactions with their human family. In many pups, jumping up tends to decrease as the pup matures but, unfortunately, this is not always the case. The jumping up stage also tends to be prolonged in breeds like Labradors that take longer to reach social maturity. In effect, this results in an extended adolescence, meaning that the dog may retain puppyish behaviour for two or three years.
Of course, what may be viewed as “cute” behaviour in a 12-week old puppy is definitely not seen in the same light when it’s being perpetrated by a seven or eight-month old dog. Remember: an adult Labrador may weigh in the region of 35kg. This is a weight that can easily overwhelm a child or frail adult. The dog may be well-intentioned but the scratches, bumps and damage to clothes that such rambunctious behaviour can cause will not be welcomed by many people.
Jumping up – how not to fix it
Traditional approaches to preventing jumping up can be counter-productive or even dangerous. For example, putting a knee into the dog’s chest is often cited as one way to discourage such behaviour. Unfortunately, dogs often perceive it as their human friend joining in with the game and, as such, it may encourage the dog to continue with its behaviour. Putting out a knee may hurt a smaller dog and, of course, there is always the risk of the person over-balancing and hurting themselves in a fall.
Ignoring the dog, usually by turning your back on them, can work. However, it is not practicable for everyone to adopt this approach. Imagine, for example, a toddler or someone using a walking stick trying it with any success. Consequently, you may find a different approach is called for – and one for which you may need the support of a trainer.
Jumping up – the Labrador dog training solution
In order to cure your Labrador of jumping up, you need to understand that, for many dogs, the sheer act of jumping is a reward for the dog. Your task is to replace this reward with something equally as satisfying.
Initially you may need to take steps physically to prevent your dog from jumping. When outside the house, this is likely to mean keeping him leashed. A leash and harness usually gives better control than a leash and collar. You may need to try several harnesses to find the best one for you and your dog.
At home, you may need to use a long, or house line. Again, attaching it to a harness rather than a collar will give you better control. Ideally, make sure that the line does not have a handle at the end of it in order to stop it getting caught around things or people’s feet. Before opening the door to a visitor, you should grasp the line firmly to prevent your pet from jumping up.
Once you are confident you have physical control over your pet, you can look to change his behaviour and learn to greet visitors and passers-by calmly. This is where rewards – and plenty of them - come in. Decide on the behaviour you want – all four feet on the ground or a sit – and prepare to reward it. For example, if you decide on a sit, once your dog does sit, you should mark the behaviour with a word such as “yes” or the use of a clicker and then reward by throwing a treat on the ground. To begin with, you’ll need to make the treats high value (roast chicken and sausage are popular with most dogs) and plentiful. You’ll also need to practice at home (or in your training class) before trying it out with visitors or on a walk. Your aim is to get your pet focusing on you as the source of rewards and not anyone else.
With time, patience and persistence, you should see your pet grow calmer around visitors to your home and strangers encountered when out and about.