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Enjoying Your Labrador Retriever – training, housetraining

Labrador Retriever – Practical Commands for Family Pets (part 3)Stay

“Stay” can easily be taught as an extension of what you’ve already been practicing. To teach “stay”, you follow the entire sequence for reinforcing a “sit” or “down”, except you wait a bit longer before you give the release word, “OK!” Wait a second or two longer during each practice before saying “OK!” and releasing your dog to the positive reinforcer (toy, treat, or one of life’s other rewards).
If he gets up before you’ve said “OK,” you have two choices: pretend the release was your idea and quickly interject “OK!” as he breaks; or, if he is more experienced and practiced, mark the behavior with your correction sound – “eh!” – and then gently put him back on the spot, wait for him to lie down, and begin again. Be sure the next three practices are a success. Ask him to wait for just a second, and release him before he can be wrong. You need to keep your dog feeling like more of a success than a failure as you begin to test his training in increasingly more distracting and difficult situations.
As he gets the hang of it – he stays until you say “OK” – you can gradually push for longer times – up to a minute on a sit-stay and up to three minutes on a down-stay. You can also gradually add distractions and work in new environments. To add a minor self-correction for the down-stay, stand on the dog’s leash after he lies down, allowing about three inches of slack. If he tries to get up before you’ve said “OK,” he’ll discover it doesn’t work.
Do not step on the leash to make your Labrador Retriever lie down! This could badly hurt his neck, and will destroy his trust in you. Remember, we are teaching our dogs to make the best choices, not inflicting our answers upon them!


Rather than think of “come” as an action – “come to me” – think of it as a place – “the dog is sitting in front of me, facing me”. Since your dog by now really likes sitting to earn your touch and other positive reinforcement, he’s likely to sometimes sit directly in front of you, facing you, all on his own. When this happens, give it a specific name: “come”.
Now follow the rest of the training steps you have learned to make him like doing it and reinforce the behavior by practicing it any chance you get. Anything your dog wants and likes could be earned as a result of his first offering the sit-in-front known as “come”.
You can help guide him into the right location. Use your hands as “landing gear” and pat the insides of your legs at his nose level. Do this while backing up a bit, to help him maneuver to the straight-in-front exactly facing-you position. Don’t say the word “come” while he’s maneuvering, because he hasn’t! You are trying to make “come” the end result, not the work in progress.
You can also help your Labrador Retriever by marking his movement in the right direction: Use your positive sound or word to promise he is getting warm. When he finally sits facing you, enthusiastically say “come”, mark again with your positive word, and release him with an enthusiastic “OK!” Make it so worth his while, with lots of play and praise, that he can’t wait for you to ask him to come again!

Building a Better Recall

Practice, practice, practice. Now, practice some more. Teach your dog that all good things in life hinge upon him first sitting in front of you in a behavior named “come”. When you think he really has got it, test him by asking him to “come” as you gradually add distractions and change locations. Expect setbacks as you make these changes and practice accordingly. Lower your expectations and make his task easier so he is able to get it right. Use those distractions as rewards, when they are appropriate. For example, let him check out the interesting leaf that blew by as a reward for first coming to you and ignoring it.
Add distance and call your dog to come while he is on his retractable leash. If he refuses and sits looking at you blankly, do not jerk, tug, “pop”, or reel him in. Do nothing! It is his move; wait to see what behavior he offers. He’ll either begin to approach (mark the behavior with an excited “good!”), sit and do nothing (just keep waiting), or he’ll try to move in some direction other than toward you. If he tries to leave, use your correction marker – “eh!” – and bring him to a stop by letting him walk to the end of the leash, not by jerking him. Now walk to him in a neutral manner, and don’t jerk or show any disapproval. Gently bring him back to the spot where he was when you called him, then back away and face him, still waiting and not reissuing your command. Let him keep examining his options until he finds the one that works – yours!
If you have practiced everything I’ve suggested so far and given your dog a chance to really learn what “come” means, he is well aware of what you want and is quite intelligently weighing all his options. The only way he’ll know your way is the one that works is to be allowed to examine his other choices and discover that they don’t work.
Sooner or later every dog tests his training. Don’t be offended or angry when your dog tests you. No matter how positive you’ve made it, he won’t always want to do everything you ask, every time. When he explores the “what happens if I don’t” scenario, your training is being strengthened. He will discover through his own process of trial and error that the best – and only – way out of a command he really doesn’t feel compelled to obey is to obey it.

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Sit Happens

Teach your dog an important new rule: From now on, he is only touched and petted when he is either sitting or lying down. You won’t need to ask him to sit; in fact, you should not. Just keeping him tethered near you so there isn’t much to do but stand, be ignored, or settle, and wait until sit happens.
He may pester you a bit, but be stoic and unresponsive. Starting now, when you are sitting down, a sitting dog is the only one you see and pay attention to. He will eventually sit, and as he does, attach the word “sit”—but don’t be too excited or he’ll jump right back up. Now mark with your positive sound that promises something good, then reward him with a slow, quiet, settling pet.
Training requires consistent reinforcement. Ask others to also wait until your dog is sitting and calm to touch him, and he will associate being petted with being relaxed. Be sure you train your dog to associate everyone’s touch with quiet bonding.

Reinforcing “Sit” as a Command

Since your dog now understands one concept of working for a living—sit to earn petting—you can begin to shape and reinforce his desire to sit. Hold toys, treats, his bowl of food, and turn into a statue. But don’t prompt him to sit! Instead, remain frozen and unavailable, looking somewhere out into space, over his head. He will put on a bit of a show, trying to get a response from you, and may offer various behaviors, but only one will push your button—sitting. Wait for him to offer the “right” behavior, and when he does, you unfreeze. Say “sit,” then mark with an excited “good!” and give him the toy or treat with a release command—“OK!”
When you notice spontaneous sits occurring, be sure to take advantage of those free opportunities to make your command sequence meaningful and pos¬itive. Say “sit” as you observe sit happen—then mark with “good!” and praise, pet, or reward the dog. Soon, every time you look at your dog, he’ll be sitting and looking right back at you!
Now, after thirty days of purely positive practice, it’s time to give him a test. When he is just walking around doing his own thing, suddenly ask him to sit. He’ll probably do it right away. If he doesn’t, do not repeat your command, or you’ll just undermine its meaning (“sit” means sit now; the command is not “sit, sit, sit, sit”). Instead, get something he likes and let him know you have it. Wait for him to offer the sit—he will—then say “sit!” and complete your marking and rewarding sequence.


“OK” will probably rate as one of your dog’s favorite words. It’s like the word “recess” to schoolchildren. It is the word used to release your dog from a command. You can introduce “OK” during your “sit” practice. When he gets up from a sit, say “OK” to tell him the sitting is finished. Soon that sound will mean “freedom.”
Make it even more meaningful and positive. Whenever he spontaneously bounds away, say “OK!” Squeak a toy, and when he notices and shows interest, toss it for him.


I’ve mentioned that you should pet your dog only when he is either sitting or lying down. Now, using the approach I’ve just introduced for “sit,” teach your dog to lie down. You will be a statue, and hold something he would like to get but that you’ll release only to a dog who is lying down. It helps to lower the desired item to the floor in front of him, still not speaking and not letting him have it until he offers you the new behavior you are seeking.
He may offer a sit and then wait expectantly, but you must make him keep searching for the new trick that triggers your generosity. Allow your dog to experiment and find the right answer, even if he has to search around for it first. When he lands on “down” and learns it is another behavior that works, he’ll offer it more quickly the next time.
Don’t say “down” until he lies down, to tightly associate your prompt with the correct behavior. To say “down, down, down” as he is sitting, looking at you, or pawing at the toy would make “down” mean those behaviors instead! Whichever behavior he offers, a training opportunity has been created. Once you’ve attached and shaped both sitting and lying down, you can ask for both behaviors with your verbal prompts, “sit” or “down.” Be sure to only reinforce the “correct” reply!


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Labrador Retriever - Practical Commands for Family Pets (part 1)Before you begin training your dog, let’s look at some equipment you’ll want to have on hand:
– A buckle collar is fine for most dogs. If your dog pulls very hard, try a head collar, a device similar to a horse halter that helps reduce pulling by turning the dog’s head. Do not use a choke chain (sometimes called a training collar), because they cause physical harm even when used correctly.
– Six-foot training leash and twenty-six–foot retractable leash.
– A few empty plastic soda bottles with about twenty pennies in each one. This will be used to impersonally interrupt misbehaviors before redirecting dogs to more positive activities.
– A favorite squeaky toy, to motivate, attract attention, and reward your dog during training.

Baby Steps

Allow your young pup to drag a short, lightweight leash attached to a buckle collar for a few supervised moments, several times each day. At first the leash may annoy him, and he may jump around a bit trying to get away from it. Distract him with your squeaky toy or a bit of his kibble and he’ll quickly get used to his new “tail”.
Begin walking him on the leash by holding the end and following him. As he adapts, you can begin to assert gentle direct pressure to teach him to follow you. Don’t jerk or yank, or he will become afraid to walk when the leash is on. If he becomes hesitant, squat down facing him and let him figure out that by moving toward you, he is safe and secure. If he remains confused or frightened and doesn’t come to you, go to him and help him understand that you provide safe harbor while he’s on the leash. Then back away a few steps and try again to lure him to you. As he learns that you are the “home base,” he’ll want to follow when you walk a few steps, waiting for you to stop, squat down, and make him feel great.

So Attached to You!

The next step in training your dog – and this is a very important one – is to begin spending at least an hour or more each day with him on a four- to six-foot leash, held by or tethered to you. This training will increase his attachment to you – literally! – as you sit quietly or walk about, tending to your household business. When you are quiet, he’ll learn it is time to settle; when you are active, he’ll learn to move with you. Tethering also keeps him out of trouble when you are busy but still want his company. It is a great alternative to confining a dog, and can be used instead of crating any time you’re home and need to slow him down a bit.
Rotating your dog from supervised freedom to tethered time to some quiet time in the crate or his gated area gives him a diverse and balanced day while he is learning. Two confined or tethered hours is the most you should require of your dog in one stretch, before changing to some supervised freedom, play, or a walk.
The dog in training may, at times, be stressed by all of the changes he is dealing with. Provide a stress outlet, such as a toy to chew on, when he is confined or tethered. He will settle into his quiet time more quickly and completely. Always be sure to provide several rounds of daily play and free time (in a fenced area or on your retractable leash) in addition to plenty of chewing materials.
Dogs don’t speak in words, but they do have a language – body language. They use postures, vocalizations, movements, facial gestures, odors, and touch – usually with their mouths – to communicate what they are feeling and thinking.
We also “speak” using body language. We have quite an array of postures, movements, and facial gestures that accompany our touch and language as we attempt to communicate with our pets. And our dogs can quickly figure us out!
Alone, without associations, words are just noises. But, because we pair them with meaningful body language, our dogs make the connection. Dogs can really learn to understand much of what we say, if what we do at the same time is consistent.

The Positive Marker

Start your dog’s education with one of the best tricks in dog training: Pair various positive reinforcers – food, a toy, touch – with a sound such as a click on a clicker (which you can get at the pet supply store) or a spoken word like “good!” or “yes!” This will enable you to later “mark” your dog’s desirable behaviors.
It seems too easy: Just say “yes!” and give the dog his toy. (Or use whatever sound and reward you have chosen). Later, when you make your marking sound right at the instant your dog does the right thing, he will know you are going to be giving him something good for that particular action. And he’ll be eager to repeat the behavior to hear you mark it again!
Next, you must teach your dog to understand the meaning of cues you’ll be using to ask him to perform specific behaviors. This is easy, too. Does he already do things you might like him to do on command? Of course! He lies down, he sits, he picks things up, he drops them again, he comes to you. All of the behaviors you’d like to control are already part of your dog’s natural repertoire. The trick is getting him to offer those behaviors when you ask for them. And that means you have to teach him to associate a particular behavior on his part with a particular behavior on your part.

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What About Punishment?
Not only is it unnecessary to personally punish dogs, it is abusive. No matter how convinced you are that your dog “knows right from wrong”, in reality he will associate personal punishment with the punisher. The resulting cowering, “guilty”-looking postures are actually displays of submission and fear. Later, when the punisher isn’t around and the coast is clear, the same behavior he was punished for—such as raiding a trash can – might bring a self-delivered, very tasty result. The punished dog hasn’t learned not to misbehave; he has learned to not get caught.

Purely Positive Reinforcement
With positive training, we emphasize teaching dogs what they should do to earn reinforcements, rather than punishing them for unwanted behaviors.
– Focus on teaching “do” rather than “don’t.” For example, a sitting dog isn’t jumping.
– Use positive reinforcers that are valuable to your dog and the situation: A tired dog values rest; a confined dog values freedom.
– Play (appropriately)!
– Be a consistent leader.
– Set your dog up for success by anticipating and preventing problems.
– Notice and reward desirable behavior, and give him lots of attention when he is being good.
– Train ethically. Use humane methods and equipment that do not frighten or hurt your dog.
– When you are angry, walk away and plan a positive strategy.
– Keep practice sessions short and sweet. Five to ten minutes, three to five times a day is best.

Does punishment ever have a place in dog training? Many people will heartily insist it does not. But dog owners often get frustrated as they try to stick to the path of all-positive reinforcement. It sure sounds great, but is it realistic, or even natural, to never say “no” to your dog?
A wild dog’s life is not all positive. Hunger and thirst are both examples of negative reinforcement; the resulting discomfort motivates the wild dog to seek food and water. He encounters natural aversives such as pesky insects; mats in his coat; cold days; rainy days; sweltering hot days; and occasional run-ins with thorns, brambles, skunks, bees, and other nastiness. These all affect his behavior, as he tries to avoid the bad stuff whenever possible. The wild dog also occasionally encounters social punishers from others in his group when he gets too pushy. Starting with a growl or a snap from Mom, and later some mild and ritualized discipline from other members of his four-legged family, he learns to modify behaviors that elicit grouchy responses.
Our pet dogs don’t naturally experience all positive results either, because they learn from their surroundings and from social experiences with other dogs. Watch a group of pet dogs playing together and you’ll see a very old educational system still being used. As they wrestle and attempt to assert themselves, you’ll notice many mouth-on-neck moments. Their playful biting is inhibited, with no intention to cause harm, but their message is clear: “Say uncle or this could hurt more!”
Observing that punishment does occur in nature, some people may feel compelled to try to be like the big wolf with their pet dogs. Becoming aggressive or heavy-handed with your pet will backfire! Your dog will not be impressed, nor will he want to follow you. Punishment causes dogs to change their behavior to avoid or escape discomfort and threats. Threatened dogs will either become very passive and offer submissive, appeasing postures, attempt to flee, or rise to the occasion and fight back. When people personally punish their dogs in an angry manner, one of these three defensive mechanisms will be triggered. Which one depends on a dog’s genetic temperament as well as his past social experiences. Since we don’t want to make our pets feel the need to avoid or escape us, personal punishment has no place in our training.

Remote Consequences

Sometimes, however, all-positive reinforcement is just not enough. That’s because not all reinforcement comes from us. An inappropriate behavior can be self-reinforcing – just doing it makes the dog feel better in some way, whether you are there to say “good boy!” or not. Some examples are eating garbage, pulling the stuffing out of your sofa, barking at passersby, or urinating on the floor.
Although you don’t want to personally punish your dog, the occasional deterrent may be called for to help derail these kinds of self-rewarding misbehaviors. In these cases, mild forms of impersonal or remote punishment can be used as part of a correction. The goal isn’t to make your dog feel bad or to “know he has done wrong,” but to help redirect him to alternate behaviors that are more acceptable to you.

The Problems with Personal Punishment
– Personally punished dogs are not taught appropriate behaviors.
– Personally punished dogs only stop misbehaving when they are caught or interrupted, but they don’t learn not to misbehave when they are alone. Personally punished dogs become shy, fearful, and distrusting.
– Personally punished dogs may become defensively aggressive.
– Personally punished dogs become suppressed and inhibited.
– Personally punished dogs become stressed, triggering stress-reducing behaviors that their owners interpret as acts of spite, triggering even more punishment. Personally punished dogs have stressed owners. Personally punished dogs may begin to repeat behaviors they have been taught will result in negative, but predictable, attention.
– Personally punished dogs are more likely to be given away than are positively trained dogs.

You do this by pairing a slightly startling, totally impersonal sound with an equally impersonal and very mild remote consequence. The impersonal sound might be a single shake of an empty plastic pop bottle with pennies in it, held out of your dog’s sight. Or you could use a vocal expression such as “eh!” delivered with you looking away from your misbehaving dog.
Pair your chosen sound – the penny bottle or “eh!” – with either a slight tug on his collar or a sneaky spritz on the rump from a water bottle. Do this right as he touches something he should not; bad timing will confuse your dog and undermine your training success.
To keep things under your control and make sure you get the timing right, it’s best to do this as a setup. “Accidentally” drop a shoe on the floor, and then help your dog learn some things are best avoided. As he sniffs the shoe say “eh!” without looking at him and give a slight tug against his collar. This sound will quickly become meaningful as a correction all by itself – sometimes after just one setup – making the tug correction obsolete. The tug lets your dog see that you were right; going for that shoe was a bad idea! Your wise dog will be more likely to heed your warning next time, and probably move closer to you where it’s safe. Be a good friend and pick up the nasty shoe. He’ll be relieved, and you’ll look heroic. Later, when he’s home alone and encounters a stray shoe, he’ll want to give it a wide berth.
Your negative marking sound will come in handy in the future, when your dog begins to venture down the wrong behavioral path. The goal is not to announce your disapproval or to threaten your dog. You are not telling him to stop or showing how you feel about his behavior. You are sounding a warning to a friend who’s venturing off toward danger – “I wouldn’t if I were you!” Suddenly, there is an abrupt, rather startling, noise! Now is the moment to redirect him and help him earn positive reinforcement. That interrupted behavior will become something he wants to avoid in the future, but he won’t want to avoid you.

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Labrador Retriever training is a learning adventure on both ends of the leash. Before attempting to teach their dog new behaviors or change unwanted ones, thoughtful dog owners take the time to understand why their pets behave the way they do, and how their own behavior can be either a positive or negative influence on their dog.

Canine Nature

Loving dogs as much as we do, it’s easy to forget they are a completely different species. Despite sharing our homes and living as appreciated members of our families, dogs do not think or learn exactly the same way people do. Even if you love your dog like a child, you must remember to respect the fact that he is actually a dog.
Dogs have no idea when their behavior is inappropriate from a human perspective. They are not aware of the value of possessions they chew or of messes they make or the worry they sometimes seem to cause. While people tend to look at behavior as good and bad or right and wrong, dogs just discover what works and what doesn’t work. Then they behave accordingly, learning from their own experiences and increasing or reducing behaviors to improve results for themselves.
You might wonder, “But don’t dogs want to please us”? My answer is yes, provided your pleasure reflects back to them in positive ways they can feel and appreciate. Dogs do things for dog reasons, and everything they do works for them in some way or they wouldn’t be doing it!

The Social Dog

Our pets descended from animals who lived in tightly knit, cooperative social groups. Though far removed in appearance and lifestyle from their ancestors, our dogs still relate in many of the same ways their wild relatives did. And in their relationships with one another, wild canids either lead or follow.
Canine ranking relationships are not about cruelty and power; they are about achievement and abilities. Competent dogs with high levels of drive and confidence step up, while deferring dogs step aside. But followers don’t get the short end of the stick; they benefit from the security of having a more competent dog at the helm.
Our domestic dogs still measure themselves against other members of their group – us! Dog owners whose actions lead to positive results have willing, secure followers. But dogs may step up and fill the void or cut loose and do their own thing when their people fail to show capable leadership. When dogs are pushy, aggressive, and rude, or independent and unwilling, it’s not because they have designs on the role of “master”. It is more likely that their owners failed to provide consistent leadership.
Dogs in training benefit from their handler’s good leadership. Their education flows smoothly because they are impressed. Being in charge doesn’t require you to physically dominate or punish your dog. You simply need to make some subtle changes in the way you relate to him every day.

Lead Your Pack!

Create schedules and structure daily activities. Dogs are creatures of habit and routines will create security. Feed meals at the same times each day and also try to schedule regular walks, training practices, and toilet outings. Your predictability will help your dog be patient.
Ask your dog to perform a task. Before releasing him to food or freedom, have him do something as simple as sit on command. Teach him that cooperation earns great results!
Give a release prompt (such as “let’s go”) when going through doors leading outside. This is a better idea than allowing your impatient pup to rush past you.
Pet your dog when he is calm, not when he is excited. Turn your touch into a tool that relaxes and settles.
Reward desirable rather than inappropriate behavior. Petting a jumping dog (who hasn’t been invited up) reinforces jumping. Pet sitting dogs, and only invite lap dogs up after they’ve first “asked” by waiting for your invitation.
Replace personal punishment with positive reinforcement. Show a dog what to do, and motivate him to want to do it, and there will be no need to punish him for what he should not do. Dogs naturally follow, without the need for force or harshness.
Play creatively and appropriately. Your dog will learn the most about his social rank when he is playing with you. During play, dogs work to control toys and try to get the best of one another in a friendly way. The wrong sorts of play can create problems: For example, tug of war can lead to aggressiveness. Allowing your dog to control toys during play may result in possessive guarding when he has something he really values, such as a bone. Dogs who are chased during play may later run away from you when you approach to leash them. The right kinds of play will help increase your dog’s social confidence while you gently assert your leadership.

How Dogs Learn (And How They Don’t)

Dog training begins as a meeting of minds – yours and your dog’s. Though the end goal may be to get your dog’s body to behave in a specific way, training starts as a mind game. Your dog is learning all the time by observing the consequences of his actions and social interactions. He is always seeking out what he perceives as desirable and trying to avoid what he perceives as undesirable.
He will naturally repeat a behavior that either brings him more good stuff or makes bad stuff go away (these are both types of reinforcement). He will naturally avoid a behavior that brings him more bad stuff or makes the good stuff go away (these are both types of punishment).
Both reinforcement and punishment can be perceived as either the direct result of something the dog did himself, or as coming from an outside source.

Using Life’s Rewards

Your best friend is smart, and he is also cooperative. When the best things in life can only be had by working with you, your dog will view you as a facilitator. You unlock doors to all of the positively reinforcing experiences he values: his freedom, his friends at the park, food, affection, walks, and play. The trained dog accompanies you through those doors and waits to see what working with you will bring.
Rewarding your dog for good behavior is called positive reinforcement, and, as we’ve just seen, it increases the likelihood that he will repeat that behavior. The perfect reward is anything your dog wants that is safe and appropriate. Don’t limit yourself to toys, treats, and things that come directly from you. Harness life’s positives – barking at squirrels, chasing a falling leaf, bounding away from you at the dog park, pausing for a moment to sniff everything—and allow your dog to earn access to those things as rewards that come from cooperating with you. When he looks at you, when he sits, when he comes when you call – any prompted behavior can earn one of life’s rewards. When he works with you, he earns the things he most appreciates; but when he tries to get those things on his own, he cannot. Rather than see you as someone who always says “no,” your dog will view you as the one who says “let’s go!” He will want to follow.

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Training Your Labrador RetrieverTraining makes your best friend better! A properly trained dog has a happier life and a longer life expectancy. He is also more appreciated by the people he encounters each day, both at home and out and about.
A trained dog walks nicely and joins his family often, going places untrained dogs cannot go. He is never rude or unruly, and he always happily comes when called. When he meets people for the first time, he greets them by sitting and waiting to be petted, rather than jumping up. At home he doesn’t compete with his human family, and alone he is not destructive or overly anxious. He isn’t continually nagged with words like “no”, since he has learned not to misbehave in the first place. He is never shamed, harshly punished, or treated unkindly, and he is a well-loved, involved member of the family.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? If you are willing to invest some time, thought, and patience, the words above could soon be used to describe your dog (though perhaps changing “he” to “she”). Educating your pet in a positive way is fun and easy, and there is no better gift you can give your pet than the guarantee of improved understanding and a great relationship.
This chapter will explain how to offer kind leadership, reshape your pet’s behavior in a positive and practical way, and even get a head start on simple obedience training.

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