The Labrador Retriever, although most commonly a pet and family companion, also makes an excellent service and sniffer dog for law enforcement. However, they are actually a sport dog, used to scent, locate, flush, and retrieve game. Strangely enough, this American favorite actually originated in Canada, used by fisherman to haul nets, fetch ropes, and retrive fish that got out of nets. This very adaptable, intelligent, people-oriented dog was put to use as a sport dog and quickly became an invaluable hunting companion.
While they have plenty of natural ability, Labrador Retrievers do need to be trained to do field work and to be successful hunting companions. Field training allows handlers to harness those natural abilities by assigning commands, direction, and giving the dog experience following commands. After all, in the field there are plenty of distractions, other dogs, prey, gunfire, and other scents. Your Labrador has to to be trained to work in a hunting environment and respond to commands to trail, freeze when game is located, flush game when required, and retrieve game to his handler without become startled, confused, or distracted.
Labrador Retrievers are used both for hunting waterfowl and upland birds. When hunting waterfowl, Retrievers need to sit quietly behind blinds while hunters take a shot at birds that are lured into range. Labradors are then given directional commands to retrieve waterfowl in difficult terrain and return the downed birds to their handlers.
Upland birds are found in wooded areas and sometimes dense brush. A Lab is used to locate scent trails on the ground or in the air and guide handlers to the birds. When the bird is located, your lab must either freeze, so as not to startle the bird, or flush it so it comes into the open. Your Labrador is then required to retrieve the fallen bird and return to his handler. This means a lot of complex behavior your dog needs to learn. There is rough terrain to negotiate and, in the case of a Labrador, often water as well. Your Labrador needs to learn to listen to his handler and perform his duties taking everything in stride. No easy feat!
Most Labradors love to work and hunt. The praise and joy of being outdoors and hunting is reinforcement for much of the work your dog will be doing, however, treats and better yet, toys, are also great ways to reinforce your Labrador's behavior. These motivators will make sure he knows he is on the right track. A Labrador should be worked and trained on good recall and retrieving in a safe environment first, so there is little chance of him taking off in the wilderness. Some trainers use tracing collars as well, to ensure their dogs do not get lost. With these tools and skills on hand and prepared, you can begin your training.