How to Obedience Train a Labrador Retriever Puppy

Easy
7-30 Days
General

Introduction

Loyal, fun-loving, and happy: What's not to love about a Labrador? 

Actually, although an easy-going breed the Labrador can develop bad habits such as barking, chewing, or digging, just like any dog. The key to avoiding this is providing plenty of exercises and also mental stimulation. Luckily, obedience training can help you with both of these. 

Training is a wonderful way to engage the pup's brain and also to have him come to trust you. In addition, a well-trained dog is better able to go for long walks and run off leash, safe in the knowledge that he will come back to you. 

So don't look at obedience training as a chore. Instead, see it as a wonderful opportunity to motivate your dog, have fun, and build his confidence. In the process, he'll become well-mannered and his good behavior will be a credit to you. 

Defining Tasks

Methods of obedience training have changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. No longer is dominating the dog and punitive correction considered appropriate... indeed, we now know this is a bad way to teach a dog. 

Obedience training should always be fun both for you and the dog. The ideal method is to use rewards in order to motivate the dog to behave. This also teaches him to think through problems to come up the appropriate behavior, rather than reacting out of fear of punishment. 

When done correctly, obedience training will bond the puppy to you and you'll have a well-behaved dog at the end of it. 

Getting Started

Labradors are happy, eager to please dogs that learn quickly when treated right. As highly food-motivated dogs, you have the advantage of being able to use his stomach in order to get him to work. However, be sure to use very small treats or he will spend more time crunching and chomping than training (and of course he'll get too heavy.) 

You only need basic materials to get him started, including: 

  • Small tasty treats
  • A bag or pouch in which to keep the rewards handy at all times
  • A collar and leash
  • A favorite toy to use as motivation

The Reward-Based Training Method

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Why does encouragement work?
Puppies want to please. Reward-based training methods are effective because when a puppy does good, he is praised. This makes him keen to repeat the behavior, in order to get more adoration (or a treat or a game with a toy). This is especially true for Labradors, who are very loving dogs that thrive on the approval of their owners.
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How does encouragement work in the real world
Let's say you are teaching the puppy to sit. You use a toy or treat to lure him into a sitting position. The moment his bottom hits the floor you say "sit", praise him and give a reward. From this the puppy learns that the word "Sit" means he parks his behind, and when he does so Mum is really pleased. This makes him eager to listen out for those cue words such as "Sit", which translate in his mind as "Do this and get some easy pickings."
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What commands should you teach?
Labradors are intelligent, but a young puppy can quickly become confused. Avoid overwhelming the pup by teaching a few, really important commands first and once he's mastered these you can work on more advanced tricks. The priorities for your pup to learn as 'sit', 'down', 'stay', 'look', and 'come'. These five commands will give you control in most situations.
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How often should you train?
Little and often is best. You should hold formal training session for 10 - 15 minutes twice a day. However, training should not be limited to only during these times. Take the opportunities that arise during the day to enforce his learning. Examples include expecting the pup to sit before his meal or before his collar and leash are put on.
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Use gentle correction
Of course, the puppy is going to make a heap of mistakes... only he won't know he's done wrong unless you tell him. However, harsh punishment is completely inappropriate. Instead, guide your puppy by saying "No!" in a firm voice, or "Uh-oh", when he makes a mistake. This helps him understand that the decision he just made was not a good one. Then when he gets praise for doing the right thing, he learns to think through situations and select the appropriate action.
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The Do's and Don'ts Method

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Do: Start training right away
Even an 8-week old pup is old enough to listen to guidance and be praised for doing things right. Expect plenty of mistakes, but it's fine to start basic training such as 'sit' at a young age. The boost he gets from doing something correctly will build his confidence.
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Don't: Physically punish the pup
The young pup looks to you for guidance. Never punish him either physically or with a harsh scolding as this will make him fearful of you. Old-fashioned training methods relied on dominating the dog, but we now know dogs trained this way obeyed out of fear rather than thinking through what's wanted and obeying to please you.
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Do: Make training fun
Like anything, pups learn faster when things are fun. Be sure to keep the tone of the training session happy and fun. Use your tone of voice and general energy levels to motivate the pup and encourage him along.
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Don't: Push too hard
If the pup continually makes mistakes, then either you aren't communicating clearly with the dog or he is tired and has lost concentration. Either way, stop and reassess the situation. If necessary, bring the session to an end (on a positive note) and try again later.
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Do: End on a positive note
End each training session by leaving the dog in a positive frame of mind. To do this, end with a task you know the dog has mastered, such as 'sit', so you can shower him with praise and leave him feeling good about himself.
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The Basic Commands Method

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'Sit'
Hold a treat in front of pup's nose. Slowly raise the treat over and behind his head so that when he follows it, his bottom drops to the ground. Say "Sit" immediately as this happens, and give the reward.
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'Down'
Hold a treat in front of the pup's nose. Keeping the treat very close to the dog, travel the treat down the dog's brisket to the floor. In an attempt to follow the treat the pup should drop to the ground, at which point say "Down" and give him the treat.
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'Stay'
First, teach 'sit' or 'down'. Then work on having the dog stay in this position for a few seconds before giving the reward. As he waits say "Stay". Gradually increase the time he stays sitting, until he can do this for a full minute. Then take one step away and then return to his side and reward him. Slowly build up the distance separating you in order to strengthen the stay.
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'Look'
'Look' has the dog focus on your face, and is a great way of distracting him from situations where he might be fearful or run off. Hold a treat by the dog's nose and then slowly raise the treat until it's resting on the bridge of your nose. The pup will watch the treat and end up appearing to stare into your eyes. Say "Look". Have him stare at the treat for 10 seconds and then give it to him. Slowly build up the amount of time he has to look before he gets the treat.
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'Come'
Start by saying "Come", whenever the pup happens to cross the room towards you. Give him a reward. Also, make a game of running away from the pup, which will trigger him to chase after you. As he runs to you say "Come" and reward him when he gets there.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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