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Understanding your dog isn’t always easy.
Maybe your Labrador chews your shoes or your furniture when you leave him alone for more than 5 minutes? Why does he do this?
Maybe your Labrador incessantly barks at the doorbell when anybody comes to your house? Why? You’re always telling him NO! Or begging him to quiet down.
Maybe your Labrador growls and gets aggressive when you get near his food bowl? Why? It’s not like you’re going to steal his food is it?!
Why? why? WHY?!
Sadly this is the frustrating experience of many Labrador owners. Their Lab does things they don’t agree with and they just can’t make it stop.
But before you can shape your dogs behavior, you need to understand why his behaviors occur in the first place.
Your Labrador Isn’t Human
Although you may like to think of your Labrador as ‘one of the family’ and treat him as such, he is not a human being.
A Labrador is a dog. And a dog has many instincts, drives and needs that are completely natural to a dog, but which we may unfairly see as bad behavior.
Many things a dog would do in the wild just don’t fit in with the life they lead as part of a human family. Here’s just three examples of many that exist:
- Excessive barking – Though other reasons exist, most of the time it’s to warn of approaching animals in the wild. But this translates to people approaching the door, walking by the foot of your garden, etc.
- Digging in your yard – They would do this in the wild to seek comfort or to cool down. Also for storing and preserving food for retrieving at a later time. This isn’t necessary in life at home with you, but the urge is still there.
- Chewing – Your Labrador will be especially ‘mouthy‘ as a puppy when teething. But the Labrador was bred for hunting and retrieving, carrying things in their mouth. So their drive for chewing is very strong and will remain right through adolescence. It is a strong natural urge.
Learn Your Labs Drives and Harness Them To Do Good.
Like all animals, your lab came into the world with a set of instinctive behaviors and drives that he is genetically predisposed to and has very strong urges to perform.
Most of these instincts and drives are to do with the survival of the species. The instinct to reproduce, the instinct to hunt prey, the instinct to protect the pack in which he lives (defense).
When these drives aren’t satisfied, or worse, when you try to stamp out and hold them back, high levels of frustration can develop in your Labrador that need a release…usually in a way that you will not like.
You may find that your lab becomes uncontrollable at times, maybe destructive and in extreme cases, maybe even aggressive.
On the flip side, by learning the natural drives your dog possesses, you can begin understanding your dog and why he has certain behaviors.
Then, through training, you can learn to channel these drives into alternative, more acceptable behaviors.
At the same time, you can make sure you meet your labs instinctive desires, giving him not just what’s essential (like food and water) or what you think he needs, but what he ACTUALLY needs to feel fully satisfied in life. You’ll have a far happier Labrador!
So with a little knowledge, you can teach your lab to avoid performing behaviors that although natural to him, are undesirable to you. Your lab will feel happier…and so will you.
Your Labs Main Method of Communicating is Different to Yours.
Understanding your dog doesn’t start and end with knowing just his needs and behaviors. You also need to learn canine communication.
You and your Labrador weren’t born with a natural ability to communicate with one another. After all, you are different species.
Humans are very vocal. We have complex languages made up of many different sounds that when strung together in a particular order, can communicate almost anything from one person to another.
They are very visual and use body posture, facial expressions and eye contact to communicate. This is their way of ‘talking’ to one another without the luxury of a spoken language.
And so your Labrador is constantly telling you precisely what they mean and how they feel by the way they stand, hold their tail, move their eyes and ears and how they move around and act.
But without the ability to understand human spoken language, it’s often difficult for your Labrador to understand what you are telling him.
It’s also very difficult for your lab to tell you what they want, what they need or how they are feeling in any given moment. Especially if you’re blind to what his body language is telling you.
So it’s highly likely you and your dog aren’t communicating and understanding each other as well as you could and should.
In fact, it’s likely you are totally misunderstanding each-other at times, and this can lead to problems.
It’s Only Fair You Learn Your Dog’s Body Language and What it’s Telling You.
If your dog misreads what you are saying, and you in turn misunderstand what your dog is telling you, there is a lot of confusion and mixed messages on both sides.
Now, your Labrador will spend a huge amount of time studying you, your movements and postures and learning what they mean and how you are feeling. They are naturally skilled at this and are very keen to learn too.
In fact, it’s famously said that your dog becomes so in tune with you, picking up on the smallest of body signals you unknowingly give, that they know exactly what your intentions are, almost without you saying or doing a thing.
The average owner will also spend a great deal of time training their lab to live in our human world and to understand human communication.
Some gestures. A few words. So we can ‘talk human’ to our dog and get them to understand us.
But isn’t this all a bit one-sided? Us expecting our dog to learn human behavior and language, without us attempting to learn how they naturally behave and try to communicate with us?
Isn’t it unfair that your dog spends so much time trying to understand you, yet you invest so little time toward understanding your dog?
Be Considerate of Your Labs Emotions…After All, He Does This For You.
All successful and happy relationships are a two-way thing, with communication and understanding from both sides. It should be this way between you and your lab.
When you approach your dog with the aim to interact or ask it to do something, it’s vital that you take notice of his emotional state.
Think about when you approach a human friend. Their body language will instantly tell you whether they are nervous or relaxed, energetic or tired, happy or sad. You will then act accordingly.
We should teach ourselves to do the same thing for our dog.
An Example of Why Ignoring Your Labs Emotions is Unfair:
It would be silly and unfair to approach a dog that’s communicating aggressive signals unless you truly understand his intentions and how you should FAIRLY react.
It’s even more unfair if you do approach and your dogs aggression escalates, then you punish him for this.
It’s YOU that didn’t back off when asked and haven’t invested time in understanding your dog, this particular behavior and how to correct it fairly.
A Second Example of Why Ignoring Your Labs Emotions is Unfair:
It’s hardly fair to ask a dog that’s showing fear or nervousness to approach the very thing it’s afraid of.
You wouldn’t force a young child to jump on a roller-coaster, or sleep in the dark if that’s what scares them.
We know this can cause long-term psychological problems. You would be mindful of and care about the child’s emotional state.
Similarly, you should be considerate towards and find gentle ways to build your dogs confidence in much the same way you would a child’s.
Understanding Your Dog Will Lead To a Better Life For Both of You.
Investing some time in learning your Labradors psychology, natural behavior and body language will enable you to understand and influence him more effectively.
By understanding your dog better, you can learn the skills required to overcome any behavioral problems whilst simultaneously meeting your labs natural needs.
With knowledge of why your Labrador performs certain behaviors, you’ll be able to more readily recognize the beginnings of behavioral problems and apply effective training solutions before things ever escalate to more serious stages such as aggression, anxiety or unhealthy obsessions.
This will give your lab the chance to be happy, psychologically healthy and well-adjusted to life living with humans.
And this will ultimately result in you achieving a strong and healthy bond between you and your lab based on trust and a mutual understanding.
Ever heard the much used expression: “There are no bad dogs, only bad owners”
There is a lot of truth to this.
Dogs that misbehave are almost always missing something in their lives. Usually as a result of a lack of knowledge from the owner on what their dog actually needs.
Also, misunderstandings due to miscommunication can result in a lot of frustration…on both sides of the relationship…that can lead to what’s seen as behavioral problems with your lab.
Don’t Be That Bad Owner.
Become an owner armed with the powerful knowledge of what your lab really thinks, what he’s telling you, what he really needs and the natural canine instincts that his behavior stems from.
Then teach yourself to adjust your own behavior and training methods to suit the natural ways of your lab.
You can then enjoy the beautiful thing that is a happy, well behaved and balanced pet Labrador.
You both stand to benefit immensely from you understanding your dog.
Feedback, questions and comments
I’d welcome any feedback or questions on this article so if you have any, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. I will answer every one.
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