Have you ever been walking your dog on a sunny spring day, when out of nowhere another dog comes barreling through the bushes? You quickly become annoyed as he humps your leg, jumps on your polite pooch, and then gives chase to a passing ice cream truck.
The poor, disheveled owner appears from the same bush seconds later, and all you have to do is point in the direction of their misguided pooch now ravaging the ice cream man in hope of a Popsicle.
Can you relate? Have you been the person walking your well-trained dog who encountered this hot mess? Or, have you been the owner rolling out of the bushes?
Either way, anyone who’s seen an example of an out-of-control dog interaction, or has ever watched a Beethoven movie, can grasp the importance of obedience training.
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What Is Labrador Obedience Training?
Obedience training is the act of creating certain behaviors in your dog that you can replicate reliably no matter the situation or circumstance.
Obedience refers to the dog’s compliance with the direction or command given by the handler.
Some say it’s a dog’s willingness to ‘obey’ their handler. However, as I prefer the idea of working with our dogs as a team, I try to avoid using the word ‘obey’. However, that’s really the end result.
Is a Bad Dog Really a Bad Dog?
Teaching your dog to reliably follow your commands is almost as important as giving them adequate food, shelter and water. It’s a necessary skill that they must develop for us to live in harmony together.
Many people look at a disobedient dog and only see the problem pup. They may act out in destructive behaviors. They may pull their owner down the street by their leash with the enthusiasm of a team of huskies pulling in the Iditarod. Somewhere along the line, there is a communication breakdown.
Now, it’s true that dogs, just like people, have different personalities. Some may have higher energy levels, or more developed drives, than others. Some may be more submissive, while others might just want to be in charge. It may be that the dog’s personality doesn’t fit well with the owner’s needs or demeanor. However, again, is the dog really to blame?
What if we lived in a country where it was acceptable to allow our human children to do whatever they wanted with their time? What if they weren’t put into structured learning environments like school or sports? No one gave them any direction. They had no rules, no boundaries, and no limitations. How well do you think those children would do at becoming productive citizens? Would they all be “bad” kids? Of course not! They would be the product of their environment.
It’s the same with dogs. Most “disobedient” dogs were never given the proper structure and training to make them model canine citizens. They were never shown what was expected of them, and they never learned how to communicate with their owners.
Why Owners Must Be Responsible
The responsibility to be a good canine citizen does not lie at the feet of the dog. It rests on the shoulders of their owners. Almost 100% of the time a dog creates havoc in someone’s life – unless that dog has some neurological impairment – the underlying cause of behavioral problems is their owner’s lack of participation in their training, socialization, and exercise requirements.
Dogs are pack animals. They are genetically geared to work with others – be it other dogs or humans. However, they need leadership and boundaries if they’re to be truly happy. Part of being a responsible owner is to realize your dog requires more from you than just food, water, and the occasional walk.
A responsible owner has control over their dog, because the dog respects them and sees them as their leader. This isn’t a difficult skill for dogs to comprehend, as they do this naturally in the wild. Dog packs have a very clearly organized pack structure where each member knows their place in the pack. If you throw a group of dogs together, you can see this pack order naturally develop.
Responsible owners leverage this leadership to teach their dog commands so that they aren’t a danger to themselves or others.
For example, dogs naturally jump on each other to show affection. However, if your 80-pound Labrador jumps up to give Grandma a kiss on the nose, you may be calling 911 and looking into hip-replacement surgery. It’s your job to teach your dog that in the human world, jumping up on others is considered bad form.
Dog owners who take the time to train their dogs aren’t named as defendants in lawsuits because their dog bit someone. They aren’t paying medical bills of someone who crashed their car swerving to avoiding their dog in the street.
Responsible dog owners have control, and in having control they and their dog actually have more freedom. You can take your canine companion more places. The dog gets a much richer life accompanying you on wonderful adventures because they know how to behave in public.
Is More Control the Only Benefit?
While the most obvious reason to train your dog is to have some control and teach them to be a good citizen of the canine and human race, you will both earn a few additional benefits:
- Quality Time Together: Spending time with your dog is an obvious benefit of putting in those training hours. After all, why did you get your furry friend if you don’t want to spend time building a relationship?
- Mental Stimulation: Just like sending a kid to school, training helps your Lab get much-needed mental mojo. Without it, you may notice the destructive signs of boredom. However, with daily training, they will get mental stimulation so they don’t feel the need to rearrange your furniture or redecorate your house with pillow feathers.
- Exercise: Playing games can be a form of training…and vice versa. After all, how much fun is a game of Fetch if your Labrador doesn’t understand that he needs to bring the ball back to you each time?
- Leadership: Training establishes your role as the pack leader. When you become your dog’s teacher, you gain their respect. They will be much more likely to want to comply with your wishes if you have a history of working together amicably.
- It’s fun! There is nothing more rewarding than training a dog. When you see the light bulb go off and they figure out what you want, you realize that you both have learned a new way to communicate. You will enjoy the process and the final product of a well-trained best friend.
Life-Saving Obedience Commands
There are nice-to-have commands, like teaching your dog to open the fridge and grab you a soda, and some life-saving commands, like stopping him before he runs into the street.
Here are some of the most essential commands to teach your dog:
- “Sit!” This means that your dog sits down and does not move until you give them the release word. (Related: Training your lab to sit on cue.)
- “Down!” This means that your dog lies down immediately and doesn’t move until released. (Related: Train your lab to down on cue.)
- “Free!” It can be any release word; just stay consistent with it. This word releases your dog from whatever command you just gave him. If you use this in combination with “Sit,” “Down,” or “Stand,” you won’t need the “Stay” command.
- “Come!” This one is, by far, the most important. If you see your dog running into an unsafe area, you can get them to immediately come back. This is especially important if your dog escapes and is running down the street after something that he shouldn’t. This command should be fool proof. No matter how exciting the stimulation, your dog should always drop whatever they are doing and return to you when called. (Related: Train your lab to come on cue)
- Their name. It’s important that when you say your dog’s name, they focus on you. This command is useful if you need to get their attention quickly. (Related: How to teach a puppy their name.)
- “Leave it! / Drop it!” The first command is important if you see your dog going for that cigarette butt on the ground. The second command is for when they’re already chewing on it. (Related: How to train your lab to drop and leave items.)
- “Heel!” This command is necessary for your dog to walk safely at your side, even if you don’t have a leash on them.
Advanced Obedience Training
Many owners choose to teach their Lab more advanced and complicated commands than just those described above. These tricks come in handy when you want to play games or go to competitions with your furry friend.
Your Labrador can learn service tasks such as opening the door for you or grabbing the remote. You an also teach your dog fun tricks like roll over, say your prayers, or play dead.
Dogs have the cognitive ability of a young child, and the capacity to understand hundreds of verbal cues. There really is no limit to what you can teach your furry friend with dedication and patience. You can even invent your own tricks to impress everyone with your ingenuity and dog’s skill.
Three-Step Learning Process
No matter what skill you teach your dog, to be successful the principles are always the same and involve three stages. First, you teach a skill. Then, you proof the skill. Finally, you keep the skill maintained.
Teach the Skill
When you first teach the skill, it may take some time for your pup to catch on to what you actually want from them. When they do, praise and reward them and practice until they consistently do the trick the first time, every time.
Proof the Skill
Once they are performing the skill consistently in a familiar environment free from distractions, it’s time to proof the skill.
Even though a dog may know what’s expected of them without distractions, you may go back to square one once you attempt a command in a new environment. Your dog needs to learn that “Sit!” means to sit down everywhere – not just in your living room.
Training classes are helpful for this. Teaching your pup to listen to you around other dogs and people in a different environment is a great way to proof their skills.
However, you should continue to make the distractions more difficult, until you know that your Labrador will listen to you no matter what’s happening around them.
Maintain the Skill
Finally, you need to maintain the skill.
Do you still remember everything you learned in high school? Of course not! Over time, we forget things if we don’t keep them fresh in our minds. Dogs are the same way. In order to keep your pupil sharp, you need to dust off those training exercises every few days.
Without question, training your dog should be a basic requirement for any owner. It strengthens your relationship, gives you both a better quality of life, and keeps your fur kid adored by everyone for his amazing, human-like good manners and entertaining party tricks.
So, get out there and let your Labrador show you how much they love to learn!
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Before starting her full-time writing business, Sarah worked with a top pet food company as a consultant to veterinarians conducting weekly classes on canine and feline nutrition for the doctors and staff.
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