If you are a Labrador enthusiast like us, you may be apt to add a new Labrador puppy to the family whenever the opportunity exists. While Labradors have a reputation for being easy-going, family-friendly pets, when they are not trained correctly, they can display some disruptive and unwanted behavior. The only way to avoid this is to spend some time training your Labrador.
8 things Labradors can be trained to do:
- Sit down
- Stay (impulse control)
- Down or lie down
- Quiet (stop barking)
- Fetch or retrieve
- Come back
- Shake hands
- Off or get off
There is a reason why Labradors are used as guide dogs. This is because they train easily and are quite intelligent. There’s not much that you can’t teach a Labrador to do. If you have time to spend with your dog, you can actually teach it a lot more than just the basics.
Related: We’ve done extensive research into how Labradors have excelled in the areas of Guidance, Service, and Therapy. To learn more about this fascinating field, be sure to check out our in-depth article, Labradors as Service and Therapy Dogs.
Behavior Problems of Untrained Labradors
A home with a well-trained, respectful, and obedient Labrador is a happy one. Let’s take a look at common behavior problems that untrained Labradors present and how you can go about training your dog to follow the above-mentioned commands.
If Labradors are so clever and so easy to train, why is it that some owners struggle with behavioral problems? Are some Labradors just “bad” or untrainable?
A poorly behaved Labrador is not particularly a “bad” dog. All it usually takes is an establishment of the pack alpha (you) and a basic set of ground rules that keep your dog a pleasant pet to have around. Labradors can be boisterous and when left to their own devices and no training, you can expect the following bad manners from your dog:
- Jumping up on visitors/family members or knocking people down.
- Biting and mouthing on you and others.
- Nipping at your heels and ankles when you walk around your home.
- Snatching or stealing food off plates or countertops when unattended.
- Urinating in family areas inside the home.
- Chewing and destroying shoes, furniture, and other household items.
- Unnecessary barking and whining for no apparent reason.
- Digging holes in the yard and/or ripping up plants and bushes.
- Damaging the fence or jumping over it to escape.
- Running away or harassing other people and pets when let off the leash.
- Pulling on, or chewing through, the leash when walking in an attempt to get away.
- Chasing other pets or children.
How to Train Your Labrador
Because Labradors are so incredibly intelligent and learn easily, they have a penchant for becoming destructive when left alone and bored. To ensure that your Labrador becomes a well-behaved member of the family, you will need to do some training.
While there are many training styles out there, because of a Labrador’s nature, lure-and-reward training comes highly recommended. What is lure-and-reward training? It is a method of training that involves being rewarded with a treat when your dog follows the correct command. In the beginning, you will need to prepare some food treats. You can use purchase treats, cut some hot dogs or sausages into small bits, or use your dog’s regular dry food. You will then move your dog into the correct position and then verbally praise him by saying things like “good boy” and provide a treat.
The theory of this type of training is that eventually, the dog learns that good behavior results in a treat. Over time, the dog will automatically carry out the desired behavior. Lure-and-reward training is not only about food rewards, but can also involve providing a toy or praise and affection, depending on the interests of the dog.
8 Things You Can Train Your Labrador to Do
Of course, there are dozens of tricks you can teach your pet but for this post, we will focus on the 8 basic commands that you should be teaching your Labrador from day 1. Here is what you will need for training:
- Treats (kibble or bits of cut-up sausage).
- A collar and leash.
- A quiet training area free from noise and other distractions.
1. Teach Your Labrador to Sit down on Command
“Sit” is one of the very first things that Labradors learn in puppy school or obedience training. It is actually very simple to teach your lab to sit. The first part of this training involves getting his full attention. You can stand in front of him and even use the smell of a treat in your hand to ensure he is not distracted.
Make sure that you hold the treat in such a way that the dog cannot snatch it from your hand. Allow him to smell your hand but wait until he realizes that he will have to find an alternative way to get the treat from you. If this is your first time, you can expect him to push, shove, knock and jump. Ultimately, this is not acceptable behavior, but it is fairly normal from an untrained dog. All you have to do is wait.
Then, hold the treat in line with your dog’s nose and lift your hand slowly above his head so that he fixes his gaze on the movement of your hand. As he looks up and tries to keep track of the treat, he will naturally sit down. As this happens, reinforce the command “sit” and then praise him and provide a treat. It is important that you do not use a lot of words during this training exercise.
The only word you want your dog to make an association with is “sit”. You might need to gently push your dog’s bottom onto the ground the first few times. Keep repeating this exercise and soon he will make the connection between sitting and getting a treat.
2. Teach Your Labrador to Stay (And Have Impulse Control)
Teaching your Labrador to sit is a great achievement, but what do you do when he sits and then immediately jumps right up and wants to run around? Teaching your Lab to “stay” is the next step in the training process. “Stay” is all about impulse control. Your Labrador needs to learn that just because he wants to do something does not mean that he can or should. Teaching your dog to stay can take persistence, especially if you have a particularly boisterous pet.
First, ask your dog to “sit” and then reward him. Once in the sitting position, stand in front of your pet and with your palm facing forward, extend your hand in front of the dog and say “stay”. When he stays for a few seconds, verbalize “good boy” and reward him. As you teach this command, you will need to gradually increase the duration that he is expected to stay.
For some dogs, this is a hard one to get. An effective way of reinforcing the message and breaking impulsive behavior is to place a treat on the floor and reinforce “stay”. Every time he lunges at the treat or tries to approach it, cover the treat with your hand and say “stay”. The only time he can get the treat is when he has “stayed” for a suitable duration and you verbalize “okay, good boy” and he can receive the treat. Repeat this exercise frequently.
3. Teach Your Labrador “Down” or “Lie down”
Sometimes Labradors in the home can get underfoot. This is because they love to be involved in family activities. Of course, both you and the dog can be hurt if you have a busy home and the dog is running amok. Teaching your Labrador to lie down on command is a great way to ensure that he is out of the way and not getting hurt or hurting anyone.
To teach your dog this command, you will need a good-smelling treat. Ask your dog to sit and when he does, take the treat to nose level and then push your hand down, almost along his chest line and to the ground. Automatically and naturally, he should go down into a lying down position. Verbalize “down” or “lie down” as soon as he is in this position and then treat him immediately.
This will take a bit of practice to get right. You just have to lure the treat down to the ground as close to your dog’s chest as possible. Once your dog is lying down, reinforce that he is a “good boy” and ask him to stay.
4. Teach Your Labrador to Stop Barking or to Be “Quiet”
Incessant or excited barking when someone walks through your front door is a common problem with a bored or untrained Labrador. Teaching your dog the “quiet” command is all about learning what he is getting out of that experience. When your dog barks, you probably give it attention or at least get up to go and look. This is what your dog is getting out of that experience. Stop doing that.
The first step is to intentionally ignore the barking. When he is being noisy, do not make eye contact, do not acknowledge his presence, do not touch him – basically exclude him from the normal attention that you would give. When he is quiet, give him a treat and reinforce the command “quiet”. It may take some time for your Lab to catch on, but because his main objective is to have your attention and affection, it is a very effective means of training.
5. Teach Your Labrador to Fetch or Retrieve
Luckily, Labradors are born retrievers so learning to fetch is a fun and natural activity for them. You can use the lure and reward method to train this particular behavior. Make sure that your Lab is on a leash if you do this outdoors.
Have a toy or ball and get your dog excited about it by dangling it above his head. When he is excited and jumping around, throw the toy or ball just a few feet away. He will undoubtedly dash towards it. Once he reaches the toy/ball, you will need to say “fetch” and offer him a treat. Most Labradors quickly learn to run back with the toy or ball in their mouth in return for a treat.
6. Teach Your Labrador to “Come Back”
This is the flip-side of the previous behavior. Many people find that they end up with a Labrador that loves to chase after a ball or toy and grab it, but they have no interest in bringing it back. Now what? Again, it is all about making the connection between the behavior and the reward. If the dog catches the ball and does not come back or comes back without the ball, try to repeat the exercise without treating. The only time that you treat your pet is when the correct behavior is displayed.
You can also teach your dog to return to you after throwing a toy by having a second toy with you. Throw the first toy and when your dog gives chase and retrieves it; lure him back to you by presenting the second toy. As he starts running back to you, say “come back” so that he can learn to associate the word with the action of running back to you. You will need to repeat this exercise often.
7. Teach Your Labrador to Shake Hands
Shaking hands is a popular behavior taught to Labradors. Some ask their pet to sit down and shake hands before each meal while others use it as a way for their dog to introduce himself to visitors. Whether it is just a trick or a way of teaching your Lab social manners, shaking hands is a rewarding and fairly easy thing to teach.
One of the easiest ways to teach your dog to shake hands is to stand in front of him and ask him to “sit”. When he is sitting, simply pick up his paw and say “paw” or “shake”. Shake his paw and then praise and treat him. Treat him each time he does the behavior correctly.
Then it is time to help him shake on command. Stand in front of your dog and extend your hand, palm up to mid-chest or knee level of your dog. At first, your dog might sniff around or ignore it, but his curiosity will cause him to lick your hand and try to get your attention. The moment he lifts a paw, catch it, shake it and say “paw” or “shake”. Make sure that you shower him in praise for every handshake you get. It may take a bit of practice but this is the best way to teach your Lab to shake hands.
8. Teach Your Labrador “Off” or “Get off”
While it is always nice to cuddle with the family pet, it can sometimes be frustrating if your large dog keeps climbing onto the furniture or stands up with paws on the kitchen counter. Teaching your pet that he or she can only come up onto the couch or bed when invited is a difficult one.
This particular command needs to be taught while the unacceptable behavior is in action. As soon as your dog jumps up onto the couch, firmly say “off” and point to the ground. You will need to treat your dog when teaching the “off” command, so it is a good idea to have some treats on hand or in your pocket while you are in the process of training.
As soon as you see your dog put his paws up on the counter or jump onto furniture, give the “off” command while placing a treat on the floor. The treat will lure him down. This can be difficult to train if your own behavior has been inconsistent. If you have been allowing the dog on the couch and now suddenly want to teach him to get off on command, it’s going to take longer than if you are teaching a new puppy who has not developed these habits.
Tips for Training Labradors
One of the best tips to learn is to be firm and consistent. Pets take their cues from their trainer and if you allow behavior one moment and then disallow it the next, it is going to create confusion and it will undoubtedly prove challenging to train your pet. Some tips in addition to being consistent and firm include:
- Always have treats available for training and ensure that you treat generously in the beginning
- Never yell at your pet or lose your temper
- Ignore bad behavior completely and only treat good behavior
- Shower your Lab with love while training so that lessons become fun and about pleasing you
If you want a happy, well-behaved Labrador as a family pet, you are going to need to put some time into training. There are various professional trainers that you can work with, but it is highly recommended that you use every moment with your pet as a learning opportunity and take on a lot of the training yourself. By building a relationship with your pet, you will earn its respect and it will be more willing to learn. Of course, Labradors can be taught many other tricks and commands. Be adventurous and you’ll be surprised how much they can learn.