How to motivate a Labrador retriever during training
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How to motivate a Labrador retriever during training

Dogs
Education & Training

The Labrador retriever is one of the best-known and most well-loved dog breeds in the UK, and one that is also highly versatile and very popular with a lot of different types of owners. Labradors are intelligent and thoughtful dogs that are a pleasure to have around, and which are capable of carrying out a large number of important working roles as well as making for excellent pets and companions.

This mean that every year, thousands of people choose a Labrador retriever to join their families, and need to get to grips with training them to teach them all of the core commands that dogs need to know, to ensure that they are well behaved and well mannered.

Labs are one of the nicer dog breeds to train in most respects; they are intelligent but also highly personable, and look to their trainers and handlers for direction. They try hard to please and are always willing to go the extra mile for you, and this tends to mean that even the first-time dog owner who does enough research can train a Labrador successfully.

However, motivating any given dog relies upon understanding their core traits and knowing how to harness or mitigate them to get the best out of the dog, and this is something that can vary a lot from breed to breed.

With this in mind, this article will outline a short synopsis of the Labrador retriever’s core personality traits and share some tips on how to motivate dogs of the breed during training. Read on to learn more.

The core traits of the Labrador retriever

The Labrador retriever is something of an ambassador for the dog population as a whole, as their general traits represent a personable, thoughtful and well-rounded dog with lots of potential.

Labradors are very intelligent and so, capable of learning a lot of different commands, and they also try very hard to please, which means that they concentrate well and work hard when given the appropriate direction.

They are also a rather energetic breed that tends to be enthusiastic about everything and quite rangy, and so their training should take this into account and permit them to exercise their bodies as well as minds.

As a retrieving breed, they also tend to be reasonably fearless and not bothered about getting wet or mucky, and they are usually perfectly at home in the water as well as on land. Retrieving games and skills are a great fit for the breed as a result of this, and very rewarding for them.

Finally, all dogs tend to be highly food-motivated, but the Labrador takes this to a whole new level. This means on the one hand that reinforcing training commands with treats is highly effective, but it does also mean that dogs of the breed tend to scavenge, and a discarded pile of chips in the park might serve as a much greater motivation to your dog than your training treat and frantic pleas to leave it, so plan accordingly!

How to motivate a Labrador retriever during training

Take the edge off their energy levels

First of all, make sure that your Labrador isn’t full of beans and dying for a walk at the start of your training session, otherwise they will find it hard to concentrate. Your dog still needs to be fresh enough to pay attention, but ensure that they have had at least half an hour to stretch their legs and run around before you begin asking them to concentrate.

Divide training sessions up into shorter segments

A certain level of repetition is necessary in training to teach commands, ensure they stick, and refresh existing skills, but Labradors learn quickly and have good memories so don’t keep going over the same ground.

Divide your training sessions up into shorter segments of a few minutes each, and when the time has run down, move onto another command or skill.

Be enthusiastic and encouraging

Labradors are highly personable and adept at reading humans, and they are also sensitive dogs that soon become distressed if their handler is upset, frustrated or annoyed. If you show enthusiasm for training and are encouraging and entertaining about it, your dog will have a great time, work hard, and have a very rewarding training experience.

Be clear and consistent

You need to remain consistent in terms of your commands and expectations, and ensure that these are clear to your dog too. Even if your dog’s responses are inconsistent, ensure that yours are, and sooner or later it will click and slot into place – otherwise your dog will become confused and distressed.

Encourage problem solving

Encourage your Labrador to problem solve and work things out for themselves, such as by hiding toys for them to find when you give a certain command. Anything that causes the Lab to have to think before they act will provide huge rewards, and ensure that your dog uses common sense to a greater extent in other situations too.

Keep training moving forwards

Plan well ahead of getting your dog down to pat with those first few essential commands, because the average Labrador will only need two or three training session to be able to follow the basics like sit, down, stay and come.

From there you can teach them all manner of other things and up the command complexity too, so think long term when you begin working with your dog rather than finding yourself caught out when you dog learns faster than you’d expected them to!

Offer food rewards

As we mentioned earlier on, few dog breeds are more food motivated than Labrador retrievers, and using food rewards can help to ensure that you catch and keep your dog’s attention regardless of what else is going on around them at the time. However, also have a plan to phase out food rewards and intersperse them with praise and other valuable resources like toys, so that your Lab doesn’t expect a treat every single time they do well.

Incorporate retrieving games

Retrieving games are brilliant for Labradors, and can add enrichment and engagement as well as enhancing training. Hiding or throwing retrieving toys and teaching your dog to wait and follow commands and exhibit self-control about their actions will help to teach them a range of skills that have value in other applications too, and will of course be great fun for the dog as well!

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