We all want our Labradors to be well behaved. But getting to this point can be a challenge. This article will help you avoid three common reasons your Labrador is disobedient.
Reason 1: He doesn’t know what you want him to do
Dogs don’t speak English, we know that, but we often expect them to. How many times have you seen someone saying SIT to a puppy that doesn’t know what sit means while pressing down on his bottom. Dog must wonder about us sometimes. Traditional training methods can cause a lot of misunderstanding and confusion in the early stages, especially when it comes to ‘modelling’.
What does that word mean?
Imagine if you were being trained in a foreign language. You would think it pretty strange if your trainer pushed you into a chair and said ‘BIX’ over and over. Eventually you might realise the word ‘bix’ was intended to tell you to sit in a chair. But not before you had concluded that the person teaching you this new word for ‘sit’ was not much fun, and probably best avoided where possible.
Modern training has a different approach
How much nicer it would be if your trainer simply said “Hooray!” And gave you a chocolate each time you sat down. Then when you had sat down a few times in order to get more chocolates, he started saying “Bix” each time you did it. How much better would you like the trainer, and how much more quickly would you understand the meaning of this new word?
Evidence shows that dogs learn faster like this, yet many people still use old fashioned training methods to establish new behaviours in their dogs. You can give your dog a better start by using positive reinforcement training methods instead.
Does it mean the same everywhere?
Dogs also misunderstand us because they don’t naturally assume that a word spoken in one place and under one set of conditions, means the same in another place and under another set of conditions.
For example, you could stand in your kitchen and teach your puppy to turn in a circle each time you say ‘spin’. But that doesn’t mean he will turn in a circle when you say spin in the garden, or when you say ‘spin’ on the beach, or in your neighbour’s kitchen. This ability to transfer learning from one setting to another is something people are very good at, and that dogs are very bad at.
Failure to generalise cues in this way, often results in dogs being labelled as disobedient, when they simply don’t know what we want. The answer to this problem is to set about proofing your dog’s behaviour against the distractions of the real world, and to introduce these distractions in gradual stages.
Reason 2: He isn’t motivated to do what you want
When did you last give your Labrador a seriously generous reward. I’m not talking a bit of biscuit here, I’m talking juicy, smelly, warm roast chicken, or delicious squishy sardinnes. This kind of stuff is messy and a pain to carry around, so we tend not to. But hey, isn’t it nice to get a bonus sometimes? Aren’t you much more likely to go the extra mile for your boss if he gives you a surprise cheque once in a while? Don’t you feel more inclined to put yourself out for a friend who surprises you with a bunch of flowers when you help them? Of course you do. People and dogs all need motivation in order to offer behaviour.
Harder tasks = better rewards
The more boring or unpleasant the task you ask of a dog or a person, the better the rewards needs to be to keep them on your team. You want me to run five miles tomorrow? No problem, I’ll do it because running makes me feel good and keeps me fit. I might even do it for nothing. You want me to help you clear up after a party? You’d better have something nice for me afterwards, or I might not offer again.
We all repeat behaviours in the future that had great outcomes in the past. Dogs are no different If you want a dog to repeatedly succeed at a challenging task, make sure the outcome for each initial success is a great one. This means initially using higher value rewards whenever you make things more difficult for him.
The dog decides
What bores one person, will please another. You might enjoy minding your neighbour’s six kids, I wouldn’t, but I’d probably look after their dogs. You might hate walking but love swimming, I might love swimming and hate walking. Your dog might love playing with your neighbour’s dog, mine would prefer to fetch a ball, again, and again, and again. We’re all unique.
The more your dog loves to do something, the less you’ll need to reinforce it. And you can use opportunities to do the things he likes, as rewards for doing the things he finds boring. Fetching a ball makes a great reward for ten steps at heel in a dog that loves to retrieve. Rewards don’t have to be food based, though food is a very practical way of reinforcing new skills.
Reason 3: He is too excited to do what you want
Have you ever been so excited or afraid that you couldn’t concentrate on your work? I know I have. Dogs get very excited sometimes, and when they are in this state of ‘arousal’, their ability to respond to learned commands is reduced. In this situation the dog’s threshold for responding and learning has been crossed. It isn’t possible to train a Labrador in this state, and he is unlikely to be able to respond effectively to commands that he has previously learned.
Bad dog? No, not really
It is very common to see people getting cross with an excited young dog, and to describe him as naughty. Again, this isn’t really disobedience, it is a physical inability to focus. The answer is move the dog further away from whatever he is reacting to before trying to regain his attention.
If you cannot move away, then you need to ask the dog for a more simple response. Something he can do easily under those circumstances. Over time, the dog will learn to respond even when he is aroused, but this ability has to be learned in stages, bit by bit.
You can find out more about behaviour thresholds and how to work with them in this article:Over the threshold And do tell us what your dog’s favourite reward is in the comments box below!
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The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website