How To Cope With A Naughty Labrador


Naughty Labrador Retrievers can be stressful to live with. Dogs jumping on visitors, pulling on the leash or ignoring you as you call in vain, can all feel quite personal. If you find your Labrador embaressing, pushy or just plain bad mannered you are not alone.

The good news is that a naughty Labrador can learn to well behaved pretty quickly. You just need to know what is causing the behavior, so that you can avoid triggers or teach them better and more rewarding options.

What is Naughty Labrador Behavior?

The chances are your dog has a few naughty behaviors. Most dogs pick up a few bad habits along the way, especially if their owners are inexperienced.

The most common problems experienced by people struggling with their Labradors are:

  • Pulling on the leash.
  • Ignoring the recall, and not listening generally.
  • Chewing and destructiveness.
  • Rough and boisterous play.

Some of these behaviors are age related, but many can emerge at any developmental stage.

And there is always something you can do to resolve these issues.

Improving Labrador Behavior

We usually need a two pronged approach to fixing naughtiness. Obviously we need to get going on some training. But training takes time.

And in the meantime, we need to manage the dog so that they don’t get chance to keep repeating the naughty behavior.

For example, while you are teaching your dog not to barge through the front door without your permission, you could put a baby gate across your hallway to keep him behind it.

Or have your dog trail a houseline so that you can pick up the end and control him when necessary.

Naughty labrador

Changing behavior through training

We often think of dog training as being the fun stuff, like teaching a dog to sit, come, give paw, or take a bow on command But training is not just about teaching a dog to respond to our commands – to ‘sit’ when we say ‘sit’.

It is also about teaching dogs good default behaviors – ways to behave in common everyday situations.

Ways to greet guests for example. Or the right way to behave when we attach a leash to the dog’s collar.

What Makes a Labrador’s Behavior Good?

So, one way to be good is for a dog to obey your commands or cues as we now call them. Another way to be good is for a dog to know how to behave in certain contexts, without being given any cues at all.

Hopping into his basket when the doorbell rings for example, instead of barking and lunging at the door.

Both these approaches form an important part of any good dog training program. But what if training doesn’t work with your dog?

When Dog Training Doesn’t Work?

What if you’ve already tried training and your dog still ignores you? Well the good news is, that all dogs can be trained, even the naughtiest ones.  And even dogs that are stubborn or don’t listen.

The bad news is that it will take a little time, a little knowledge and a little effort on your part. But there’s more good news!

How to cope with a naughty dog

Properly structured modern training methods are fun!

Naughty dogs can be totally transformed by using these effective training methods, and you don’t need to be an expert to resolve some of the most common problems this way.

So essentially, we are going to be talking about training. Sometimes though, we need to remove a few of the ‘obstacles’ that are in the way, before we can get going.

Why Labrador Training Gets Neglected

Some people never get started with training their dog for all manner of reasons. Often because they are just not sure where to start.

Maybe you have tried training your Labrador and failed? Maybe your dog is very strong, and ignores you and maybe you can’t bring yourself to be ‘tough’ on your dog?

Perhaps you have a really difficult dog?

Maybe you don’t have the right skills or natural ability? Or perhaps you are really short of time?  Let’s have a look.

Can’t get started?

Sometimes we can ‘rescue’ a situation without entirely retraining a skill. For example, a dog that is straying too far on walks can be taught to stay closer to his owner using the About Turn Walk.

Sometimes there are so many problems or a single problem is so bad, that the simplest solution is to start from the beginning again.

In fact, there is never any harm in starting over.

If your dog is a ‘bit of a mess’ behavior wise, try spending a few weeks treating him like a new puppy.  Pretend he knows nothing. Invent new names for some of the skills he needs to learn, and start from scratch using effective training techniques.

A great way to get started is with my Foundation Skills course. This helps you gain the skills you need in order to successfully re-train your dog. And it helps your dog learn how to work with you, and focus on you.

Have you failed in training before?

It can be very difficult to get going with re-training a dog when you have failed in the past.

It is really worth remembering that most people fail many times before they succeed. At a whole range of tasks and endeavours.  And dog training is no exception.

Most people fail because they lack the necessary knowledge, fail to apply that knowledge, or don’t apply it often enough.  You can change any one of these factors

The fact that you failed before is a really bad excuse for not starting.

Are you worried you are too soft on your Labrador?

If you think you are too soft to control your dog, think again! Modern training is based on ‘reinforcement’ not force or punishment. All you need is a willingness to find out how reinforcement actually works.  And to apply the tried and tested methods that work.

You don’t need to be a pack leader.  You don’t have to dominate your dog. Modern training is fun for both of you!

Is your Labrador a Difficult Dog?

The concept of the difficult or naughty dog is a very common one. Believing that the dog is the problem has its advantages.

It allows the owner to avoid feeling guilty about the dog’s behavior. After all if it is the dog’s fault, it can’t be theirs!

The problem with blaming the dog, is that the problem never gets fixed. There is no point in waiting for the dog to ‘want to change’. It isn’t going to happen.

Taking Responsibility for your Dog Training

The answer to most dog training or behavior problems is to bite the bullet and take full responsibility. This can be a bit daunting, but it is the only way to resolve any problems that you are having with your dog.

Taking responsibility allows you to take control of the situation and begin to change your dog’s behavior. This is often less challenging than you might think.

And the great thing about effective modern training is that it actually doesn’t matter how strong willed or difficult your dog is.   There is no ‘clash of wills’ or power struggle involved.  You are not going to be ‘breaking his will’.  You are going to be changing his behavior by taking control of its consequences.

Short of time?

It is amazing what you can achieve in just a few minutes a day. For most of us, the hardest part is just getting started. And modern training is really quick!

Can you find ten minutes each morning and each evening to spend with your dog? Of course you can, you wouldn’t be able to care for a dog otherwise.  And ten minutes, morning and evening, five or six times a week, is all you need to get started.

Make Dog Training a Habit

Habits are great because we don’t have to think about them. If you make a habit out of dog training it will become as natural as cleaning your teeth.

Experts tell us that it takes only 30 days to build a habit, but it’s very hard to make a habit out of a daunting and time consuming task.

So start small,  and build up slowly. Begin with just three minutes a day. At the same time, every day. After breakfast or before, or just pick a time you know you’ll stick to.

Make a habit of this three minutes, rain or shine and before you know where you are, it will be second nature. Then and only then, start to increase the length of your training sessions. Build up to your ten minutes gradually. Make this the habit you never break.

What you need is information

In order to effectively change naughty behavior, you also need some basic information. You need to know how dogs learn from the consequences of their actions, and how to control those consequences yourself.

You can find a great deal of this training information on this website, and on our training site One very effective way to learn about how dog training works is to follow a single skill right through from start to finish.

My book Total Recall explains how to do this when teaching your dog to come to your whistle.  The whole book focuses on this one important skill. But by the end of it, you’ll also understand how to teach your dog pretty much anything.

(paid link)

You can buy Total Recall from Amazon by following this link(paid link). If you do, The Labrador Site will receive a small commission which is greatly appreciated and won’t affect the cost to you.

What can I do in just three minutes?

In a three minute session  you can do some clicker training.  Keep a bag of little pieces of dog kibble(paid link) and a clicker handy at all times(paid link), and all you need to do is grab them and start.

You don’t need to kick off with a ‘serious skill’,  just start with something simple such as training your dog to bump the palm of your hand with his nose.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson(paid link)

Something simple is best. That way you won’t get frustrated and give up before you have got your habit established. And simple skills are a useful way of engaging your dog when he is in new or distracting situations.

You can train your dog

There is only one difference between good dogs and bad dogs. Bad dogs aren’t trained. And our intelligent and quick witted Labs thrive on training.

Not only does your dog have enormous potential. You do too!  Find out just why you are the best person to train your dog, even if you have made mistakes before: Could You Be Your Dog’s Best Teacher?

You’ve got this!

Your dog isn’t naughty because he disrespects you. In fact, he isn’t naughty, or bad at all, he’s just a dog.  He doesn’t ignore you because he doesn’t love you. You don’t have to beat your dog or bribe him.

Your dog doesn’t have a personality disorder or ‘bad’ genes.   He just isn’t trained.  Yet.

You can train your dog. By yourself if necessary. You have all the ability it takes. You just need to give yourself a chance.

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


  1. It’s really good to see from these comments that other people are having the same issues as me. My 16 month old choc lab Barney is pretty good indoors but has totally forgotten his recall outdoors, he is distracted by the search for females, the vet won’t neuter until his is 18 mths & I have to walk him on a long line now because he ignores me when he sees another dog. I will order your book and re teach recall after reading your articles.

  2. How common is elbow dysplasia in labs. That’s what our has and we also had surgery, it’s not a fix for he will always have a limp, in long run he will have chronic arthritis. After some research 17 to 21 percent of puppies will have this condition. There’s no cure for his genetic problem, and lab breeders won’t talk about it. Just give me a answer thanx

  3. Hi thanks for this article it really helped! Just a question I have been trying to teach my black lab for a while now and she is just not getting the hang of it.she’s 7and still pulling on the lead and pinching things not giving them back any suggestions on how to fix this ?

  4. I just bought a 2 year old black lab/retriever mix from K-2 adoption. They are the ones that train the military sniffing dogs and also police dogs. I’ve had retrievers in the past but this dog, Bradley beats anything I’ve ever seen?. He jumps on the kitchen table, he tries to pee any where that is available. Is he too old to try and retrain like a puppy? Or is it possible to teach him new and better behaviors in his teenage years? Please help

    • my now 16 month lab was the same,i thought i’d bought a tasmanian devil instead of a puppy!distraction,calming techniques etc,nothing worked,i ended up growling at her, staring at her til she backed off[i would’nt hit her,no matter how aggressive she was]it’s been hard going,she has had 2 walks a day from early on to try and tire her out,but she never napped in between,just wanted to attack me! she has grown up into a lovely well behaved dog which i thought she never would,i also give her grain free food which seems to help,i also kept the calming techniques going,it seemed to work eventually!! some labs are more high energy than others,they are not all as laid back as everybody thinks,hope you go on ok

  5. We have a 6 month old golden male lab, and our problem is he digs huge holes in our backyard, and he chews wood. He is an in house dog so he only goes out for bathroom and play. What should we do?

  6. Pippa, a question for you, what do you do when your dog just refuses to listen to you in one particular situation?

    Our 6 1/2 month boy has been ignoring me when in the house. He’s primarily an outside dog during the day when we are at work, and he responds quite well to all manner of commands outside whether in the back yard or on a walk.

    My problem is that when we bring him in after work to spend time with us, he refuses to listen to me unless I have clicker and treats in hand. He’ll lay down on his bed quietly when I tell him in this instance, but when I try to “wait” to click and treat, he just gets up. I have tried C&T as soon as he lays down, and up to literally a few seconds, but anything past 10 or 20 seconds and he’s up. He jumps on the couch when he has been taught not to, he paws through the dishwasher or any dishes out, he picks up socks and bottles or anything else. I have tried playing with his toys on his bed to keep him there, C&T as mentioned, I have tried being firm, angry, shouting, pleading, enthusiastic, and showering him with praise when he lays down. But nothing works. I understand me being inconsistent may be part of the issue but I just can’t find a method that he responds to with me.

    I have to keep an eye on him 100% of the time: I can’t even read a paragraph of a book before he’s up and doing something he shouldn’t be. The only time I have been able to get him under some semblance of control is putting him on the lead and keeping it VERY short, but even then unless I am standing in the centre of the room he still has access to jump on the table or couch.

    When my partner is in the house he listens. As soon as my partner says it, he’s laying down and behaving (though he does get up again after about a minute). My partner uses a firm voice with him and makes a small fuss when he does what he is told. I have tried this and it doesn’t work when I do it. My partner has very little input into the training so I am struggling to see why the puppy will obey him without question, but will refuse to obey me.

    Walking / exercising him doesn’t seem to help either just before letting him in, because no matter how tired he is, he finds a renewed energy as soon as he is in the house. I have brought him in when he seems “groggy” or tired after playing, and he just goes nuts when he’s let in.

    I have also tried just letting him run around and sniff / inspect things and asking him to lay down once he is done, but by then he just wants to run around. If you can offer some advice as to what I can do, that would be great!

  7. I hate how you keep repeating the same thing other and over again. Please just get to the point. This article could have cut in half:
    Bad dogs aren’t trained.
    Your dog isn’t bad because he disrespects you. In fact, he isn’t bad at all, he’s just a dog. He doesn’t ignore you because he doesn’t love you. You don’t have to beat your dog or bribe him.
    Your dog doesn’t have a personality disorder or ‘bad’ genes. He just isn’t trained. Yet.

    It was a helpfull article but I just wanted you to cut to the chase. I was ready to just look for a different article. Ok my dog isnt bad he just isn’t trained… now what…

  8. Angus is just over two, a wonderful Chunky chocolate Lab. He’s trained to do, or not do, many things… BUT, at one of the vets I visit he goes totally bonkers. Although British I live in France and he comes with me into the bakers, butchers and cafe without any problems. Even the first vet I tried here he was calm and fine. But in the new vet’s place , just down the road something sends him crazy! Any help, ideas, advice or info will be gratefully received.

  9. My 3 month old puppy is peering in her kennel and on the floor after she has been outside. We take her out regularly and play with her. She’s undisciplined jumping and not listening. But the house training is frustrating. I really don’t know what to do. My son gets upset when I suggest that she becomes a outside dog. I expect some naughty lab behavior but she doesn’t seem to care about peering in her kennel. Help please

  10. Pippa,
    I have a chocolate Labrador that turns 5 months here in the next 2 weeks named Tucker. When he is inside the house he follows me everywhere I go almost never leaving my side but as soon as I step outside, its almost like he flips a switch and doesn’t listen to a word I say. I have tried repeatedly using the word “come” to get him to listen to me and use treats but he completely ignores me. I try to be patient with him and use a passive voice but more than not, he will not listen. We also live on a lot of land so he loves to roam which makes it even worse. Should I work more with him inside the house all over again? Do you have any suggestions? Anything will help.

    Thanks, Jonathan

    • you might try a leash inside for awhile…. then say…. on the porch…. praising him for good behavior, maybe even treats

  11. Hello Pippa,
    I have read lots of books over the years, just ordered one of yours. However, my problem is two male labradors who are close in age, they have bonded and when off the lead will not come when called. The training, to a whistle works in the garden or at class but not in the open air. They are 3 and 4 years.

    • Hi Julie, you’ll need to recall train each dog separately. When both are reliable, then you can start to train them together. If it is Total Recall you have bought, if you get stuck, drop into the forum, let me know which exercise you are on, and I will try to help

  12. Hi Pippa! Love your articles and have found them very helpful. Cooper is my 14 months old yellow lab and I started training him very young. Everyone says what an amazing dog he is. To everyone but me, it seems. I train him and exercise him, but he responds to and obeys my husband’s every word who has done no training w him. He ignores me a lot and I’ve been told he sees me as his playmate. He barely even shows me any affection. Please tell me – what can I do to change this dynamic? Thank you in advance:)

  13. I have a 2 1/2 year old lab that I do obedience with and he works well except when I take the halti off he then is more interested in all the smells around then what I am asking him to do.

    I have tried treats and unless I am always holding one then his minds wanders while we are waiting for instructions. It is very frustrating as he is very good at what he does when he is switched on.

    How can I hold his attention?

  14. I found you while looking online for ideas to help me with my really different, hard to handle, one-year old yellow lab because my husband really wants the dog to live elsewhere. PJ is my 8th dog and my 5th puppy and he’s a total handful. Been to classes, had 3 trainers to the house, mastered loose-leash walking and some behaviors. But this wild child loves to jump at me and I’m worried I’m going to get knocked down and break something (like a hip). It appears to be super-excitement and I don’t know what to do.

  15. Harley is a 6 month old yellow lab ( I have 3 labs) my problem is he jumps stair gates so I just quietly put him back through and he usually gives up after 3 tries. But he has learnt to open the gate at bottom of the stairs which I understand if I’m upstairs but this morning he did it while I was downstairs so nicked the cat food (typical lab) . Apart from quietly removing him what else can I do?
    Many thanks

  16. Hi Lisa, it would be a good idea to get your dog assessed by a behaviourist. You might also enjoy Sian Ryan’s articles on reactive dogs (see recent posts) and might find it helpful to join the forum

  17. I have two elderly labs, 12 &13 years & they still behave like happy puppies. They don’t have any of the usual problems like arthritis or being overweight & I am hoping they live for many more years.
    I loved your comment about using a can opener or ordering online. Would not be surprised if my 12 year old lab Holly would order if she had access to my computer
    Thoroughly enjoyed your training tips…

  18. Hi Pippa,
    I am about to welcome 2 lab pups but confused to choose from 2 males/Male & Female into my home. what will you suugest as my case is i am ok with both combinations but dont know how to handle agression b/n two grownup males and aswellas dont like to neuter the female as i dont know anything about breeding and all and i dont want to restrict the natural flow of breeding in females and males once they are grownup.As i haven’t though about all this till i went through your articles in which pups are to be welcomed considering their Doggy things and prerequisites of a grownup dog so please suggest a combination to go with.
    Thank you.

  19. How do I train a 8 mo old lab not to eat my granddaughter’s food. She wanders off playing and the dog doesn’t realize the food isn’t hers, so she takes what is in the bowl.

  20. Hi Pippa.. my wife and i recently welcomed a lab puppy in our home.. She was 4 weeks old.. However, after reading through your website, we gave it back to our friends, so that she could be with her mother. Now she is 8 weeks old, and i assumed it is a good time to get her home. Thing is she is still in the biting phase, i took her to the Vet who said everything is normal. However, i want to know how exactly can i get her to stop biting. On a couple of occassions she has drawn blood…

  21. My yellow Lab Bear is about to turn 1 years old. He is very bright and full of beans!
    he gets walked 3 times a day, goes to obedience classes once week which he is excelling at and we play and train him frequently. However, recently when he is being let off the lead he will not come back to me. We have reifnorced his recall and have a long lead which we trained him on but we let him off to play with other dogs and if they go in one direction he goes with them and doesnt come back to me when called.
    We dont want to restrict him as not letting him off his lead turns him into a devil at home as he hasn’t had a good run round and got all his excitment and energy out. Plus he has now decided to start eating whatever he can find, literally everything! He has already had 2 emergency trips to the vets due to him poisoning himself which was horrifying for us so now he is muzzled and he hates it. Plus now that he is muzzled its like he is rebelling at me and his behaviour is getting worse. it’s like he is punishing me for using his muzzle on him!
    I do everything to the book with Bear and cannot think of anything else that will curb his behaviour. I’m a t a loss and need help!

  22. “…Unless your dog can use a can opener and order food online,…” – I really had a chuckle here 🙂 I wouldn’t put it pass a Labrador 😉

  23. Thank you! One more issue is it gets over excited ( thats what am assuming) while playing and starts biting our feet. It jumps and bites so it hurts.

  24. Hi, my lab is 4 months old and is very naughty. It keeps jumping on everyone. every stranger on the road too. We are particular about the dog not entering into the bedrooms or the dinning room, it should stick to the hall and the porch( we got a big place outside). am not able to train it to do so. It always comes inside. It needs people always around. How to make it stay outside and also we want it to bark when someone is at the gate! please help!!!

    • Your puppy is not naughty. He is a puppy. Puppies need company and affection and will try to be near you. To restrict your puppy’s access to certain parts of the house, you need to set up baby gates across the doorways. In the behaviour section you will find an article on ‘jumping up’ and how to stop it. Many labradors are very friendly. Your puppy may bark at strangers when he is older, or he may not.

  25. I have a 3yr old black lab called Molly, she is adorable and loves chasing after balls and bringing them back to me, she never wanders off when in the park only leaving my side to fetch the ball. My problem is when she is at home and perhaps bored she is a nightmare, when the phone rings and your attention is elsewhere she will grab the cushions off the settee or her cushion out of her bed and run up the garden with them and the only way I get them back is by giving her a treat please can you give me some tips on what to do to stop her getting the cushions in the first place.

    Thanks Chris.

    • Hi Chris, Molly sounds lovely. You can teach her to give you the cushions on command. And there is nothing wrong with swapping a treat for the cushion. But the easiest way to stop her picking the cushions up is to deny her access to the room with the settee when you are not with her. Prevent her going in and out of the garden unless you open the door for her. Insist that she gives you whatever is in her mouth before allowing her into the garden. Has she got something of her own that she is allowed to carry around? Many labradors love to have something to hold in their mouths and often the best option is for them to have a rope toy or something similar of their own.

  26. Hi – found your e-book (and articles on this website) hugely helpful (already left a comment). I’m preparing to take over a 10 month old labrador who was originally my daughter’s puppy and then when she didnt have the time, my son’s. He hasnt been trained except probably a bit here and there in an ad hoc way. I am going to train him following your method – but am wondering if you have any particular advice given this situation (ie, already 10 months with just a bit of ad hoc training). He is a lovely dog, very loving and sweet – and chaotic to the extreme, which is understandable.
    I have a very small cottage – barely large enough for me, so he will just be able to be in the sitting room and also a kennel and long line outside until I get the section fenced (I border onto a tidal creek). we are also close to a large park where I will take him daily.
    He comes to me today, so am preparing.
    Thank you – am looking forward to the release of your total recall book also!

    • Hi Annie, how lovely of you to take on this dog. You seem to have a great attitude which is half the battle.

      Many troubled dogs have suffered from a lack of supervision. Both mental and physical. Managing the dog’s free-running time productively is important but you will find lots of info on that in Total Recall.
      Many rescue and rehomed dogs benefit from wearing a long-line or training lead during exercise and whilst you are getting a recall established.
      You will need to use some really great rewards to create a good ‘trained response’ to your basic commands. Why not join the forum so that you can chat about your progress and get feedback from other labrador owners.
      Let us know how you get on!

      • Thanks Pippa. I will join the forum – I will need the support – and to stay on track when the going gets tough at times.

  27. Hi Pippa

    That’s great, I’m trying a squeaker out of a toy, it’s small enough to fit in my hand and it certainly catches their attention in a good way. Thanks for the suggestions.

  28. Not a comment so much as a query. I’ve always used sharply clapped hands as a way of drawing a naughty dog away from something wrong and to focus on me. But now I find that no matter what I do I cannot get them to recognise that the clicker is a positive thing, it sounds too much like the sharp clap. Any idea what I could use instead of a clicker?
    Love the articles by the way, your heelwork ones are helping a a friend with a difficult 2yo wolfhound.

    • Hi Kerryn, I have heard of people using a clicky pen. It has a softer sound and is great for dogs that are nervous of the click. Another alternative is just to use a word, like ‘yes’ or ‘good’. You could try a ‘wagonners chirrup’ the noise you make to horses, or a squeak from a kids toy. Anything short and distinctive will do. Some people use the sound ‘xxxx’ because it doesn’t sound like anything else.

      Glad you like the articles!:)