Getting to grips with how to train a 3 year old Labrador is surprisingly straight forward. Even if everything has gone wrong in the past, or they’ve never had any training attempted. All they need is the right motivation, and a structured program to follow. Which is easier than it sounds!
How to train a 3 year old Labrador
By three years old a Labrador is big, bouncy and enthusiastic. And without training, there is no doubt that they can be a handful. Your dog is likely to love spending time with their family, preferably doing something quite grubby at a fairly high speed. Greeting other dogs with wild enthusiasm, and wildlife even more keenly.
Indoors they happily push through doors in front of you, leaving a trail of mud and fur in their wake. And say “good morning” to you every day with their paws on your shoulders, and their tongue in your mouth. Which is all good fun, but definitely not what you signed up to when you brought that adorable little puppy home three years ago.
Most people have at least some enthusiasm for training their dog when they arrive home as a puppy. Yet despite these good intentions, we hear from a huge number of people with adult dogs that are basically untrained. So what went wrong?
It seems to be a combination of inconsistent methods, lack of time or direction, and a perception that it doesn’t really matter. Which is true to an extent with tiny puppies. Once they are peeing outdoors and sleeping at night, it’s easy to feel like that’s job done. But these portable fluff balls grow up, the lack of training starts to present real problems. Fortunately, even if it all went wrong or barely even started when they were younger, you can still teach an older dog new tricks.
You can teach an old dog new tricks
It’s a total myth that older dogs are incapable of learning. Sure they have had time to pick up some bad habits, but that doesn’t mean that you have lost control for life. You just need to start right from the beginning, just as you would with a brand new puppy.
You might think it sounds excessive. After all, your dog knows what stay means, she just refuses to do it sometimes. Why go back to ground zero when you have made a bit of progress?
We recommend starting afresh because the failed training from before can make things harder for your dog, not easier. If they have been accidentally rewarded for not staying still or coming when they are called, they have learned that it’s okay to ignore the cue in certain situations. Introducing a brand new, never ignored trigger for the behavior you want, gives you a second chance for success.
Where to begin
If you are training an older dog,If you are struggling with your Labrador ignoring you and your commands, then the best thing to do is to start right from scratch. Pretend they are a new puppy that knows nothing. The first thing you’ll want to do is get to grips with using a clicker to train them.
The Foundation Skills online dog training course over at Dogsnet is a brilliant basis for this. You might also like to check out a few articles on the basics, like charging the clicker and this guide to positive reinforcement training. Positive reinforcement works excellently for training any dog, but especially Labs as they are so motivated by food.
Labradors are easy to motivate
Labs are big, bouncy and often wilful. But they are almost all very easy to reward with food. Their love of food and enthusiasm to earn it, makes them great students of reward based training. The whole basis of this method of training is that your dog is taught to associate actions with rewards.
You don’t need to give them loads more food than normal to do this either. You can literally use your dog’s dinner. Dish out their daily portions into bowls as normal, but instead of just popping them on the floor put them into a treat bag instead. Do lots of little training sessions, and use up that dinner as training treats. They will be keen to work out how to get their jaws on their food, and learn lots at the same time.
Popular things to teach your dog
You can check out some great free training guides here.
These are all designed to take dogs that don’t have these skills at the moment, and help you to teach them.
Ignoring vs Proofing
A lot of owners of older dogs that aren’t trained feel that their dog ignores their commands. But it’s far more likely that they don’t understand them. Just because your dog knows to pop it’s butt on the floor when you say ‘sit’ at home, doesn’t mean it knows to do it in the dog park when a squirrel rushes past. The process of building up distractions, distance and duration in dog training is one that gets overlooked a lot.
Dogs are adorable, but they are simple creatures. And they need to have the difficulty of each scenario built up slowly. In the articles above you’ll see lots of reference to this process, known as proofing, because it’s debatably the most important part of training. Remember even with an older dog, that you need to make things trickier for them slowly and steadily.
How to train a 3 year old Labrador
To train your 3 year old Labrador you will need a click, plenty of treats, time and patience. You will need to ditch any verbal commands you’d previously tried, and choose new ones. So use a whistle instead of your dog’s name for recall, for example. Build up the distractions, distance and duration of each clue step by step. Don’t be tempted to rush ahead, or your dog will get confused and the process will fall apart.
Starting from the beginning with an older dog seems daunting, but you can do this together. And once you get started, you will find spending time with your dog at home as well as outdoors will be so much more enjoyable.
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