Do you teach your Labrador tricks? Do you love to see well trained Labradors enjoying displaying their skills? Or do you feel uncomfortable watching their performance? In this article we are going to look at whether teaching your Labrador tricks is a good idea. We’ll find out why some people don’t like some Lab tricks. And what good things teaching tricks can do for you and your dog.
What Are Labrador Tricks?
Labrador tricks normally refer to a learned response, which doesn’t serve a clear purpose.
A Lab trick is something which he is trained to do, and yet doesn’t appear to be of any actual use. So teaching a dog to sit is an obedience training lesson, but teaching him to shake hands or dance in a circle is referred to as a trick.
So why do we teach them, and why do some people object?
Why Do Some People Object To Teaching Labradors Tricks?
Some people look down their noses at those that teach their dogs tricks. I know because I used to be one of them. I used to think it undignified and pointless teaching dogs to copy their humans with a handshake, or to roll around on their backs. But the idea of embarassment is a very human one, and dogs actually enjoy learning tricks if they are taught in the right way.
More than this though, I now understand that there is huge value to be had in teaching your Labrador to carry out a specific behavior in response to a specific cue.
Why Teach Labrador Tricks?
The fact that the trick you are teaching is ‘giving a paw’ or ‘playing dead’ doesn’t matter.
There is nothing pointless in training a dog to respond to a human being. The point is, your Lab is learning something new, and so are you. Every time we train a new skill, we get better at it. Lab tricks improve your ability to train your dog. And every time your dog learns a new trick or game, he is using his brain. Not to mention strengthening the relationship between you.
Labrador Tricks Training
When we train a Labrador to do tricks, we use positive reinforcement training. This method of training enables us to teach our dogs something new, safe in the knowledge that they will enjoy the learning process and strengthen their bond with us in the process.
Clicker training is great for teaching tricks. It provides the dog with a stream of feedback which identifies for him when he is getting it right. A clicker is a little box which makes a clicking sound. It comes under the category of an event marker – because it literally marks the event you are looking for. Giving your dog a clear sign of when he has got it right.
When you combine this noise with something your dog finds rewarding, like a tasty snack, then you increase the likelihood of him doing it again.
How To Train A Labrador Puppy Tricks
There are three main methods of using clicker training to teach your Labrador puppy tricks. These work from puppyhood all the way to adulthood, because they are kind and gentle you don’t have to wait to get started.
Capturing Labrador Tricks
Capturing Labrador Tricks is a method which can be used for basic tricks or those that your Lab already does by himself. You simply wait for him to do the behavior you want, then click and treat. Capturing the correct moment and making it even more rewarding for him.
For example, some Labradors like to spin around in circles. If you want to turn this into a trick, you can mark and reward when your Labrador does a rotation. Doing a click and treat when he completes a single spin. This will encourage him to do it more often. Once he is offering you the behavior more frequently, you can start to add the cue word ‘spin’ when you click and treat. Say this word every single time to build up an association.
After a few sessions, try saying spin when you have his full attention. If he spins click and give a high value reward. Make sure to click and treat for the behavior when it is offered without the word too, to encourage him along the way. After a time your cue word will become a command, which you can say and he will respond to. But remember, keep rewarding your dog for most of his obedient responses to keep him encouraged and the game fun.
Luring Labrador Tricks
Luring Labrador tricks involves using a lure, usually some food, to guide your Labrador into the desired position before rewarding him. Luring isn’t the same as bribing, as very early on in the process you will lose the lure and only reward once the behavior is complete. Luring behaviors can be a little tricky to learn, to make sure that you get the method and timing right.
Training Labrador tricks that don’t matter in the real world using this method, gives you the opportunity to learn how to do it right before you start on a command which you really need him to be obedient to. You can use the lure to teach your Labrador to sit, and find detailed instructions for how to do that here.
Shaping Labrador Tricks
Shaping your Lab tricks is the most common way of building up complicated tricks. It involves taking a behavior that your dog already knows and rewarding him for slight variations which head in the desired behavior’s direction.
We look at shaping in detail and give you instructions for how to use this skill in our clicker training heel for dogs and puppies article here. You can find out lots more about how to use all of these different skills to train your Labrador tricks in our dog training techniques article here.
Fun Labrador Tricks
Anything which your Labrador learns to do can be called a trick. If you don’t need it for working in the shooting field, then teaching your Labrador to stop when you blow your whistle can be defined as a trick. There are a lot of Labrador training tricks you might enjoy, and here are some of our favourites:
101 things to do with a box
Here is a fun game to play with a dog on a rainy afternoon. Its called 101 things to do with a box. And whilst it might seem trivial, this game is a brilliant training tool and great practice for the beginner clicker trainer.
4 games to play with your Labrador
In our article on 4 games to play with your Labrador, we look at scent games, musical statues, find the toy and freeze. Any of which can be described as Lab tricks, but all of which are fun learning and bonding opportunities for you and your dog.
What Tricks Can Labradors Learn?
Labradors can learn to do pretty much anything which is within their physical capabilities. The sky is the limit. And even if the trick you are training seems pointless, stay happy in the knowledge that everything you teach your dog will be making you a better trainer, owner and companion for him.
Have a go at training your labrador to do some tricks. You may be surprised at how much fun you have. Teach your dog to spin, shake hands, or anything else that appeals to you. And remember – at the end of the day, it’s all just training!
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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