Every Labrador should have a magic word. “What kind of trickery is this?” you say. We don’t need magic in dog training do we? Just an effective and consistent training strategy. Of course you are right, but a ‘magic word’ is still a very useful thing. And here’s how you can use it:
What is the magic word used for?
We can use a magic word to interrupt a dog when it is doing something we don’t want it to do. The magic word brings your dog dashing to your side, so it can also be used as an emergency recall
How do we create our magic word?
To generate your magic word you will need some amazing treats.
Tasty chunks of warm roast chicken dripping in juices, or whole sardines canned in oil, are great examples. The messier and tastier the better.
Once or twice each day, for several days, you will say your magic word. And give your dog one of these fantastic prizes.
You won’t ask the dog to do anything in return. The food is totally unconditional. All you want is for him to associate this word with an astounding experience.
The first few times you give your dog the treat, go and find him. Say your word and feed him straight away.
You don’t want any delay at all in getting the food into his mouth immediately after he hears the word. When he has heard the magic word a few times, you can start to say the word when he is a few feet away from you.
After the first few days, and once your dog is ‘on board’ with the deliciousness of this brilliant word, you can use your word less often. Twice a week should keep it special and ensure he does not forget it. Think of this as ‘charging up’ your word. Just as you would charge up a battery from time to time. And make it easy for your dog to respond.
Choosing a word
Your word should be upbeat, cheerful and inspiring. Words like ‘hooray’, ‘awesome’, ‘eureka’, that type of thing. Choose one and stick to it. The word is a little celebration of a splendid treat. And it should sound that way. It means “something awesome and utterly unmissable is about to happen”
Most Labradors can understand many words. But very often that understanding is quite specific to a context. For example, a lot of dogs won’t ‘sit’ if you turn your back on them when you give the command sit. They only understand the word sit if you are facing the dog.
To make sure your magic word is understood anywhere and everywhere, remember to charge it up in different situations. And from different positions (you can sit in a chair sometimes, or stand on one leg)
Using the word
Be careful. This is not a command. Don’t use it to spoil his fun. Don’t use your magic word to recall your dog, stop him peeing on your lawn, or to prevent him climbing on your sofa on a regular basis.
Each time you use the word to bring your dog away from something he wanted for himself you deplete a little of its power. You make it just that little bit less magical. So do not use your word on a regular basis, or to repeatedly try and trigger particular behaviors
Save your magic word for that awful time when your dog slips his lead and is about to run into the road. Save it for that walk on the beach when he finds a dead seagull and is about to eat it.
Save it for the day he rolls in fox poo and is about to embrace your mother-in-law, or climb on her white sofa. Save it for special and unusual occasions. Call out your magic word and feel the relief as your dog spins around and dashes towards you.
After using your magic word
When you have used your word, you need to ‘re-charge it’. You need to make it really special again. Don’t use the word to interrupt your dog in something he enjoys for some time. And for the next few days, make sure you just say the word several times, together with an amazing treat, no strings attached.
How about you?
Do you have a magic word for your dog? Can you think of any situations where you would use a magic word? Let us know in the comments box below
Have fun with dog training. Modern dog training is a lot of fun. Methods have changed dramatically over the years and force free dog training has now been adopted by all leading dog trainers. The great thing about force free training is that you don’t need any ‘talent’ or natural ability. And neither does your dog.
Did you know?
Of course there are techniques you need to learn in order to train your dog successfully.
Together with the Dogsnet training team, I have now launched an online dog training program to help people homeschool their dogs without force. You can now enroll in my online training courses and learn to be your dog’s best teacher. I hope to see you there soon!
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
There are two dogs. Does each dog get a magic word?
Great idea, I will give this a go with my Labrador
I don’t have a magic word but I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to use Gomer Pyle’s word “ Shazam “. I’ll let you know how it goes. Sardines? Really?
I think this is a great idea …. however how do you give him a treat that’s special without carrying it around with you all the time …. he may not need it on that day or the next etc… so I don;t think I would want to carry stinking sardines or warm chicken around in my pocket .. LOL …. I’m wondering if there is something else that you have an idea for when walking outside …. My Lab is 8 months old ( almost 9 ).. I would think that to use this word would be when he picks up something in his mouth that is dangerous or runs …. so most likely wouldn’t happen in the house … does this make sense?
Great idea. We’ve worked with our lab Ted on doing an emergency stop so he stays where he is but this is only really effective when he’s at a distance. Definitely think a command to focus him in the situations the article describes is important so we will be starting the shaping behaviour today. MAGIC!
We have a beautiful black yearling who is very athletic. We use a couple of words in Spanish and French. Dogs can certainly learn foreign languages. 🙂
What an absolutely wonderful idea.
I have a six month old, male, blonde Labrador who is very obedient but I think I need a Magic Word for those once-off emergencies. My heart skips a beat every time a distraction causes him to deviate toward something unsafe. Getting him to stop and turn on the spot is exactly what I need.
Thanks heaps for this advice.
I have commenced training my pup (Milo) with his magic word now. I actually chose the word “magic” for two reasons:
1) It doesn’t pop up in conversations very often.
2) It should be easy to remember as in “What is his magic word?” Oh yeah it’s magic!”
Milo really loves his sardines dripping in oil.
I am ready to progress to the next step of waiting until he is a few steps away and saying his magic word. The trouble is, I’m having difficulty getting a few steps away from him when I have the smelly treat in my hand. He has already associated the sound of me opening the container with his special treat—the snap as I open the plastic container brings him running from afar. Not that he is ever really far away form me. He is my little shadow.
I think I’ll need to wrap the sardines in separate plastic bags or something.
Sounds like an excellent idea. I will try it at once. My Apollo is a 3 yrs old choco uncastrated lab. Loves sport, a Frisbee pro, a great ball player and retriever and an enthusiastic swimmer and a great companion jogger. His only problem which I assume probably has something to do with being non castrated is that if given a chance he will roam to find scent of female dogs to lick and also of male dogs to pee over it. Often enough he will also find some poo to chuck it down before I get a chance to chase him away. Sometimes if I happen to be near enough and with a stern word NO, he will back off. I already have made a peace with myself to accept this gross behavior of him and not to make a big fuss. (He is dewormed every 3 months). But now the bigger problem is once he eats poo and he understands that he is not allowed. He knows that he does something wrong. Then he is afraid to come back to me because of being afraid of consequences. He will run off even further and I have to often get other dogs walkers nearby to help me recall him back to me. That is the biggest problem I am having with Apollo. I hope this trick of magic word will help. It is worth a try. I will let you know if it works
Yes we made the mistake and our dog’s magic word is biscuit. The problem comes in when we are having biscuits and I ask my husband if he wants a biscuit my dog comes running. So now you have two mature adults going around the house asking each other if they want the B word so as to not get the dog going. LOL
I am using the word Yum with sardines in water to teach!
I have lab of 6 months old, his name is Prince. I tried the Magic word Johnny whenever he goes to my neighbours house or goes out of the house against my wish. I call him by name Prince he never pays heed..he simply wants us to take him out..at that moment I call Johnny..he come running to me to take beef stick, which I use only against the name Johnny. Please give your views
how do I get my pup not to dig
I have a chocolate colored labrador , her name is daisy , but i dont understand one of her problem her growth has suddenly stopped her age is 9 months but her body’s size is like a 5 month’s old puppy’s anyone knows what can i do ? please help !!
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Hi Avisek, you need to consult your vet to find out why your Labrador is not growing. There could be many different reasons and he or she is the only capable of making such a diagnosis. Best wishes, Pippa
wolf dogs can be flighty -and unlike most dogs are decision makers -to do or not do in obeying a command -by chance i discovered a word key , as she began to go walk about -at a fast trot -instead of giving a command she was unlikely to obey -i called in a shrill female voice -picnic time -she stopped dead in her tracks- turned-laughed made a decision came bounding back -and kissed me -i rewarded her with a bone -and this call i only use when she flee’s
We use a magic word that you would not use in ordinary speech so that the dogs cannot be triggered by mistake. So our tip is to think of a word that is not used often in your household or in an exciting way.
Good tip Catherine 🙂
I might give this a go
I have two 4 month old field bred Golden Retrievers. I use the magic word “cookie”. If I say this word my pups will do a whiplash turn to come to me and I can break up a play fight that is getting out of hand with this word as well. I use kibble and freeze dried liver at this stage of their development and this works well. Will mixing up treats of varying value lessen the effect of the magic word that I use down the road when the pups have grown and I’m trying to get their attention from further afield?
Hi Alexandra, it is fine (and indeed a good idea) to ‘fade’ rewards for a regular cue, such as a recall, but the idea of the magic word is that it is always associated with a high value reward, and never used on a regular basis. There is a lot of information on recall in the recall training centre in via the training menu at the top of each page.