Labrador, Golden and Chesapeake Bay retrievers are all excellent hunting and family breeds. They often can span the role of being a family dog and a hunting dog with few downfalls. But that doesn’t mean they are perfect. Many retrievers are very stubborn and hard to train. If your dog is one of the stubborn ones, you know what I am talking about. Here are some tips to help you train a stubborn dog.
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How to train a difficult dog
While all dog training takes patience, training difficult or stubborn dogs takes even more. If you are the inpatient type, someone who gets frustrated easily, training a stubborn dog by yourself may not be in your best interest. But that doesn’t mean you are out of luck. It just means that you may want to find a professional to take on the training for you. Maintaining training once it is done, even on difficult dogs, is much easier than doing the training in the first place.
The steps and techniques used training a stubborn dog vary depending on what you are trying to teach him/her. Retrievers are generally big dogs, and hopefully, their love to retrieve is stronger than anything else in life. Why is this important? Because a retriever that loves to retrieve will be willing to go through lots of training and pressure if at the end of the day he/she still gets to retrieve.
Dogs with strong retrieving desire are easier to train than those who have little or no retrieving desire. Even if the dog is a stubborn or difficult dog.
How to train a stubborn dog to SIT
If your dog acts like sitting or sitting still is the worst kind of punishment, then your dog is probably a stubborn dog. But SIT is by far the most important command in all of dog training. Much disobedience can be traced back to failure to SIT, so it is important your dog understand and obey this basic command.
Some hard, difficult dogs will SIT but do so very slowly or “in their own sweet time”. This should still be considered a failure to SIT. You cannot allow stubborn dogs to dictate the terms of their obedience. If you do, your dog will SIT slower and slower and you will get more and more refusals.
If your dog has not been taught the SIT command, learn how in the post Teaching your dog the sit command.
Training your stubborn dog to SIT
The first step to training your stubborn retriever to SIT is making sure that your dog already knows the SIT command but is just being stubborn. If you say SIT, does your dog make any movement into the SIT position? No? Then you may need to go back to teaching the SIT command.
If you are certain your dog knows the SIT command, then Step 2 is for you to get very consistent in giving the command and, if needed, a correction.
Every time you tell (command) your dog to SIT, be ready for your dog to refuse. And when he/she does refuse, say NO, SIT and give your dog a correction. Do not say SIT multiple times. Say the command one time and the next one comes with correction.
If you have a stubborn dog, it is important that your correction is one that makes an impression on your dog. Stubborn or difficult dogs are generally not easy to impress, so be prepared to use more force or discipline than you are used to.
Corrections to enforce SIT for tough stubborn dogs
A heeling stick often works well for teaching stubborn dogs the SIT command. A good rap on his/her behind the minute your dog refuses a SIT command will make an impression. Say the SIT command as you give the correction, so that you are making it very clear what your dog is being corrected for.
Keep the heeling stick in your left hand if your dog is a left heeling dog. The correction should come from behind the dog, not over his/her head.
If you don’t want to use a heeling stick, a chain collar on a leash can also give a swift correction, although some stubborn dogs are very resistant to this correction.
To use a chain collar for correction, you simply jerk up on the chain collar as you say the SIT command.
I do not recommend treats, although many trainers do. Treats work great for little puppies who are just learning the commands, but they are much less effective when training a stubborn or difficult dog that is over 6-months of age.
Whatever means of correction you choose, the correction must be timed correctly (immediately after the first command and refusal) and consistent (correction every time your dog refuses). If your dog gets away with refusing and gets no correction, you have just made your job even harder.
Learn more in Two commands your retriever must know.
Training a difficult dog to COME/HERE
If your stubborn dog does not want to COME when you command, I can already sense your frustration. I experience that frustration often with each new dog enrolled in our training program. Getting their dog to COME consistently is one of the top problems owners have that they need help with.
This can be a very difficult command to teach and enforce, but also one of the most vital.
How to teach your stubborn dog to COME/HERE
The first step to teaching your dog to COME is being able to catch your dog. If you spend an hour running around your yard chasing your dog, your dog has won. He has turned COME/HERE into a game. And believe me, he/she will not easily forget this game.
So, you need to start your training with a long lead. The long lead should not have a loop at the end. You never want your dog to get caught on something while dragging this leash.
It is vital that your dog learn that you are in control. And chasing him/her is not making you look like you are in control. So, start your training with a long lead and a chain collar. Every time you let your dog out, put this lead and collar on him/her. Let him/her drag the leash everywhere they go.
When you command HERE or COME, step on or grab the leash and pull your dog toward you commanding COME or HERE with each pull or jerk. When your dog gets right in front of you, say GOOD DOG, HERE (COME). Then release your dog to go run around again.
We use the command OKAY to release our dogs but use whatever command you would like to use.
Repeat this exercise several times. Calling your dog to you, pulling him/her in, petting your dog then release.
You want your dog to start learning that it is okay to come to you, that coming to you does not mean that you are going to put him/her away or take something away from him/her.
Call – enforce (if necessary) – pet or praise – release.
If you are planning to use an electronic collar to train your dog, this is a great tool for this command. However, it is not so simple as just strapping the collar on your dog and giving him/her a correction on the HERE command. Learn how to properly condition your dog for an electronic collar.
Training a hard or difficult dog to stay.
Stubborn dogs hate to sit still, or what we call the STAY command. Here at Otter Tail Kennels, we don’t use a STAY command. We train the dogs that SIT means to STAY until we tell them to do something else. Hence, no need for a stay command.
To teach your retriever to stay with or without a STAY command, you need to work very hard on the SIT command. The SIT command must be rock solid. Once your dog is sitting next to you and in front of you, you need to increase the distance between you and your dog.
Command SIT and start walking away from your dog. If your dog moves at all, command NO, SIT and move your dog back to the exact position he/she was in when you first told them to SIT. Dogs are very place oriented, so you need to put them as close as possible to the exact position they were in when they decided to disobey.
Start slowly. One or two steps at first is enough. As your dog gets steadier, you will be able to move further and further away and leave your dog in the SIT position longer and longer.
Teaching a dog to SIT/STAY can be a very time consuming a frustrating lesson. But if you are consistent in your expectations and your corrections, you will notice that your dog is improving day by day.
Teaching a stubborn dog to walk at HEEL
When a dog walks in a HEEL position without pulling or tugging you, he/she is in a very submission position. Therefore, stubborn or dominant dogs dislike being in this position. For this very reason, you need to work even harder at getting your difficult dog to walk at HEEL.
The best way to accomplish this is to use a chain collar and 6-foot-leash. Begin walking your dog at HEEL. As soon as your dog gets ahead of you or starts pulling, do an about face and start walking in the opposite direction.
You can turn into the dog (very effective) or turn away from the dog. But as soon as you start turning around say NO, HEEL and give sharp tugs on the chain collar until your dog is in the HEEL position. Walk in the new direction until the dog again gets ahead of you or starts pulling. Then do another about face.
You will likely not get very far on that first day. You may be turning around every 4-5 steps, but as you continue this drill, your dog will start to pay more attention to you and less time trying to get ahead of you. Your dog will eventually start watching your feet and your legs. He/she will be more focused on you than on the ground or where you are going. This will enable you to walk further and further with your dog at HEEL.
Realize that your dog will test you occasionally, even after you have the training solid. They are dogs, not robots, but if you are consistent in this training, you will see much improvement over time.
Teaching a difficult dog to GIVE
If you play fetch with your retriever or train with bumpers and birds, stubborn dogs are prone to holding on a little too tight to the bumper or bird. You NEVER want to play tug of war with a dog that you are going to be hunting with. Tug of war can make a dog very hard mouthed and cause many problems down the line.
It is helpful to teach your dog the GIVE command. Use this command when your dog retrieves an item and brings it back to you. GIVE is the command to make the dog open his/her mouth and give or release the item to you. You should not have to pry the item out of your dog’s mouth.
The GIVE command must be taught, most retrievers inclination is not to give you the item they retrieved. But rather to keep the item for themselves. That is a genetic tendency that is within them, so you must teach your dog the GIVE command.
To teach the GIVE command, you will want to first teach the HOLD command. The HOLD command is a command to teach your dog to hold an item in his/her mouth until you take it from him/her.
If your dog is good on the HOLD command, they teaching GIVE is straight forward. Each time your dog comes back with the bumper or bird, grab a hold of the item, and say GIVE.
If your dog fails to open his mouth and release the item, say NO, GIVE and then proceed to push the item back into your dog’s mouth. I know, this sounds counter intuitive, but shoving the item back into your dog’s mouth while saying the GIVE command will make your dog gag and want to get the item out of his/her mouth as quickly as possible.
You can even hold the back of your dog’s head as you push the item into his/her mouth, making it hard for your dog to get away. Do this a few times and soon your dog will be willingly giving you the fetched item.
How long does it take to train a stubborn or difficult dog?
The time it takes to train your dog will depend on several factors.
How consistent you are with corrections.
To train a dog you must be very consistent in your commands, expectations, and corrections. If you are very consistent, your dog will learn much faster.
How much time can you commit to training?
You should try and commit to doing formal training for your dog a minimum of 3 days a week. Five to ten minutes a day, everyday is even more effective. It is not about how long the sessions are, but rather about taking time to reinforce the commands on a regular basis.
How stubborn is your dog?
Yes, stubborn dogs do often take longer to train. They may require more time and more consistency.
Final thoughts on how to train a stubborn dog
Training stubborn or difficult dogs is challenging. It can require lots of patience and stamina. But it can be done. And once your dog is obeying, life will become much easier and less frustrating.
If you are looking for a professional retriever trainer with proven hunting and hunt test programs, check out our training programs or give us a call 651-303-6459.
Until next time, happy retrieving.