Early obedience first step to better hunting dog
Labrador puppies start out sweet and innocent. You bring home the furry little bundle, and he/she is so unsure of their new surroundings. All you want to do is cuddle up with your pup and love them! And you should! But rest assured the innocence will not last. As your pup gains confidence and courage, they will begin to test you in many ways. That is why you must obedience train your Labrador puppy. Early obedience training is key to establishing borders and boundaries that will help your puppy grow, learn, and adjust with a good attitude.
Start with name recognition and socialization
Starting on day one, the day you bring your puppy home, you should start teaching your puppy his/her name. You want your pup to quickly learn his/her name and respond to it. There is no shortcut to doing this, just use the name often when you talk to your puppy. Over time, the pup will start to respond to the name.
Socialization, while not technically obedience training, is the single most important thing you can teach your puppy during the first few months of life. If you are not sure how to do this, refer to this post.
Tools needed to obedience train Labrador puppy
You will need a few tools to teach your puppy obedience.
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- Collar – You should purchase a size appropriate collar for your new puppy. You may have to buy new ones as your dog grows, but it is important for your puppy to get used to wearing a collar early on. A simple nylon adjustable collar works great.
- Chain collar – If your puppy is more than a few months old, a chain or prong collar is extremely helpful in teaching obedience, but they must be used correctly. For more information on how to put a chain collar on your dog correctly refer to this video.
- Lead or Leash – A lead or leash is needed to keep control of your puppy and teach him/her the basic obedience commands. A longer lead, called a check cord, is also useful for teaching HERE and retrieving. You can learn more about that here.
- Heeling stick (optional) – While optional, a heeling stick can be especially helpful in teaching basic obedience.
- Treats – Treats are good for teaching very young puppies. I use treats for pups under 12 weeks of age, but treats should be discontinued rather quickly. Retrievers live to retrieve, and that is the “treat” you should move towards over time. You really don’t want your dog to only be obedient when you have food on you.
When to start basic puppy obedience training
Obedience training can and should start within the first couple weeks of having your puppy home. Young puppies are ready and willing to learn and teaching obedience to a young puppy is much easier than teaching it to an older dog. If your goal is a great hunting dog, obedience and socialization should be your priority for the first five months of your puppy’s life.
How long should obedience sessions be?
Most labs do not enjoy obedience training. For this reason, we aim to keep obedience sessions short, especially if your dog is under 4-months of age. Five to ten minutes of obedience a day can work wonders. Especially if you are consistent.
Using rewards or praise to teach obedience
Many people like to use treats or rewards for obedience training. And this can work, especially with very young dogs. But for hunting dogs, over the long-term treats can become a problem. Here at Otter Tail Kennels, we work with a retriever’s natural desire to get lasting results. We do not want our dogs, or the dogs we train to be obedient only because they are getting a food reward. We want them to be obedient because they understand their place in the family and respect the owners.
To get these lasting results, we use praise (words and petting) and a reward that retrievers live for – retrieves!
Well-timed praise is a particularly important part of dog training. A GOOD DOG said at the right time can help your hunting puppy understand that he/she is doing what you want and expect them to do. At the same time, a GOOD DOG said at the wrong time, such as after calling your puppy 10 times with a HERE command, can send the wrong message. A message that it is okay to ignore me the first 9 times!
To keep your retriever’s attitude up during obedience training, we mix in what we call play retrieves. This simply means that after a few minutes of formal obedience training, we release the dog with an OKAY command and that means they can run around and be a dog. We then throw a bumper or plug a for the dog to retriever. We do this a few times with a lot of excitement and allow the dog to retrieve the bumper. For retriever breeds, this is often more effective than a food reward.
Be careful that you are not letting your puppy get into bad habits with retrieving. For instance, if your puppy often goes out to retrieve the bumper but then runs away with it, or picks it up and drops it, do not continue doing retrieves. While retrieving is a reward for many Labs, it is not an excuse to engage in behaviors that are not going to be acceptable in the field. If you want to learn more about how to properly teach your Lab to retrieve, check out How can I teach my retriever puppy to fetch?
Introduction to leash and nylon collar
The very first step for any puppy obedience is to introduce your puppy to a regular collar and leash. This should be done in two separate steps, first the collar and then the leash.
Introduce the collar by putting a nylon type collar on your puppy. He/she may not like the collar. You may notice that he/she scratches at the collar or runs around trying to get it off. This is normal and you should not react to it. Just give the puppy some time and he/she will get used to wearing the collar.
Introducing the leash is a little different. We like to do this outside. Hook a light weight 6-foot leash to the puppy’s collar and then just let the puppy walk around with the leash dragging behind him/her. After a few sessions of this introduction, you can start holding the leash by the end and walking with the puppy.
When the puppy tries to run or walk away, hold tight to the leash, and just let the puppy get used to the resistance. Some puppies have a hard time with this and will growl or whine and whip themselves around at the pressure, but most will not. No matter what the puppy’s reaction, you, the owner, and handler, should not react. Remain calm and after a few sessions the puppy should get used to the resistance of the leash. Do not allow the puppy to pull you around. That will make for some bad behaviors that you will need to correct later. If you cannot control your puppy with just a regular collar and leash, you may need to move to a chain or prong collar to keep control.
What commands to teach Lab puppy
There are only four basic obedience commands that you need to teach your young puppy.
Remember when it comes to commands, less is more. Use as few of words as possible to teach you dog what you want him/her to do. This will make things clearer in your dog’s mind. For instance, we use the command SIT and do not use a STAY command. For us, SIT means STAY until you are released, so there is no need for the additional command.
The commands you need to teach your puppy are:
- SIT (also means STAY) – SIT means for the dog to place his bottom on the ground.
- HERE (or COME if you prefer) – HERE is used to call your dog to you.
- HEEL – HEEL is the position of a dog while walking or sitting next to you, his/her shoulder should be right near your thigh.
- OKAY – this is a release command, basically tells your dog were done training, go be a dog.
As your puppy grows and learns more, there are some other commands that may be needed, but for puppies I like to start with just the four above.
Dog training requires consistency
Before you start with obedience training, I want to make a note about the importance of consistency. Obedience training only works if you are consistent. This means that when you say a command, you expect the puppy to perform the command, and are willing to take steps to make the puppy perform the command. If you do not remain consistent in this expectation, you will confuse your dog and get poor results from your training. You (and your family) must be consistent!
How to start obedience training Lab puppy
The first command you want to start teaching your puppy is SIT.
This is quite easy to teach with a small puppy but gets a little tougher as they get bigger. Say SIT as you gently push down on your puppy’s back just in front of the tail. At first, you can say the command several times as you are pushing him/her into a SIT position. When he/she SITS, keep your hand on their bottom and say GOOD DOG, SIT. Then release the puppy with the OKAY command.
Repeat this process several times, then stop. If your puppy is 7-8 weeks old, you can repeat this training several times a day for only a couple minutes at a time. As they progress, you can move from pushing down your puppy’s backside to pulling up on his/her collar with a lead and saying SIT.
Teaching SIT to eat
You can also start teaching your puppy to SIT before getting to eat. This will be a two-person job for a little while. Have one person say SIT and push down on the puppy’s back end until he/she SITS. The other person will put the food down a few feet from the puppy. If the puppy tries to move toward the food, the person handling the puppy should say NO, SIT and push his/her bottom back down. Then release the puppy to eat saying OKAY.
This will be very tough for the first few times because most Labs love to eat, but the pup will quickly learn that he/she will not get to eat until they SIT. Soon you will realize that you do not need to hold the puppy’s bottom down. As the pup learns and understands the command better, you will no longer need a second person to hold the puppy. If the puppy moves from a SIT before you release him/her, quickly pick up the food and say NO, SIT. You will be surprised how fast your puppy understands that he/she must sit to get the food.
SIT before opening door to go outside
Another great place to teach the SIT command is by making your puppy SIT at the door before you let him/her outside. You must be a little careful here because young puppies do not have great bladder control and making them wait, even a few seconds, can mean the difference between an accident and them doing their business outside.
We generally wait a few weeks to work on this so that the puppy can grow and mature and get better bladder control before we start requiring him/her to SIT prior to being let outside. But this is a great way to teach impulse control and manners to your puppy. If you are like me, I hate being pushed out of the way by my dog when I go to let him/her outside. I do not want to have to fight for a position by the door. I want my dog to respect that I will tell him/her when he/she can go out and until then they need to SIT and wait for my OKAY command.
Teaching a Lab puppy the HERE command
After your puppy is understanding SIT well, the second command you want to teach you puppy is the HERE command. You can usually start working on this within a week or two of teaching SIT. A great way to teach this command to young puppies is to use two people and sit in a long hallway, one at each end. Take turns calling your puppy with a HERE command. A toy or treat can often help the process.
Alternatively, you can hook a long check cord up to your puppy’s collar. Let your puppy run around a bit but hold onto the end of the cord. Occasionally, call you puppy with a HERE command. It can be helpful at first to crouch down to encourage the puppy to run towards you. If you puppy does not start running toward you, gently pull him/her to you saying HERE repeatedly. When the puppy is directly in front of you, say GOOD DOG and pet him/her a little. Then release the puppy with an OKAY command. Do this a few more times and repeat daily until the puppy is coming to you without you needing to pull the cord.
Teaching your puppy the HEEL command
If you like to take your puppy on walks, the HEEL command is especially important. It is also the command most of our clients struggle with the most. Mostly because they are using the wrong tool for the job. For heeling work, it is important that you work with a chain or prong collar. This will give you more control and stop the pulling and surging that many people struggle with.
Using a chain or prong collar and a six-foot leash, start walking your puppy at your side. If your puppy is young, be sure to use a puppy chain collar which is smaller than chain collars for adult dogs. And make sure that you are putting it on correctly!
An alternate tool to a chain collar and leash is the Wonder or Command Lead. These work great for teaching HEEL.
As you start walking use gently tugs on the chain collar with the command HERE to keep your puppy at your side. If your puppy surges or pulls ahead, simply make a 180 degree turn and start walking the other direction giving a sharp, upward tug on the chain collar and saying HEEL several times until the dog is back in a heeling position.
Now I won’t lie to you, you may not make very much progress those first few days. Many of our clients have told us they never left their driveway the first few days! But if you are patient and consistent, your dog will quickly learn that if they want to go for a walk, they need to stay at your side.
If you want to learn and progress in more obedience work, check out these obedience drills for retrievers.
Final thoughts on how to teach your lab puppy obedience
Teaching your puppy obedience may take a lot of patience, time and work, but it is such an important thing to do. You will never regret the time! A well-mannered dog is such a joy to be around both in the home and in the field.