Preparing your puppy for a life of hunting and/or competition
Congratulations! If you are following my training of Bubba, you know that training a 3–4-month-old puppy is a big challenge. If you have made it to your puppy’s fifth month, you have made it through the hardest time. By the time your puppy reaches the 5-month age, they have generally started to mature (some, not a lot) and are usually a bit more receptive to training. Here is the training you can work on with your 5-month-old Lab puppy.
Bubba has turned the corner from puppy to adolescent. She now understands the training schedule and looks forward to being trained twice a day. I know this because when Bubba comes out of the dog trailer, she is watching me and bouncing in anticipation of being trained. She has learned that if she does her obedience work, she gets to retrieve. And she LOVES to retrieve. So, she is willing to do the work to get the reward.
This simple shift has made working with Bubba so much more enjoyable. Now is when I get to really see her start to improve, and I find that so rewarding.
Training and socialization for five-month-old Labrador puppy
Here are the things we have been working on and will continue to work on with Bubba in month five.
Increased self-control and restraint
This goes hand-in-hand with obedience. I must continue to increase my expectations of Bubba and put her in more and more situations where she must make the decision to obey. At this age, I can see the conflict going on in her mind. I call her with a HERE command, but she wants to run after the cat. She looks at me, so I know she heard me and then she looks at the cat. If I observe this conflict, I generally will say, NO- HERE. At this point, she will more often than not choose to obey the HERE command and come to me.
This is huge. It shows some maturity and an increase in knowledge and understanding of right and wrong behavior. Dog trainers live for times like these. It means the dog is growing and learning and making good choices.
HERE LET GO drill
A good drill to work on, at almost any age, but especially now is the HERE LET GO drill. This drill is very simple. You simply let your dog run around in your home or yard and occasionally call him/her with a HERE command. When your dog comes to you, pet him/her then say OKAY to release the dog to go run around again.
Why is this important? Well, most people have problems with their dog coming to them consistently. The reason is most often because each time the dog comes the dog gets put away in the house, or in a crate. Or they get something taken away from them like a toy or a stick. If the only times your dog comes to you, they have a negative experience, it doesn’t take long for the dog to not want to come to you.
The HERE LET GO drill helps you establish a healthy relationship with the dog and the HERE command. It allows your dog to learn that coming to you is a good thing and not a bad thing.
Obedience training your 5-month-old puppy
We continue to work on obedience daily with Bubba and will for at least the next 3-6 months. After that, we will still do obedience training at least twice a week. Obedience is not training that you eventually say, “I’m done!”. You are never done obedience training. Your dog may get very good at obedience work, but if you do not work on it for a few weeks or longer, it will start to deteriorate.
For now, we simply use a chain collar and heeling stick, but not too far down the line we will start collar conditioning her for corrections by the electronic collar. In fact, technically, we are already collar conditioning Bubba since each time we take her out to train we put an e-collar on her. It is a small puppy sized collar and it is not turned on, but she wears it each time she gets trained. So, when I pull out the e-collar, Bubba gets very excited because she knows she is going to get trained. This is the response we are looking for.
Some dogs get very excited when the owner grabs the leash, because they know that they are going for a walk. This is the same reaction we are looking for from putting on an electronic collar. The dog should not act differently when the e-collar is on. If your dog cowers or fights you when you want to put the e-collar on, then you have introduced the collar incorrectly and your dog now thinks that the e-collar is a bad thing. This means that your dog is collar wise and will act completely different when the e-collar is on. This is a huge problem because it is very likely your dog will be obedient when the collar is on and disobedient when the collar is off. That is not what we want to achieve. We want your dog to be obedient with or without the e-collar on.
At this young age, we often do what I call micro-obedience sessions. These are obedience training sessions, but they are only around 3-5 minutes long. These are very effective for puppies because they have a very short attention span.
You just must pick one obedience command to focus on for each micro-session, preferably only one drill. Don’t complicate things by trying to pack too much into each session. It is better to do 2-3 micro-sessions a day than to try and pack too much into each session.
HEELING a 5-month-old puppy
Since last month, Bubba is heeling on lead very well. She is not perfect, she is still a puppy and therefore makes a lot of mistakes, but she understands the HEEL command and I can walk in squares or a figure 8 and she is following my legs for the turns.
I will continue to work on longer and longer walks with Bubba at heel throughout the month. Learn more about How to obedience train a Labrador puppy.
Teaching a 5-month-old puppy remote SIT
We have also made progress on remote SIT for Bubba. Bubba is a chocolate Lab, and as I have said in the past, chocolates tend to mature slower than black or yellow Labs. Because of this, Bubba really struggled with a remote SIT for a long time. She could not seem to stop her little butt from moving! However, we have made progress and she is now sitting still, and I can walk away from her to a distance of around six feet while she remains seated. Again, she makes mistakes. She is a puppy, and we must give her some grace, but we still correct the mistakes and continue to work on improvement.
Bubba’s improvement in this area means that I can now start another drill with her. This drill is REMOTE SIT to HEEL.
For this drill, I make Bubba SIT, walk away from her and face her. The distance can be anywhere from 3 feet to 6 feet. I have her on lead, and I then command HEEL.
This drill is used to teach Bubba to come into a HEEL position from a position away from me. Later, this will be very important since this is the position to which I expect all my dogs to deliver the birds.
As I am standing, facing Bubba a few feet from her, I will say the HEEL command and then guide Bubba into a HEEL position on my left side. She will end facing the same direction I am facing, sitting next to me.
From this position, I say SIT and step away again and repeat the HEEL command.
This is a vital drill that we do with every dog that goes through one of our programs. It teaches the dog to deliver the bird to a HEEL position. By starting this with Bubba at this young age, she will learn quickly what the HEEL position is and soon I will be able to say HEEL and put my left hand out from my side slightly and she will come into that position.
Training your 5-month-old puppy to COME or HERE
We have finally made huge progress on the HERE command with Bubba. I did use treats for a short time, which again, I am not a fan of for many reasons. But now no treats are needed, and Bubba is responding to the HERE command well. Some of this is due to the HERE LET GO drill I explained prior.
HERE is a vital command and so we will work on it daily. Anytime I say HERE, I expect Bubba to respond by running towards me. If she doesn’t, I enforce the command with a sharp NO, HERE or manually when necessary. And for those of you who are wondering, yes, manually does mean chasing her puppy butt down, putting on a lead and pulling her towards me with the HERE command all the way back to where I was when I issued the command.
It is so important that you never, and I mean NEVER, give a dog a command that you are not willing to enforce in one way or another. For your dog to learn that commands are meant to be obeyed, they must understand that any refusal of the command will be backed up with a correction. The correction may only be a sharp NO, or it may be more serious like a lead correction.
Retrieving with your 5-month-old Lab puppy
In my last post, I talked about how important it is for you to NOT retrieve with a teething-puppy. Once your puppy has all his/her adult teeth in, you can resume retrieving work. Bubba has most of her adult teeth in already, we are just waiting on a few, but she is showing us she is more than ready to retrieve again. So, we have begun hand thrown marks again and she is going out like gangbusters and delivering the bumpers right to my hand.
If I notice any problems with her carrying the bumpers or if she starts dropping them a lot, I will stop again until the teeth are more solid. If Bubba seems to be in pain at all during retrieving, we will stop immediately. We never want her to associate retrieving with pain.
Bubba already understands the retrieving game when it comes to assistant thrown marks too. She sits with me or Steve at the line and faces the gunners (throwers) in the field. She sits tall and proud; she knows what the gunners are out there for, and she is ready to do the work. It is so fun to watch these puppies figure out the game and what their job is.
It is time to start a new retrieving drill with Bubba. This drill is called the BACK UP drill. The drill is designed to get a dog to mark throws that are further and further away. It gets them to run out a longer distance to a mark and not even notice the change in distance.
It is done by starting with a 20–30-yard mark, generally on shorter grass where the bumper can be seen on the ground. Have the thrower throw the bumper and send the dog using their name. After the dog picks up the bumper and is running back to you, take a few large steps backward. Take delivery of the bumper and line your dog up for another mark. The mark will be in the same place, but that location is now several yards deeper since you have backed up. Have the thrower throw another bumper and again send your dog. After the dog picks up the bumper and is running back to you, again back up several yards. Repeat until your dog is retrieving at longer distances.
This drill works well for dogs that have a very strong retrieving desire. For dogs with less desire, you will need to move much slower, only doing 3-4 marks total in a session. Remember, you never want to burn out your dog with retrieves. Always leave them wanting more!
Final thoughts on training for your 5-month-old Labrador puppy
If you have been following these posts, you are getting very close to moving your dog into hunting training. We take dogs for our hunting programs right after their adult teeth are in, so generally at 5-7 months of age. There is much training yet to do if you want a great hunting or competition dog, but if you have been doing the basic work up until now, your dog is well on his/her way to becoming exactly that.
If you are struggling or need additional help with your new puppy, you can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time, happy retrieving.