Moving into your puppy’s sixth month, you should notice a dramatic change in your dog’s ability to learn and progress through training. Most dogs show some maturity at six-months of age and all the work you have done up to this point (assuming you have done the work in the previous posts) should start coming together. Here is the training you can work on with your 6-month-old Lab puppy.
Bubba has changed so much from the seven-week-old puppy we brought home to the gangly 6-month-old she has become. She is still Bubba – full of energy and mischief and always ready to go. But she has matured in many ways too.
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For instance, now, when I take her out of the dog trailer to train, she knows the process and embraces it. She understands that if she wants to do the fun stuff – the retrieving – she must do her obedience training. Bubba willingly sits still while I put on her electronic collar and chain collar. During the obedience work, she pays attention to the commands and complies quickly (most of the time). She is still a 6-month-old puppy, so she makes quite a few mistakes and gets a little too excited at times, but she is progressing well.
Maintaining this obedience will be key from now on.
Obedience training your 6-month-old puppy
Bubba is now old enough to go through electronic collar conditioning. She has been wearing an electronic collar for a few weeks already. The collar has never been turned on, but it has been something we require Bubba to wear each and every time we let her outside. This process, having your dog wear an electronic collar for a period with NO corrections, is called collar conditioning.
Collar conditioning your Lab puppy
Collar conditioning is necessary so that when we are ready to use the electronic collar for corrections, Bubba is none the wiser and has no idea that the collar she has been wearing for weeks is the source of the correction.
It also helps so that down the line, Bubba will not become collar wise. Collar wise dogs are obedient only when the electronic collar is on and are disobedient when it is off. This is something we want to avoid if possible.
Using the electronic collar to enforce obedience
The second step in collar conditioning is using the electronic collar to enforce obedience commands that Bubba already knows. For instance, Bubba knows the command SIT. Previously, if Bubba did not obey when I said SIT, I would tap her bottom with the heeling stick or push down on her bottom. Now, I will do the same obedience drill, but I will use the electronic collar as the correction.
Be very careful. There is a right way to introduce the electronic collar corrections, so be sure and read my post on introducing the electronic collar. Prior to using the e-collar the first time.
Making the e-collar a positive experience
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 when putting an electronic collar on a dog. 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.
Training and socializing a six-month-old Labrador puppy
Most dogs that we train for hunting or competition enter our program at around the age of 6-7 months. Bubba is coming right up to that point now. So, I will be switching from the puppy training program in the next few weeks, and she will officially start our Sportsman training program. Since she will also be going through our advanced program, some of the drills for the advanced work will be mixed into the training to move her along with the most efficiency.
Here are the things I have been working on with Bubba this month. Many of these training concepts and drills will continue, but on a more interim basis since we have many more concepts to cover within the hunting and advanced programs.
Self-control and restraint
It is vital for all dogs to learn self-control and restraint. No dog should be allowed to just react on a whim and be excused for their action simply because they are a dog. Having a dog is a responsibility. A reactive dog with no training can hurt someone, and you, as the owner, will be liable for that injury.
I am constantly amazed at how little expectation most people have for their dogs. Many people constantly make up excuses for why their dog is so disobedient or being a terror. The expectation is just so low, that many owners are willing to put up with anything.
I have had owners tell me, “You cannot control a dog.” Really?
The truth is that working dogs can be taught self-control and restraint and you should constantly be working on this trait. In past posts I have given many examples on how you can do this, and quite honestly there are no limitations here. Use your imagination and put your dog in situations in which he/she must exhibit self-control. Sitting while you set out his/her food, sitting before you let them outside, and sitting even when there are extreme distractions are all examples of things you can work on that teach your dog self-control. When your dog fails in the situation, correct him/her and repeat.
One example that comes to mind is teaching your dog to go into his/her kennel when the doorbell rings. Many of our clients talk about having problems with their dog accosting anyone who comes through the door. Teaching your dog to kennel when the doorbell rings or when someone knocks on the door can quickly eliminate this problem. Yes, it will take some work and a LOT of repetition, but it will be worth in in the end.
HEELING a 6-month-old puppy
What a difference a month can make. At five-months-old, Bubba was heeling on lead, but her attitude was not great, and she struggled with self-control. Now, Bubba heels so nice, it is relaxing to walk with her. She stays in the correct position and pays good attention to my legs so that she is ready when I turn or stop.
We will continue to work on HEEL and will be adding off-lead obedience in the future, but her progress is right on schedule, and I am very happy with how well she is doing now.
Learn more about How to obedience train a Labrador puppy.
Teaching a 6-month-old puppy remote SIT
This is another area where Bubba has made huge progress. If you have been following this series, you know that Bubba struggled with a remote SIT for a long time. I knew it was a maturity issue for her, but I was unprepared for how quickly the maturity for this arrived.
Bubba will now remote SIT with amazing steadiness. She will remain sitting when I tug on her lead, when I jump up and down and when I squat in front of her. Bubba may look away, especially when I squat right in front of her, but that is okay, she is looking away so that she can remain steady in her SIT.
We also worked on the REMOTE SIT to HEEL drill, and Bubba comes into a HEEL position from a remote SIT quickly, with a good attitude and precision. It is very fun to watch her progress on these drills. Her progress tells me she is smart and tractable. She wants to please and do what we ask her to do. This is a great characteristic for a working dog.
The REMOTE SIT to HEEL drill is the first step of teaching the dog to deliver a bird to a HEEL position. Through lots and lots of exposure to this drill, dogs quickly learn that when I say HEEL and put my left hand out from my side slightly and they should come into that position.
COME or HERE for your 6-month-old puppy
I am happy to say that we have finally mastered the HERE command. Of course, I knew that once I was able to start working with electronic collar, I would make progress. There is nothing that solidifies the HERE command like an electronic collar. It gives you the ability to reach out and touch your dog no matter where they are, and the ability to enforce the command immediately after your dog has refused is what makes all the difference.
All dogs learn faster when the correction is closely timed to the refusal. Bubba is no exception. She now quickly complies with the HERE command except for a few testing moments. All dogs will test, they are not robots, the trick is to be ready for the test and respond with a quick correction.
Of course, this means that you must be diligent about putting the e-collar on your dog each time you let him/her out. If you are not consistent with this, and your dog gets away with a refusal, then you are now on a slippery slope. DO NOT run and get your electronic collar when your dog refuses a command, strap it on him/her and give a correction. If you do, you will quickly have made your dog collar-wise. Then you have even more problems. Put the collar on regularly as part of your dog’s routine and always have your transmitter with you. Expect your dog to test your authority and be ready to give a correction at the precise time. This is the most humane way to teach your dog to be obedient.
Retrieving with your 6-month-old Lab puppy
At six months old, Bubba understands the retrieving game, and she LOVES it. She runs out like gangbusters, picks up the bumper or bird and runs back with the same enthusiasm. Bubba delivers all the marks to my hand (we won’t expect a HEEL delivery until after force fetch). She will then flip herself around and wait for the next throw. Her enthusiasm is contagious and so much fun. I must take care though, not to overdo it. Too many retrieves is the fastest way to destroy desire, I want to stop while she still wants more.
Our policy is to limit dogs to 3-4 retrieves in one session. Especially for puppies of her age.
Steady and Lab puppies
At six-months-old we will not steady Bubba yet. One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to steady their dog too early. For those not familiar with the term steady, this means to make your dog SIT and wait to be sent for the mark or throw.
We can always work on steady but if we destroy Bubba’s desire now, we cannot replace that. So we will leave steady work until she is a bit older.
Marking drills for 6-month-old puppies
After working through the BACK-UP drill, Bubba can now do 50–60-yard marks. These are simple, single marks with a bumper that is easy to see (white) or a bird. More complexity such as deeper cover, longer marks and more complex marks with be added once Bubba is through force fetch.
Because Bubba with be an Advanced Waterfowl dog, we also will start teaching her simple doubles and basic casting work this month. This is not something I would recommend for most dogs but because we have the experience and a very proven training plan, we like to begin introductions to this early on.
What is next for Bubba?
Bubba will begin our step-by-step training program for hunting dogs starting in her seventh month. This means she will continue obedience and start learning HOLD, force fetch, collar fetch and walk fetch. These steps are vital for the rest of the training. The training will take her through the next month and then she will be ready for the real learning such as hunting scenarios, blind work, and having live birds shot over her all while working through the very detailed advanced training.
Final thoughts on training for your 6-month-old Labrador puppy
Bubba has been a good example of the training we do here at Otter Tail Kennels for dogs purchased though our Custom Trained Retrievers. Each dog is different, and yet there are some very similar challenges with each one. It is always fun to watch these pups go from little fur balls to intense working dogs over a matter of months.
I hope you have enjoyed following Bubba through this journey. I will continue to post progress photos on our Instagram and Facebook pages.
If you are struggling or need additional help with your new puppy, you can email me (email@example.com) 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.