|Considering finding your Lab a new home because you can’t control him or her?
Are you weary of some of your Lab’s less than endearing behaviors?
Are you at your wits’ end?
You aren’t alone. We hear stories with these elements all the time, often from people who would like to keep their dogs but don’t know what to do to make their situations better. We’d like to offer the following advice for those of you who aren’t sure that giving up your Lab is something you are ready to do just yet. Perhaps we can help you identify alternatives that you haven’t explored.
If your Lab does things that you find difficult to live with– for example, jumping on you, pulling on a leash when you walk him or her, begging at the table, not listening to you, not coming when you call, dashing out the door at every opportunity, unable or unwilling to do a sit, down, or stay, or is doing these things for one family member and not for another — you might want to consider enlisting the help of a qualified trainer. Check out our Resources and Links page for help in finding a trainer near you or our Training Tips for some helpful information. Recommendations from your vet or local ASPCA also are useful.
Frequently, people will remark that they thought their Lab would “grow out” of some of these undesirable behaviors and wouldn’t need training. This is a frequent misconception. It is not enough to discipline your Lab for doing something that he or she is not supposed to do. You, as the owner, must show your Lab the right thing to do instead of the undesirable behavior. All too often, behaviors that are cute in a 30 lb. puppy become obnoxious or even dangerous in a 100 lb. Lab. Undesirable behavior must be corrected — firmly, not harshly – using positive reinforcement.
If your Lab has never been to a formal obedience class or hasn’t been to one in a long time, that might be a good place to start. Not only will you feel like you are doing something to work with your Lab’s issues, but also you will learn how to train your Lab in an appropriate and effective manner. We strongly recommend that you seek out a trainer who uses ONLY positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise-based training or clicker training. Methods that use punishment (verbal or physical) are not only cruel but also totally ineffective. The cost for a typical group obedience course runs between $40 and $125 for a 4- to 6-week course, depending upon your area and the type of facility you attend.
If you have tried group classes but your Lab’s issues are more specific than what a standard obedience course covers, you might want to consider a few private sessions with a trainer. The goal of these sessions should not be to “fix” your dog but to learn how to work with your dog to correct the problems over time. Rates for private trainers vary widely, from $30 to $100 an hour.
There are also so-called “overnight” obedience schools for which you take your Lab to the facility, a trainer works with your Lab and then you pick up your Lab several weeks later after he or she is supposedly completely trained. These programs are often very expensive and not very effective. You must be a participant in your Lab’s training if you expect your Lab to obey you. The cost for this type of service can run thousands of dollars.
The good news is that ANY dog can learn (or unlearn) most behaviors. All dogs can learn to walk on a leash without pulling, and any dog can learn to come when called. It takes dedication and patience on the owner’s part. No dog is “fixed” or “cured” in a few hours or even a few weeks. Consistent training and ongoing reinforcement is necessary. The rewards can be worth it for both the owner and the dog.
Behavioral issues are different than training issues and require a different approach to deal with them. Behavioral issues can include separation anxiety, fear/phobia manifestation, excessive barking, habitual escaping, house-soiling (in a housetrained dog), chewing or other destructive behaviors. Stress is often a contributing cause of behavioral issues but it’s not the only cause.
Behavioral issues (as opposed to obedience issues) cannot be simply “trained” out of a dog’s repertoire of actions. The root cause of the behavior must first be identified and then modified using desensitization exercises, counter-conditioning, behavior prevention, behavior modification and sometimes short-term medication. The help of a certified animal behaviorist is very useful (if not required) when dealing with behavior issues. See our Resources and Links page for help in locating a certified animal behaviorist in your area.
Be aware that many trainers call themselves behaviorists of one kind or another, regardless of their background or training. The Animal Behavior Society professionally certifies applied animal behaviorists who meet its criteria, and the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists certifies veterinarians as specialists in behavior. Their hourly rates may be $100 or more; however, their expertise is often invaluable when dealing with serious behavioral issues.
Whether you’re dealing with obedience or behavioral issues, the following things will be required of you, the owner, in order for the training or behavior modification to be successful:
- Patience. Dogs learn by repetition and positive reinforcement. You will repeat the same commands possibly hundreds of times before your dog will begin to obey them with consistency.
- Clarity. Be consistent. Dogs do not have the talent for contextual interpretation that humans do. Use the same command word all the time to illicit the action you want. For example, don’t use DOWN and OFF interchangeably.
- Open-mindedness. Be willing to try new things. If, despite your best efforts, you haven’t had success in getting your dog to do something or not do something, be open to the advice of your trainer or behaviorist. You are paying them to help you. Let them.
- Kindness. Be kind to your dog. Your dog does what he does because he hasn’t been taught to do anything differently. Often we are on such familiar terms with our dogs that we forget that they don’t have ESP. You have to show your dog what you want him to do, not just tell him what you don’t want him to do.
Lastly, if you’ve read this far and still can’t see yourself making the investment of time and energy in your dog, for whatever reason, to make him or her the companion you desire, then consider making the decision to allow a rescue to help you re-home your dog in a new forever home.