Labradors make loyal, loving companions that are ready for an adventure at a moment’s notice. Their endless energy and enthusiasm can occasionally make it difficult to get their attention when they are surrounded by exciting distractions.
The following tips will enable you to keep your dog alert and obedient even in the presence of large crowds or other animals.
1. Carry a Bag of Treats Everywhere You Go
Keep a supply of your Labrador’s favourite treats with you every time you head out. This is by far the best way to keep the undivided attention of a Labrador as most are captivated by any form of food.
Start by getting your dog used to focusing on you whilst they are still in the home. Call your dog to heel, and then show him the bag of treats.
Wait for him to make eye contact before praising him and giving a treat. When you are outside, call his name at random intervals, and then immediately praise him as soon as you get his attention.
2. Be The Leader of the Pack
Dogs are pack animals. They still share the same instincts as wolves who are their closest ancestors. The leader of the pack is in charge of food, sleeping arrangements, protecting the environment and dishing out punishment.
To enforce your status as boss, never feed your dog from your plate until you have completely finished. Do not allow him to jump up onto the furniture unless you have first invited him to do so.
Ensure your dog stands behind you whenever you enter or exit your home, and never allow him to barge past you as soon as the door begins to open.
3. Practice Outdoor Training
Training outside is a completely different experience from the quiet and comfort of your home. In the house, your dog is grateful for any form of entertainment as Labradors almost always prefer being in the great outdoors to sitting inside. Parks and woods are filled with exciting smells, sounds, other dogs and small animals to chase.
Even the most obedient dog will quickly forget himself in the face of so many distractions, so practice regular outdoor training from a young age. Start in a quiet section of the park, and then gradually move towards crowds of people and other dogs.
4. Offer Something Irresistible
Compared to chasing squirrels, rolling in mud and diving into rivers, standing next to you is simply not that exciting to a Labrador.
Therefore, you will have to give him some incentive to keep his focus on you and immediately return when called. Food is a great bargaining chip, but you can also use praise or your dog’s favorite toy.
If your dog is far away from you and you need to recall him quickly, shout or clap your hands to get his attention. Immediately begin running away from your dog in the opposite direction. Most dogs will immediately give chase to try and catch you.
5. Never Scold Your Dog for Ignoring You
Even though it can be incredibly frustrating to repeatedly call your dog’s name only to have him ignore you, never lose your temper and scold him.
If your dog associates looking at you with a negative experience, then he will be far less likely to give you his undivided attention. Instead, call your dog’s name once, and wait patiently until he looks at you.
Reward him immediately with a treat, toy or plenty of praise. If your dog is completely absorbed in digging, sniffing or licking strangers, then you may have to click your fingers or clap to get his attention.
6. Try Clicker Training
Clicker training is a hugely popular way to get a dog to focus on its owner immediately. This method uses positive reinforcement.
It requires the owner to push the clicker to get the dog’s attention before immediately following this up with a treat. Clickers can be purchased cheaply from most pet stores or online.
There are many books and websites that have fantastic information on how to correctly use the clicker. This method does not work for every dog.
However, if your Labrador’s ears prick up at the sound of a plastic food wrapper, then clicker training will most likely work extremely well to get his attention.
7. Play The Attention Game
The attention game is a great way to judge how much progress you have made in your training. Start by placing your dog on the leash at home and sitting on the floor in front of him.
Wait for him to look at you, and then give him a reward every time you get eye contact. Set a timer for one minute, and count how many times your dog looks at you.
The frequency with which your dog gives you his attention should gradually increase every time you complete this exercise. Practice this in your backyard, local park and finally in a crowded place such as a town center to slowly introduce distractions.
8. Teach Your Dog to Make Eye Contact With You
To shift your dog’s attention onto you rather than the thing he wants to do, teach him that he has to look at you first in order to get what he wants.
If your Labrador becomes hypnotised by his food bowl, refuse to set it down until he makes eye contact with you. Before opening the door to let your dog out, place your hand on the handle and wait for his attention.
Most dogs will stare intently at the door waiting for it to open, but they will eventually look up in order to see what the holdup is. As soon as you get eye contact, you can continue with the task.
9. Play Hide and Seek
Playing hide and seek with your dog is a great way to get them used to keeping an eye on you when they are off the leash. Start by hiding somewhere in the home while your dog is in the other room.
Call your dog’s name once, and then wait for him to find you. Greet your dog with plenty of praise or even a small treat. You can also practice this outside by hiding behind trees or bushes whenever your dog walks ahead of you.
However, it is advisable only to practice this in open spaces as your dog can easily get lost trying to find you in dense woodland.
10. Purchase a Training Leash
A training leash is a great tool to teach your dog to come when called without worrying about him running away the first time you set him free.
Purchase the longest leash you can find. Around 30 – 40 feet is an ideal length to get your dog used to roaming away from you. Start with a length of around 10 feet. Wait until your dog is occupied with something interesting, and then call his name and show him a treat or toy.
If he doesn’t come immediately you can give a gentle tug on the leash to get his attention. Gradually increase the length as your dog begins to obey and return the second he is called.
11. Exercise Your Dog Frequently
Regular exercise is an essential part of owning a dog in order to keep them happy and healthy. Labradors need a huge amount of exercise, or they will quickly channel their frustrations into destructive behavior.
A dog that rarely leaves his own yard will also be much less likely to listen to its owner due to the excitement of finally getting out into the big wide world.
Socialize your dog from a very young age. Continue to introduce the dog to as many new situations as possible. Your dog will then feel much calmer and less excited when faced with a new experience.