Adding Rules and Structure to Help a Lab Puppy Listen to and Respect His Owner

WinstonWinston is a four-month-old, black lab puppy. His owner contacted me to stop him from jumping up on guests and getting too excited.

Labs are wonderful dogs, but when they are puppies they have more than an abundance of energy. I have helped a number of dogs who’s owner told me that if I wasn’t able to solve the problem, the dog would be re-homed.  All but two of those cases involved labs.

When I first met Winston I could tell this was a simple matter of a lack of his understanding of the concept of rules and boundaries. He jumped up on me, dug into my bag, ran around in circles, barked in protest and basically acted like a madman.

I put him on a leash and stepped on it about a foot away from where it attached to his collar. Winston barked in protest and tried to pull himself free, but after a moment he flopped onto the floor and relaxed.

Once he relaxed, I slowly stepped off the leash taking care to do it without the dog knowing he was no longer restricted by my standing on the leash. After a few minutes, Winston slowly got up and walked away calmly.

I suggested that his owner repeat this process any time the dog started to get over excited. By giving the dog a “time out” when its starts to get too wound up, we can help the dog learn that when its calm it has run of the house and when its not calm, the consequence is being put on the leash.

Next I went over some basic communication tips; how to disagree with unwanted behavior, how to claim personal space, how to get Winston to stop jumping up, etc. Dog communication is a very subtle thing. How you are positioned, your timing and position near the dog can all have a big impact.

As Winston’s owners adopted these new methods of communication, you could see a genuine desire to please his owner come from the dog. Dogs usually want to please their owner. Once their owner knows how to communicate what they do and don’t want, most dogs fall into line immediately. Winston was no exception.

To help him focus, I showed Winston’s owners an exercise that will help teach him to look to his owners for guidance and learn as well as how to restrain himself. Dogs usually react to an action or movement without any thought to their actions. Developing the ability to restrain himself will pay big dividends down the road for Winston and his owners.

I was able to get Winston to complete the exercise the very first time I showed it to him. But when it became time for his owner to repeat the process, it didn’t go as smoothly. Winston’s owner was a little slow in his reactions and indecisive in his movements the first few times we ran through the exercise. Dogs respond and respect clear confident leadership and Winston’s owner’s hesitation was telling the dog that the owner didn’t really mean it.

After adjusting things a bit and refining his owner’s technique, Winston started to perform the right way when his owner ran through the exercise. I suggested that they practice the exercise a few times a day over the next week or two so that Winston can develop his ability to restrain himself for longer and longer periods of time.

By the end of the session, Winston was much calmer and reacted much quicker to commands and corrections from his owner. I love seeing how quickly dog’s can change their behavior once their owner starts communicating with them in a way they understand. Based on how much progress we made in the two hour session, it shouldn’t take long for these new behaviors to become Winston’s new normal behavior.

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