The Old Trainer: Take command to train Lab

February 18, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: I love your columns and I try your training tips on Crash, my 2-year old Lab. I make a little progress now and then, but most of the time Crash wants to play and doesn't pay much attention. You make it sound so easy, but it is never easy when I try it. Any suggestions?

-- Margaret, Modesto

A: Good point, Margaret. One of my failures is making training sound easy. That's because it is easy for me.

I know I will succeed before I ever step in the training pen and the dog knows it, too. I know it as surely as Sun Tzu knew the result of combat in his book, "The Art of War," in which he said "Every battle is won before it is ever fought."

That concept -- you determine the outcome of a challenge before it occurs by the level of preparation you achieve -- confounds many, but applies to every endeavor. So what steps do you take to make training easy for you?

First, become a leader (I am emailing you past columns detailing how to do it). A dog obeys orders from the leader. If he perceives you as the leader, he does what you tell him to do. Convince yourself that you are the leader -- really convince yourself -- and Crash will accept you as the leader.

Even when you are capable of training Crash you still have to summon the will to do it. That's hard for some owners. They love their dogs so much they just can't bring themselves to discipline them.

You are doing a better job than you think. Young male labs are difficult to train. They are smart but so happy and carefree they even enjoy a reprimand if it means they are getting attention. That's a problem for any trainer.

So work on being the leader and keep training Crash.

There is a scene in "Body Heat" when a jailed William Hurt recalls that Kathleen Turner was "relentless." That's what you have to become. Be relentless in your training and you will see positive results.

The outcome is already determined.

Dear Old Trainer: Winters are cold here. Do I need to feed my two big Husky/Samoyed mixed breeds more to make up for it? How do you adjust feeding to reflect the seasons?

-- Nina, Aspen, Colo.

A: Take extra care in the winter. Dogs spending time in the cold need more calories to regulate their body temperature, but not enough to give them a layer of fat. Check their ribs every few days. You should be able to feel the ribs but not see them. Cut back if they start to gain weight.

Check their coats as well. I added a tablespoon of olive oil to the daily ration of my dogs a month ago because their coats had lost some of the luster. The coats were shiny again in 10 days.

Water is as important in the winter as the summer, so make sure they have access to water at all times.

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