The Old Trainer: Happy-go-lucky Lab very difficult to train

December 28, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: My Lab, Rip, is 2.

I love him, but it's hard to train him. He learns fast if he is serious, but he refuses to concentrate. He plays while I am trying to train him and I can't help laughing at his antics. Should I hire a


-- Lea, Mill Valley

A: No. All you have to do is outsmart Rip.

I am currently working with Barkley, a Lab the same age as Rip. He can't focus on training because he is so happy. He even enjoys being scolded because at least I am paying attention to him.

It is like trying to train Howie Mandel.

My solution was to incorporate play into the training. I throw a ball for him, but won't throw it again until he sits on command. It took him three sessions to figure out he has to "sit" before he gets to chase the ball. Now he sits the instant he hears the command.

This week I added "stay." Now he has to sit, then stay in place while I take several steps away from him. If he does, I throw the ball. If not, I go back to "sit," explain that he has to stay in place, and try it again.

Try this with Rip and concentrate on three things:

1. Stand erect with your head high as you give commands

2. Work on training for two minutes, play for one minute, then repeat

3. Be all business on the training part. If you are not serious, Rip will see it at a glance and play rather that work.

Exercise Rip to calm him down before training. Take him for a run or a swim, or throw a ball for him until he is panting.

Be patient. Love on Rip when he does it right;

lecture him when he does not. As he learns one

command add a new one to the routine, but keep working on the old ones.

He doesn't have to

master a command in one

session. You are

succeeding if he improves a little each day. As he

matures -- and you progress as a trainer -- he will learn at a faster rate.

Dear Old Trainer: Spec, my 5-year old mixed breed, is starting to get tartar on his teeth. I see treats at the store that claim they remove tartar. Have you tried them, and do they work?

-- Derek, Oakland

A: I tried one of those treats with my pack for a while. It took about two seconds for them to take one, crunch it, and swallow it. If the product can

remove tartar that fast I should be eating them


The one item that seems to help is plain old beef bones. Buy only the

thickest part of the leg bone and have it cut in 3-inch segments. They cost a fraction of what the fancy dog treats cost, and the pack chews on them for hours. When one dog loses interest in a bone, another dog takes over.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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