DEAR OLD TRAINER: After months of work I finally made progress with Devo, my 2-year old (approx.) Black Lab on sit-stay-come. I thought it was impossible, but he’s actually starting to mind. At least most of the time. What command should I work on next?
Dennis, San Bruno, Calif.
A: Congratulations. Labs can be hard to train sometimes, especially young males. They are good dogs and smart enough to learn anything, but are born so happy they see training as another game to play with the human they love.
I’m currently working with Major, a Black Lab about the same age as Devo, who’s so happy he wags his tail even when I scold him. He doesn’t care how much I gripe as long as I pay attention to him while I do it.
Devo has completed basic education and is ready for finishing school. Here are three exercises guaranteed to remove “most of the time” from his report card. First is the “hold” command. It tells him to stop whatever he is doing and stand still until you tell him to move. It’s similar to the stay command except you give it when he is in front of you or some distance away.
While walking Devo — on a flexible leash of course, leave the short leashes to the folks of the dog show world — give the command, then give a light tug on the leash to make sure he comes to a halt. Once he does, praise and pet him. Repeat the exercise 5 or 6 times, one right after the other, walk for a while, then do it all again.
Devo will learn fast if you practice with him every day, so include it as part of your daily walk. Once he has it down, take him into the yard without the leash and continue the practice. When he does it right love on him. If he ignores the command make him sit, give him a lecture, put the leash back on, and go back to step one.
The second exercise will be incorporated into his daily feeding. Before you set his food down order Devo to sit and stay. Use a hand signal the same as a traffic cop when he holds traffic. If you have to, restrain him with your hand while you repeat the command. Once he sits, place the food on the floor and after a few seconds motion him toward the food and say “okay.” Don’t allow him to eat until you give the okay.
When he does it right, brag on him and allow him to eat. If he doesn’t stay pick the food up and repeat the sequence until he does.
Once he learns the command, vary your actions from day to day. Allow him to eat immediately some days, order him to stay on others.
The final step is to use the same sit and stay commands before allowing Devo in or out of the car or the house. Once he learns the command, use it every time he enters or exits any door.
These last two commands extend your psychological control over Devo. Each time he obeys them the bond between you becomes stronger.
As always, the most vital aspect of training is love, petting, and praise, so give Devo plenty of all three.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.