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Training your Labrador in stages makes the whole process easier to understand, more fun and more achievable.
The easiest way to understand how the stages of training work, and how they build on one another, is to turn the whole thing on its head and look at these dog training stages in reverse order.
Let’s start with the finished product, the end result or trained dog that we want to see. Then we’ll see how the whole process works in the right order, and give you lots of links to help you explore and understand each stage as you work through it.
If, for example, you have trained your Labrador to walk nicely on a lead you will want him to keep behaving this way for the long term.
Once you get to the point where your Labrador walks beautifully at your side, it’s pretty obvious that you won’t want him to return to his old ways!
Two years down the line, you still want your dog walking nicely on his lead without pulling or lunging. A year from now, you still want your dog to come each time you call him. And with a little thought and not much effort, you can easily achieve this. That is what stage 5 is all about.
Of course, before you get to Stage 5, you need to get to that wonderful point where your dog does as you ask, anywhere you ask him to do it. We tend to think of this as wilful disobedience or naughtiness. And a lot of people get ‘stuck’ at this stage in the training process. Proofing simply means teaching your dog to obey each command you teach him, in lots of different circumstances. For example, during this stage your dog will learn to ‘come’ even when he is playing with other dogs, to ‘sit’ even though visitors are walking through the door and to ‘stay’ while you place his dinner on the floor instead of diving straight in. During the proofing stage your dog will learn to walk on a loose lead, even when he walks past other dogs, or people, to lie down in public places, or on his bed while you eat.
This stage is about taking basic skills like Sit, Come, Stay, Down, Heel, and making sure your dog can do them anytime, anywhere.
This is one of the most challenging stages in training and that’s why you’ll find so many articles on this proofing stage on the Labrador Site. They’re there to help you, and I’ll give you a list of them in a moment. Traditional trainers used to simply pile in and start at Stage 3. This was often unpleasant for the dog because he was basically being spoken to in a foreign language, often while being pushed and pulled around. Modern dog training makes Stage 3 a breeze. This is because before you ask your dog to sit, he already knows what sit means, and before you ask him to come, he knows what that means too.
Stage two is language lesson time. This is where we teach the dog to understand the meaning of our commands, or cues as modern trainers call them.
So, each time your dog runs towards you, you name that action ‘come’ and each time he plonks his bottom on the floor, you name that action ‘sit’.
So it’s important that you don’t say words to your dog that he doesn’t understand, when he is not doing whatever action that word represents.
So, if we can’t say ‘come’ until our dog is running towards us, and if we can’t say ‘down’ until our dog is lying down, and if we can’t say ‘heel’ until our dog is walking on a loose lead, how are we going to get him to carry out these actions in our training sessions?
There are several ways of getting dogs to move into different positions, or to carry out different activities without using any kind of force.
But first let me briefly explain why modern dog training avoids the use of force or physical manipulation. Modern studies have shown that there are problems with using force that we were not aware of until recently, including aggression and delayed learning. This is why trainers are now widely moving over to science based positive reinforcement training, where dogs are taught to respond to cues using modern training techniques and powerful rewards. This is not about what ‘stage’ of training your Labrador is at overall. The training stages apply to individual skills that you will be teaching to your dog. Just as your ten year old son might be at Grade 5 in playing the guitar, but at Grade 1 in playing the piano or at Karate, or Canoeing.
You need to teach your dog each cue or command that you want him to obey in turn. And to work through each of the five stages, for every cue.
You don’t have to complete all five stages in one skill before you start on another though.
The following links will help you with getting various behaviours established – getting your dog to run towards you for example, and getting your dog into different positions. The world of dog training has changed immeasurably over the last two decades and that change is accelerating. Most dog owners now want to train their dogs without punishment or force. Most traditional dog trainers have moved or are moving to modern training methods, and abandoning the use of aversives. To get the most from modern training and to have an obedient and well behaved dog, you do need to train your dog in a structured way. The Get it, Pair it, Teach it method gives you that structure and breaks your training journey into logical stages.
Take each skill you want to teach your dog, work through each of these stages in turn, and you will succeed. Glad you like the article Holly, hopefully we can play a small part in spreading the word about positive reinforcement training.
We catch the dog ‘in the act’ of doing something we want and we give it a name that he soon comes to understand.
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