Have you noticed that your Labrador performs a skill or behaviour amazingly well at home, but all training seems to go out of the window as soon as you try it somewhere new?
This article will tell you about the three elements needed to achieve Training Success and why getting this right can affect all of your training, particularly loose lead walking.
Training a Labrador to do anything is a journey, and depending on the skill or behaviour that you’re trying to teach, it can be a quick, straightforward journey, or it can be a slow journey with many twists and turns along the way. It doesn’t matter if your training journey is quick and straightforward or slow and steady. You’ll need to make sure that you’re giving your Labrador the best chance of achieving success, and that is done by making sure these three elements are working alongside each other in perfect harmony and not fighting against each other.
The first element is knowledge
Does your Labrador really know what you’re asking them to do, and do they know how to do it? (Even if you haven’t got a piece of food in your hand to bribe them).
Whether you’ve just answered yes or no, I urge you to put it to the test by randomly standing in the middle of your living room and asking your dog to perform a skill of your choosing with no bribes, no hand gestures, and no fear of punishment.
If your Labrador does what you’ve just asked them to do, great work, you know that they understand what to do and how to do it. If that test wasn’t as successful as you’d hoped for, your dog probably doesn’t 100% know what they’re supposed to be doing yet. Don’t be disheartened if you didn’t get the response you were expecting; it just means that you have a little more work to do to help your Labrador understand what they should be doing.
The second element is motivation
Does your Labrador feel incentivised enough to do what you’re asking them to do, and does the reward on offer motivate them enough to repeat it?
Okay, so rewards and motivations are controversial among some in the dog training world. Some believe that a dog should do what it’s told, and the occasional pat on the head should be enough reward for them. It’s a bit of an outdated approach in my mind, and I firmly believe that we need to motivate and reward our dogs for their hard work.
Your Labrador must know that they’re going to be incentivised, acknowledged and rewarded for performing the jobs that we ask of them. And that reward doesn’t need to be food; it could be an opportunity to play, some attention, to perform a retrieve or time to sniff. A reward is anything at all that your Labrador enjoys.
If you are reading this article and you aren’t convinced on the idea of providing rewards and motivations to your Labrador, ask yourself, would you go to work knowing you wouldn’t get paid? I suspect the answer to that question is probably “NO CHANCE”.
The third element is the environment
Is your Labrador being asked to perform the skill or behaviour in an environment where they can achieve success?
Just because your Labrador can perform a skill or behaviour in a quiet room doesn’t mean they can do it in a busy park with lots of exciting distractions. Some environments have so many distractions that your dog becomes incapable of performing the skill or behaviour that you’re asking them to do.
If the environment you put them in gives an abundance of new smells, sounds, and sights, their ability to function normally becomes diminished. It’s simply too much stimulation for their brains to function properly. Every time you expose your Labrador to a new environment, you must consider making the skill or behaviour you want them to perform easier or change your expectation of the results they give.
A great way to think about the environment is to look at how it affects us humans. If you ask a 13-year-old to do their school homework, sitting at a desk in a nice quiet room with no distractions, chances are they’ll do it in good time and to an excellent standard. Now ask the same child to do the same homework whilst sitting watching TV with their friends, eating a pizza and playing games. Chances are, they won’t complete the homework to the same high standard.
Never underestimate the importance of giving the right environment to your Labrador. As your Labradors teacher, it’s your job to help them be successful, so don’t set them up to fail by taking them to environments that are too distracting for them.
Let’s put those three elements into a loose lead walking scenario
So now we know what the three key elements are, we can look at them in a loose lead walking scenario.
Many inquiries that we receive here at Tails of Success concern Labradors walking nicely in the home environment, but they pull like a freight train as soon as they go outdoors. For us, visiting the three key elements is the first thing to do.
Do you have an instructional word, a way to tell your dog what behaviour you want them to do? This is usually the word heel or similar.
Whatever your instructional word is, I want you to say it randomly at home and see what happens. If your dog comes and stands by your leg, then great job. If not, they probably don’t know the meaning of the word heel just yet, so you’ve got a little bit more work to do to get them used to that word.
Let’s assume that they came to your leg and adopted that heel position. You can now move on to the next element.
Does your Labrador feel rewarded for coming to heel? Was the reward that you gave them good enough to get them to do it again and again and again?
Is it good enough to get them to do it in a different location, or are you going to need to give them something a little bit more special? Once you’re confident that your Labrador has the knowledge and is motivated to do the skill you ask of them, you can move on to the third element.
If you’ve moved onto this point, you are already confident that the knowledge and motivations are where they need to be. That means that the environment is probably the element that causes your Labrador to fail at the task you ask of them. If the environment is giving too much stimulation and offering too many distractions, your Labrador will not perform how you would like them to. The environment starts to give the dog more reward than you ever could in the form of new smells, sounds and distractions, all the things they like and find more rewarding than what you are currently offering.
Because of that, you either need to up your rewards and motivations or make the environment less distracting.
Just because you want to take your Labrador to the beach for a nice walk doesn’t mean that they are ready for an environment like that just yet.
The environment is such a big hurdle for some Labradors because they only leave the house once or twice a day. That leaves them little chance to become familiar with their outdoor surroundings. I recommend getting your Labrador into their outdoor environments little and often to help make the environments less exciting and more familiar.
It’s important to remember that no masterpiece is created quickly. I know we all dream of relaxed walks with our Labrador, but it doesn’t always come easily to them.
Having a consistent plan will help you reach your end goal, but you won’t achieve the results you hoped for without all of these three elements being in play.
Loose Lead Walking can be complex for some dogs. If you want to delve into it in more detail, I recommend you join us at one of our lead walking masterclass webinars or contact us about our 1:1 Personalised Training.