Now I think it's safe to say that many people who love firearms & the great outdoors also love dogs as well. I say this because dogs can be excellent companions, wonderful hunting partners, and perfect alarms for home defense! If an intruder is on the prowl outside your home, your dog's barking might scare them away OR at least give you a heads-up to have your firearm out & ready to protect & defend. One of my personal goals is to eventually bird hunt with Tika & Sako (yes, training for that starts when they're very young....), but I mainly got them because I wanted 2 guard dogs that could work together & keep a few extra eyes (and ears) out at home.
I get asked a lot of questions regarding how I've been training these girls to act so well behaved, so I'm writing this post to share some tips with you that have worked for me so far ... Mind you, I'm no expert, and I've had my share of puppy ups and downs. So if you are a dog professional, or you have some tips of your own, go ahead and share them below. I'm just here to give you a few of my own thoughts and basic learning experiences with raising Tika & Sako so far.
My first tip: Start training dogs when they are just young puppies - anytime after 7 weeks old, but as early as possible. Ever heard of the phrase "You can't teach an old dog new tricks?" It's much easier to teach behaviors and commands when a dog is young and learning everything for the first time, than it is to change the way a dog has already been behaving the same way for a long time.
Second, I recommend the book "Water Dog," by Richard Wolters - It's definitely an older book for training Labrador Retrievers, but it was recommended to me by someone who has had the best trained labs I've ever met. There is also a DVD version that's worth watching (It is based on Richard Wolter's book, and has similar, yet slightly different/updated information) - It is titled "Water Dog," by Charles Jurney. I have both versions, and I think it's nice to have both since the book gives more detailed training information for commands, but it's also helpful to actually see the visual training techniques shown in the DVD version. I don't use all of the training methods in this book or DVD, but I do use certain aspects, along with some other training tips I've read about and come up with on my own.
Third: Spend as much time as you can with your puppies during their first year - especially during their first 2-6 months of age. Play with them a lot, and also dedicate a lot of time to training (in short sessions, so they don't lose interest) and be prepared for a lot of repetition!
Fourth: Most command training really isn't very hard - Puppies want to please you, so just show them what you want them to do and then praise them for it! They will want to repeat the things that make you happy. Don't be too hard on puppies with punishment when they are young - Praise is so much better! Praise them a lot, every time they do something good. Praise them when they are being quiet and playing with their toys. Praise them whenever you show them the correct thing to do. Let them know whenever they are bad by saying no - and then show them what they should be doing instead.
Those are just some general tips, but here are some more specific questions I've been asked:
1) "How did you get them to stop chewing on everything?"
Puppies like to chew everything when they are little, so my girls learned the word "no" early on. I made sure to puppy-proof my upstairs by using baby gates and keeping everything out of puppy reach, but they still wanted to chew baseboards, carpet, each other, etc..... So every time they were chewing on something they weren't supposed to be, I would raise my voice and sternly say "no." Sometimes I would smack the floor in front of them to let them know I was mad, and then I would give them an appropriate toy to chew on instead (and praise them to let them know that chewing on the toy was a good thing). I definitely used praise more than punishment, but if they were ever really bad, I leashed them to a stationary object (towel bar or chair) and ignored them for a little while. It was hard, because puppies don't like being ignored (and it's hard to ignore your sweet little puppies!) - But once I let them free, they were usually quite apologetic and wanted to cuddle.
2) "How did you get them to not bite eachother?"
Puppies will also bite you (or each other) when their playing, until you teach them not to. They don't understand that their teeth are sharp, so when Tika & Sako would bite, I would say "no biting" and gently push their lip against their tooth so they could see that it causes pain. I would then give them a toy to chew on instead. In the same way, they also learned the word "easy," to keep them from biting my hand when I was giving them a treat or food.
3) "What are their favorite toys and treats?"
|Starmark (not so) "Everlasting Treat Ball"|
In terms of treats, I only give them items that are corn, soy and wheat-free. They love occasional peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, and banana, orange or apple slices (don't give dogs the seeds!)... and for some reason Tika & Sako don't get tired of ice cubes. Ice cubes are one of their favorite things to crunch on, and they've been great for me as training rewards since they don't upset their stomachs at all. One viewer recommended frozen carrots to me as a great frozen treat for teething puppies (good idea!), and another idea I came across for teething puppies was to freeze wet washcloths for them to chew on. I thought that worked ok, but they thawed out a bit too quick for me. By the way, DON'T give your dogs grapes, avocado, chocolate, onions, garlic, nutmeg, raisins, prunes, macadamia nuts, or raw eggs! All bad.
4) "How did you potty train them to ring a bell on the doorknob to go outside?"
They actually picked that up really quick, and if I remember correctly, they were already learning to jump at the bell during the first week I had them. The main thing was paying them CONSTANT ATTENTION & watching them at all times & being able to catch them whenever they would squat or start to pee on the floor. I kept them in the kitchen at first, on tile floor, and I would run over & grab them in the middle of it, say "no," pick them up, and rush them to the door. I'd ask if they have to go out, then ring the bell & lift them up towards the bell, and then I'd take them outside to go to the bathroom. Sometimes they would finish going to the bathroom outside, but if they had already completely gone on the floor, the door/bell/outside routine still gave them the correct idea of where they were supposed to go next time. If I wasn't fast enough to catch them in the act, I would point to what they did on the floor and say "no." Then I still carried them to the door and repeated the same process: Ask if they had to go out, ring the bell, lift them up to the bell, and take them outside. It took a lot of daily repetition (and patience), but within a few days they were headed towards the door and attempting to jump at the bell.
Since I had two of them to potty train at the same time, it also helped me to write down what times they were each going #1 and #2 - Then I had an easier time keeping track of when they might have to go during the day. I've always fed them at the same time in the morning and the same time at night, so that also helps them go to the bathroom at roughly the same times each day (even though those times continually change as they are getting bigger).
The hardest part of potty training, in my opinion, was getting them to the point where they could stay in their kennels all night without having to go outside. I had to sleep in the living room next to their kennels for quite a while because they could only make it a few hours without going to the bathroom. And trust me - if they accidentally go to the bathroom in their kennel, it's bad for more reasons than one! Of course it's messy, but they can start learning bad habits - I also read that some dogs (disgustingly enough) might even have the tendency to hide what they've done by eating it (since they know it's bad), and that in itself would have several terrible consequences. By the way, "Simple Solution" is a potty training miracle for your carpets (otherwise your pups might have a tendency to keep going to the bathroom in the same spot on your floors). I've gone through quite a bit of Simple Solution and it works GREAT.
5) "How did you get them to come, sit, and lie down? Are you teaching them any other commands?"
Again, there are a lot of good training techniques and tips for basic commands in the "Water Dog" book listed above or various other Labrador Retriever training books. I personally did a lot of repetition, showing them what I wanted them to do when I said each command. I would also spend a lot of time on each command separately, and I would give them a piece of dog food (along with praise) whenever they did it right. For "sit" I'd say "sit" and then push their bottom down to the floor. Then I would say "good girl" and give them a piece of dog food. For "lie down," I did basically the same thing (over and over again). I'd say "lie down," while I pushed them all the way to the floor. Then I would say "good girl" and give them a piece of dog food. "Come" was also taught using a little piece of dog food - so they always wanted to come to me whenever I said it.. At first they might have actually thought "Come" meant "Food" - But after awhile I gradually switched to using a praise ("good girl") and a Starmark dog clicker instead of giving food (using both food & the clicker at the same time, and then eventually just the clicker). For other commands, so far they've learned "easy," "give," "drop it," "go get it," "stay," "up," "down," "kennel," and "heel" (among other various commands and miscellaneous words such as food, ball, deck.....). Also, while training them with verbal commands, I often used silent commands (hand signals) at the same time... so now, for instance, I can raise one finger and they'll sit... and if I make my hand flat, they'll lie down. They've also been trained to not eat out of their food dish until they have the go-ahead hand signal (even when they are side by side, and one gets the signal before the other). They are very good girls, and it's definitely best to teach them these things when they're young since they don't know any other way yet (only what we teach them).
6) "They look so healthy & have such shiny coats. What do you feed them?"
Everyone has their own opinion of what you should feed your dogs, so I'll answer this question, but I'd prefer not to get into a debate about what's best. There are benefits and risks to a "raw diet," as well as many different brands of dog food. I have personally chosen to feed Tika & Sako a dry Large Breed Puppy food that is Corn-Free, Soy-Free, and Wheat-Free. I've tried a few different brands, but the one they like right now is "Fromm Family." I also make sure they get a lot of water (including water added to their dry food) and occasionally give them apple (no seeds!), orange, or banana slices.... or chicken or hard-boiled egg (if I'm cooking either one).
7) "How are you training them to be guard dogs?"
I don't like listening to barking dogs (does anyone?) and I don't want my dogs to bark at the people who I tell them are ok, but I DO want them to be cautious of strangers and to bark if there is stranger-danger. I don't know about for most dogs, but it seems instinctual for Tika & Sako to want to protect their home territory. After so many months, I'm happy to say that Sako just started barking on her own whenever she heard something outside... and then Tika started following her lead. Of course I don't want them to bark at everything, so I have been teaching them "Quiet," by saying "Quiet" while firmly holding their muzzle closed with my hand, BUT when they are REALLY concerned about something they hear (or if the doorbell rings), boy do they go crazy! Their barks make them sound much bigger than they are, and I actually encourage them to bark by saying "Who is that?" and looking out the window (whenever someone comes to the door or pulls in the driveway).
8) "Have they gone shooting with you? How do they handle the sound of gunshots?"
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to take them shooting with me yet, and I'm unable to shoot at my house... So, just as shown in the photo above, I'm getting Tika & Sako used to guns at home, by shooting an awesomely accurate Daisy BB Gun that's probably 20 years old and still going strong. BB guns are super fun for VERY cheap target practice, plinking at home, and also getting your dogs a little more used to firearms. I also have a Walther CO2 pellet pistol as another option for getting them used to guns in the backyard, and cap guns OR airsoft guns are other good choices (as long as airsoft BBs aren't laying all around for your dogs to eat). I don't have an airsoft gun now, but I'd like to get one for some shooting practice in my living room - I used to shoot an airsoft gun in my living room years ago, and it worked great to tape a target to the front of a cardboard box so that all the little plastic airsoft BBs would get caught inside the box. It made for very easy cleanup and a lot of fun. Once I actually get them out shooting with me, I'm going to start by shooting suppressed firearms, to get them used to a little more noise - then 22 calibers - and finally I'll slowly let them get more comfortable with the sounds of higher calibers.
Hope you all found this interesting! If you have any training tips of your own, please leave them in the comments below.
Tika & Sako on YouTube:
* Meet Tika & Sako (My Black Lab Puppies!!) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_M30iyNN9Ys&feature=share&list=PL716AF4827CED5FD9
* My Black Lab Puppies (12 to 16 weeks old) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mGS3bEmsNA&feature=share&list=PL716AF4827CED5FD9
* Happy Easter! (from me & my girls) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kswxprzee70&feature=share&list=PL716AF4827CED5FD9
* Tika & Sako - More Puppy Footage - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vtcs-xVlcsY&list=PL716AF4827CED5FD9&index=15
* Tika & Sako - My Black Labs at 10 Months Old - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSaDgQ3MgRo&list=PL716AF4827CED5FD9&index=16
* Tika & Sako - My Black Labs at 10 Months Old - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSaDgQ3MgRo&list=PL716AF4827CED5FD9&index=16