Many of our foster dogs come to us with little or no training, or, need to have the training they received in their youth reinforced. Sometimes we find that our fosters know their commands like sit, down and stay but may have never walked on a leash before.
You do your foster dog great service and help them succeed in their new homes when you work with them on their training. It also helps your foster to settle in to your home faster when they can focus their energy on learning.
Remember that the key to training any dog is to only give them the treat when they have successfully completed the command and repeat often. If you're not consistent, e.g. you give your foster lab a treat when they don't sit just because you've gotten tired of trying, then you reinforce that it's not necessary to sit for a treat but that their stubbornness can win out.
For many commands training treats and time are the only equipment that you need. Training treats are high value treats that are only given to your foster lab while they're being trained.
Believe it or not, not all labs learn best using training treats. As much as labs love food, they might respond better to training using non-food motivators like tennis balls, squeakers and clickers. Part of the fun of welcoming a new foster lab into your home is learning what motivates them and in what situations. It might be that inside the house, where there are limited distractions, training treats work best but, when you're walking, a squeaky noise catches their attention more.
Labs love praise. In addition to whatever motivator you do use remember to praise them exuberantly every time they do something right.
When it comes to leash training other equipment might be needed. Many Lab Rescue fosters have found Easy Walk Harnesses very effective when working with dogs that pull on lead. Lab Rescue prohibits the use of shock, prong or choke collars as they can hurt your foster lab.
Step 1 - How Much do they Know Already?
Remember that your foster dog may have been named by Lab Rescue so their name is brand new to them.
Check their knowledge of basic commands first and then start to teach them their new name.
One of the first commands that most dogs learn is sit. It's also one of the easiest commands to teach because you can guide your lab into a sit with a treat. If you stand in front of your foster with a treat and say the word sit, do they sit? If they haven't been trained recently you might need to repeat it a few times and take a step towards them. Remember to keep your voice clear; the word 'sit' is a statement not a request. Remember to always lavish praise on your foster lab when they get it right and you can reinforce the rightness of the behavior with a treat.
Then repeat a couple of times to see if their memory kicks in.
Many of our foster families find it very helpful to put their dogs and their foster dogs into a sit before the put their leashes on for a walk, before they get their meals and when they need to cross the street. Both of these practices can make it easier for you. Just remember, be consistent. If you want your labs and your foster labs to sit before their leashes go on, make sure you always do that or else your dogs will be confused.
A lab who sits on command is a well mannered dog.
Just like sit, you might need to remind your foster dog what 'down' means. One of the best ways to do that is to get them into a sit and then hold the treat down at ground level so they have to lie down to get it. They can nibble at the treat but they can't have it until they've lain down properly.
It is often good to teach the lab a sit / down sequence. So they come to you and sit and then you put them into a down position.
Labs can learn their new names fairly quickly. Don't get frustrated running around the house calling their name and wondering why they don't come. As soon as they've started to settle into your home you can teach or reinforce their name by giving them a treat every time they respond to their name. A response can be as simple as them looking at you when you say their name.
Step 2 - Training
Labs are usually food motivated so training treats can be a great asset when teaching your foster lab basic commands or taking their basic training a step further. If your foster lab isn't food motivated find something else that can be used for training purposes. Perhaps a ball or a squeeky toy is the right reward for your lab.
Teaching sit is the most important first command to learn and follow each time you say the word.
Here's a great video that can help you master the steps to teaching your foster lab to sit.
Lie down or just down is another important command to each your foster lab so that they get into the habit of being focused on you.
More coming later!!!