Why Do Labrador Retrievers Become Destructive?

Kate | June 23rd, 2008
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The difference between a good Labrador Retriever owner and a disastrous one depends on whether or not that person leads an active lifestyle. To put it in simple terms, labs were bred to be extremely active when in the company of hunters, from dawn to dusk. They used to run, swim, and retrieve foul for up to 16 hours each day, or more.

Labs have extremely high energy levels and just because your Labrador Retriever does not go out hunting, it does not mean that this dog is missing its inner expression to release the same amount of energy. This is great news for active people who like to swim, jog, and play fetch games as often as possible.

The term disastrous dog owner would best describe a person who is raising a Lab but absolutely hates going outside and being active. There are many people out there who love nothing more than to sit around the house all day watching television while they expect their Lab dogs to lay quietly alongside their feet with no need at all to run and play.

These types of people tend to complain that their pets are overactive and causing too much trouble around the house. However, the truth is that the dogs are perfectly healthy and literally wired and itching to move around. It is the way they were genetically programmed. It is what they were bred to do. Therefore, the problem lies within the owner, not the Lab.

Think Long & Hard Before Buying A Lab Puppy

Most people who run out and buy a puppy, especially one as active as a Labrador Retriever, have a tendency to overestimate the amount of play-time they can invest in their dog. Eventually, the excitement and joy of playing with a new puppy subsides and when the dog owner gets bored, these little balls of energy are left to entertain themselves.

Adult Labrador dogs need a minimum of one hour each and every day, both in the morning and again at night, to participate in strenuous, interactive physical activities. This does not mean simply letting your dog out in the yard by itself while you cook dinner. This will not suffice as playtime. Labs need a partner to run and fetch with. Left to themselves for physical activity will prove unsuccessful as Labs tend not to exercise by themselves in a constructive manner.

When Labs Become Destructive

You can’t just open up the door and tell your Lab to go play. While some dogs are independent enough to run around outside by themselves, Labrador Retrievers need someone to play with and if you are not around then they may become destructive. Behaviors such as non-stop barking, chewing, and digging up the yard will become commonplace.

Should your Lab start to demonstrate these types of negative activities, the last thing you want to do is become frustrated and deem your pet aggressive. The truth is that he is just doing what you wanted him to do: entertain himself.

Unless you are there to direct your Lab and be the leader while taking fun trips outside in the form of a hike, a jog, or retrieving games in the water, you must take responsibility for his destructive behavior and know that it is your fault and your responsibility to take charge of your Lab’s physical needs.

Help… My Labrador Retriever Is Eating The Furniture!

Kate | June 19th, 2008
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Many new Lab owners are not familiar with the fact that these puppies have a natural tendency to nip and bite at human hands and arms. In fact, these little guys will put anything in their mouths that can fit. Unfortunately, some dog owners mistake this behavior as pure biting and unfairly scold and punish the animal. You must understand that Labradors are genetically designed to have an oral fixation, specifically for retrieving.

They must be trained with positive reinforcement not to mouth and bite at people’s limbs. A fitting analogy is to look at a Labrador puppy the same as a piranha, but with fur. They run around with their mouths open literally hunting down anything to put in it, something, anything, whatever they can find!

When these puppies get older they have a tendency to start grabbing onto your arms and clothing. Such behavior should be considered inappropriate and completely stopped before it develops into an act of dominance. But as you may have heard before, training a Labrador not to grab onto your arms and clothes with its mouth needs to be carefully instituted. You can never totally stop your Lab from putting things in its mouth but you can certainly teach him to make better choices.

Health Problems Due To Mouthing Stuff

Another fitting analogy to describe the oral fixation of a Labrador Retriever is to consider them like vacuum cleaners. Many times they accidentally suck up and swallow objects which can lead to health problems, especially if they get a hold of products that have poisons in them.

Labradors have been known to swallow toys, balls, rocks, socks, rawhide, bicycle seats, and even knives! Basically anything that can fit in their mouth and down its throat is fair game to the motivated Labrador Retriever. It is good advice to de-fluff your pillows, remove sofa cushions, and discard any loose toys or items around your house that could cause harm if swallowed.

I once came home to find one of my wooden dresser drawers completely removed from the entire unit. The front panel was torn off and I had clothes everywhere. As I was cleaning up the mess I noticed that there was small pieces of wood chips all over the room and the front panel was nowhere to be found. As you can probably guess, my lab chewed up and ate the entire front panel, even the metallic handle was gone! Luckily he did not suffer any internal damages and the handle passed through his system without harm.

The answer to raising a lab while minimizing personal damages to both your home and your dog is to doggie-proof anything and everything you can find. Supervision also plays a huge role in training your dog not to chew up certain items. You must have plenty of time to invest into your Lab which will prove to be time well spent as you watch your dog grow into a well-mannered adult.

Does Your Labrador Retriever Have An Oral Fixation?

Kate | June 14th, 2008
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Labrador Retriever dogs were bred to be excellent hunting dogs with the power, stamina, and motivation to chase down fallen game and swim as far needed to bring back the prey to its hunter.

Even today, these dogs have an innate inner drive to retrieve. With utmost focus and determination, Labs take their retrieving jobs seriously. And even though most of these dogs are house pets today and do not hunt, they are just as driven when chasing a tennis ball or fetching a stick.

Labradors were created and developed to use the power of their jaws just like a strong hand. During practically every waking moment they feel the need to put something in their mouths, and without the presence of a bird or other small animal, they will grab onto anything they can. This is fantastic for people who love playing fetch with their dog but it’s not so good for those dog owners that hate when their pets are constantly putting items in its mouth.

Labs Have An Oral Fixation

Many families run out and buy a puppy without doing an ounce of research as to what type of dog they are getting involved in and how the animal will behave based on its genetic make-up. Labrador Retrievers, for example, literally have an oral fixation due to hundreds of years of breeding specifically for grabbing fallen birds into their mouths when hunting. This behavior most definitely carries over into their daily lives.

An educated Lab owner understands that any object within their dog’s reach is considered fair game and they would never dream of scolding the dog for such behavior (except for biting of course). Bad Lab owners consider this behavior destructive and will scold or even hit the animal in an attempt to get the dog to stop grabbing stuff in its mouth.

Of course there is a fine line between letting your Lab express its inner retrieving needs, and letting the animal absolutely destroy anything in the house it can eat. This is where specific training and obedience lessons come in. These dogs are natural chewers and you must take provisions for their tendency to chew by using a crate and dog proofing your house.

Constant supervision and creating daily playtime sessions with your Lab is a requirement for both you and your dog to be healthy. If you choose not to participate in the proper upbringing and training that a Lab requires, more than likely you are going to be frustrated and unhappy while your dog becomes increasingly bored and destructive.

Connecting Hunting Abilities To A Labrador Retriever’s Behavior

Kate | June 10th, 2008
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Labrador Retrievers are many things to many people. Because of their loving nature and obedient temperament, these dogs have not only made great companions and helpers, but they are most often used as service dogs for the blind and handicapped.

How many dogs are adaptive enough to live with all of those different roles, yet still have the personality to enjoy swimming, hunting, and play fetching games? Labs are truly universal pets which is why they are my favorite dog to own.

What Makes The Lab Tick?

Labrador Retrievers are the product of long generations of breeders who used stringent selection for an animal that is intensely motivated to retrieve and plunge themselves into icy waters, swim against the hardest current, and swim back carrying a heavy waterfowl back to its hunter.

Having such a genetic ability to accomplish this job takes strength, endurance, determination, and the mental toughness to ignore any pain along the way. Sometimes the prey may still be alive and trying to fight its way out of the dog’s mouth.

The Strong-Willed Psyche Of The Labrador Retriever

The pressures of performing their hunting abilities, as described above, not only sharpens and strengthens a Labrador’s physical body, it also shapes the dog’s psyche. Motivation and determination is something that can only cause a dog to be so driven that they can make the fall (find the position) of a fallen bird, search for it regardless of the terrain, retrieve its prey under any circumstances, and then bring it back successfully to the hunter.

You Can Learn From This Hunting Behavior

This determination that Labs have when out in the hunting fields is a great way to understand the its behavior in the home. Some of you may be wondering why it is important to know just how incredible your Labrador retriever can function outside when hunting game, even if you do not take your dog out for such activities. The key is to understand just how fiercely intent a Labrador Retriever’s vision is as a hunter and then use that information to help you train and understand your dog when he becomes stubborn at home.

All too many Labrador owners experience frustration when their dog refuses to obey commands in the home. The reason is because these dogs act in a certain way and respond to certain behaviors that all links back to their hunting genetics.

They may react and make decisions that are only natural and good for their hunting skills, but not good for whatever training purposes you are intending at the moment. For the truly committed Labrador owners, it would behoove of you to learn and study its genetic hunting abilities and better understand this dog’s mental psyche when making decisions. Your training will be an easier and much more pleasant experience.

3 Things You Can Count On When Raising A Labrador Retriever

Kate | June 8th, 2008
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To completely understand the true nature of the Labrador Retriever, dog owners must have a firm grasp on the 3 most important aspects that make up this animal’s temperament and personality.

1. Labs Are Natural Born Hunters: Unlike most other hunting dog breeds, Labs do not just wait for its human hunting companion to command them to retrieve fallen birds. These dogs have to be so attentive that they can mark the fallen foul themselves.

It is believed that Labrador Retrievers are more aware of their surroundings than other hunting dogs because of their heritage. When hunting, Labs await for the right signal from their hunter in order to seek out and find the prey. Similarly, at home, they constantly wait by their owner’s side for the next task or command, regardless of what it is. It could be to walk, eat, anything really. This is what makes Labrador Retriever dogs a bit too needy for some dog owners.

2. Labs Must Have Proper Training: As hunters, Labs must be able to follow specific directions in order to find birds. And even if they do not have a direction to move in, they will keep hunting without giving up. In other words, a good Lab literally takes matters into its own hands to get the job done.

These characteristics are great for people to enjoy having a service dog that can take on its own in certain situations. On the other hand, it’s bad for dog owners who are incapable of providing absolutely no direction whatsoever. This is where most problems lie with new Labrador owners.

Many people see perfectly trained Labs at the park or walking with their owners and think to themselves I want one of those dogs. They are so well trained! Little do they realize that these animals are never born trained. It takes continuous progressive dedication to specific training protocols, all based on a Labrador’s genetic make up. This can prove too much work for some people to handle and end up with nothing but problems and frustration with their dog.

3. Labs Are Like A Box Of Chocolates: The last and most important thing to understand with Labrador Retrievers is that they are individualistic and not every Lab is the same. As Forest Gump says, Labrador dogs are like a box of chocolates, they come in all varieties and you never know just what you will get as they grow up.

Most Labs demonstrate the same interests, hunting, running, retrieving, and swimming, but oftentimes you may get a Labrador puppy that may absolutely hate water. And if you are fortunate enough, your Lab may not have an oral fixation, which causes many of these dogs to eat anything they can get a hold of.

The one thing you can definitely count on is that every Labrador Retriever is special and through proper training, attention, and love, you will have a wonderful dog that will display the utmost in loyalty and affection until its last day on earth with you.

The Labrador Retriever: Much More Than A Family Pet

Kate | June 4th, 2008
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Labrador Retrievers have become one of the most popular breeds used today as both assistance dogs and dog guides for the blind. The skills necessary for these two working jobs are extremely varied and are physically and mentally demanding, nevertheless, the Lab has once again proven that its popularity is based on much more than its good looks!

Dog Guides For The Blind

Nobody will forget the amazing story of the brave and courageous yellow Lab named Roselle, who on the disaster of 9/11, guided her vision-impaired owner, Michael Hingson, down 78 stories in the World Trade Center’s Tower One.

The pair exited from the choking smoke, dust and fumes just moments before the entire building collapsed on that horrible day. Roselle was bred, raised and trained by the Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. As amazing at it sounds, she was just doing her jog that day.

A position originally dominated by German Shepherd Dogs in the early 1900s, dog guides for the blind now include a large percentage of Labrador Retrievers, as well as Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs and Lab-Golden Mixes.

The Lab has risen to popularity in this service mostly because of their highly-qualified work ethic needed for such services: a stable temperament, a willingness to work, a moderate size and weight, and a low-maintenance coat.

Assistance Dogs

The type of work an assistance dog can perform is perhaps only limited by a trainer’s imagination. Labs are trained to assist those with limited mobility by picking up dropped items such as pencils, credit cards and keys.

Some dogs are trained to alert hearing-impaired handlers to a knock at the door, a baby crying, or in the case of a child, the sound of the school bell signaling a class change. Other Labs are trained to help disabled individuals to lean on and hold onto.

Some Labs even alert handlers to oncoming seizures before they happen and provide assistance during a seizure. Labrador Retrievers have been taught to pull wheelchairs, turn lights on and off, and even remove the handler’s socks before he or she goes to bed.

The benefits of an assistance dog can be seen at many levels. One of the greatest benefits is that people with assistance dogs regain a sense of independence, as well as an increase in self-esteem and self-worth because they can rely on the dog to help them, rather than have to rely on other people.

Assistance dogs can also serve as ice breakers. Disabled individuals frequently feel shunned because the general public feels uncomfortable in their presence. The company of an assistance dog, particularly a friendly Lab executing amazing skills for the disabled individual, is often the attraction that can facilitate conversation, social interaction and the formation of friendships.

Is The Labrador Retriever The New Rising Hero? – Part 2

Kate | June 2nd, 2008
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Labrador Retriever dogs are quickly becoming America’s top choice service animals when it comes to detection of bombs, narcotics, currency, and any other item that needs to be tracked.

Not only are these dogs genetically bred to pick up a scent and bring back a specific item from miles away, their work ethic and desire for human companionship completes them as the total package when a true hero is needed to do the job.

Bad House Pets Can Make Great Service Dogs

Another reason that Labrador Retrievers make excellent service dogs is because of their high energy levels and spectacular endurance. These characteristics are what make a reliable working scent dog. Ironically enough, some of the best, all-around, highly trained service dogs were given up from owners because their energy levels were just too much to keep up with.

A perfect example of a real-life situation is a group of Labrador Retrievers which were donated by several families because they were too high strung and acted out in severely destructive ways. When these same dogs were looked at by professional trainers, it was immediately obvious that they would make great working dogs.

And great working dogs they became! Two of them were taken in and trained to work for the DAD program (Dogs Against Drugs) of the Children’s Crisis Prevention Network Inc. in Texas. They now spend their days contributing to society by inspecting for alcohol, drugs, and guns in local schools.

Saving Time & Money

Using Labrador Retrievers as service dogs is also a better investment than using other dogs. This is because most dog breeds will only train and work effectively with one handler. Labs, on the other hand, can work with more than one handler if necessary, and still produce the same results.

Labs are also some of the most approachable of dog breeds. They appear friendly and are generally accepted as nonthreatening to the public. Consider the fact that many bomb threats and other potentially dangerous problems occur in public places such as airports, bus stations, and schools. A service dog must be able to work in and around crowds without alarming anyone. Labrador Retrievers are considered to be public friendly and do not intimidate people like other detection dogs, such as the imposing German Shepherd.

Read Part 1 | Read Part 2

Is The Labrador Retriever The New Rising Hero? – Part 1

Kate | May 31st, 2008
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When you hear somebody speak of a true life hero that reacted in a moment of bravery and did something courageous, regardless of the risks involved, a dog rarely comes to mind. But some of the most amazing feats of bravery and accomplishments are done by service-trained dogs each and every day.

After the disastrous terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in 2001, the need for highly skilled working dogs to detect bombs, narcotics, chemicals, and explosives skyrocketed. In addition, more search and rescue dogs (SAR) were in demand as well.

In the past, working breeds such as the Belgian Malinois and, more commonly, the German Shepherd, took over these types of roles. But today, the Labrador Retriever is gaining huge popularity as the breed of choice for these demanding and potentially dangerous situations.

In fact, the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs, and the Auburn University’s Canine Detection Training Center have all initiated detection-dog breeding programs that are 100% exclusive to the Labrador Retriever.

What Makes The Labrador Retriever So Qualified?

Research studies have shown that most dogs (in general) have the ability to detect infinitesimal amounts of scent, estimated to be lower than 400 parts per trillion. This ability alone makes dogs more reliable than any mechanical detection device available. In addition, dogs also have the ability to hold onto an odor and trace that scent directly to its source.

These skills are common with dogs in general, so when you consider that field and hunting Labradors are genetically favored to locate game when a hunter sends them out to retrieve fallen foul, this alone adds more power and ability to a Lab’s detection ability. When hunting, all a hunter has to do is give the Lab a general area of where the bird fell, and the dog does the rest, picks up the scent and brings back its prey.

In addition to having to rely on only an area of land to track down a particular bird, these Labrador Retrievers must also have the ability to block out every other scent that comes along the way. He must be able to discriminate against these other odors in order to be successful. These outside odors can often be so powerful that other dogs would not be able to concentrate and follow the direct target line like the Labrador Retriever can.

Another reason why Labrador Retrievers make excellent detection dogs is due to its work ethic. These dogs are highly intelligent and seem to have an endless drive to learn. And Labs are always begging for something to do. They enjoy working with people as opposed to other hunting breeds that prefer to act independently. This human-canine comradery is essential when facing a dangerous situation that has the potential to kill human beings.

Read Part 1 | Read Part 2

Scent Dogs: How These Amazing Animals Are trained – Part 3

Janet | May 26th, 2008
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Watch any special on television about scent-detector service dogs and you will see these amazing canines brave after some of the most dangerous work in the world uncovering drugs, finding fugitives and locating explosive devices.

The dogs that make it through the training are the cream of the crop, so to speak, but not every dog has what it takes. In fact, some estimates say as few as 1 out of 100 dogs shows potential, and of these dogs more than half will fail somewhere in their initial imprinting of odors or even before.

So Where Do These Super Sniffers Come From?

The dogs come from many different sources, including shelters, personal pets, and specially selected and bred German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers.

Adoption

Traditionally, trainers would scour shelters and pounds for candidates with potential for scent-detection work, and adopt those they felt had the right mix of drives to be successful. The breeds could be purebreds but were often mixes, too.

Typically, selected dogs were those that had driven previous owners batty with their high activity levels and persistence in wanting to play ball or retrieve. Many trainers still search shelters for detection-dog candidates and a significant portion of the dogs you see working today may be discarded pets turned heroes.

Donations

Some agencies accept dogs donated from private individuals, as well as breeders. Auburn University’s Canine Detection Center Training facility, for example, has a detection-dog breeding program but the demand for trained dogs is so great at times that it must supplement its own stock with additional dogs. Often, potential donations don’t have the right kinds of drives to be good detection dogs; however, others do.

Green-Trained Dogs

The country is now dotted with those who offer started or green-trained detection dogs for sale to government agencies and private-sector companies. These dogs have been trained to alert specific odors, but have not had the repetition, continued training and working experience to be considered a finished dog.

The dogs come from a variety of sources, including overseas breeders and trainers. Often, if an agency that needs a scent detector dog has a trainer on board, it will purchase green-trained dogs and have their trainer finish the dogs.

Breeding Programs

And finally, dedicated breeding programs have been created to provide highly-qualified scent detection dogs. For example, the Australian Customs Service Detector Dog Program began its own Labrador Retriever breeding program during the 1990s to improve the odds of finding dogs with the correct drives, temperament, work ethic and soundness to make outstanding detection dogs.

In 10 years, their program bred down a lot of the Lab’s problems hip and elbow dysplasia, eye problems, etc. In addition, the dogs were bred specifically for endless energy, strong play and hunting drives all the right kind of traits for the job.

Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3

Scent Dogs: How These Amazing Animals Are trained – Part 2

Janet | May 23rd, 2008
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Though every trainer may teach the actual scent-detection training a bit differently, the basics are very much the same whether the dog is learning to detect chemicals, drugs, alcohol, gunpowder, explosives, or even large amounts of currency.

The dog is first taught to recognize an odor by introducing it to a scent-soaked ball or toy and using retrieval exercises to establish scent association. When the dog successfully retrieves the scented article, it is immediately rewarded, so it associates the odor with something extremely fun.

The next step is to add the response portion to the scent detection. The response or action of the dog must be swift, clear and decisive so the handler knows that the dog has detected the odor. Passive responses (a sit or a down) are always used in the case of explosives detection; aggressive responses (scratching, barking) are sometimes used to indicate drugs.

Teaching the response requires a lot of repetition. Steven Sharp, a professional trainer for canine scent detection dogs, says, You get the dog to smell the location where the substance is. While the dog is sniffing, you tell it to ‘sit’ and the dog is immediately rewarded with a toy or food, then the handler gives the dog verbal and physical praise. This is done over until the dog starts to indicate on its own.

Once a dog has indicated a scent correctly at least 20 times, Steven says the dog knows that odor and you can move on to teaching the next odor. While the dog is learning the new odor, the handler increases the difficulty of the search for the learned odor by lengthening the time the odor has been left out (less-powerful scent) and the depth of the plants (in an open drawer, then in a closed drawer, etc.).

This is done in baby steps, Steven notes, challenging the dog just enough to move forward in its skills, but never so much as to set up a failure.

Odors are added and strengthened in this manner until the dog has learned all of (or almost all of) the odors that the dog’s future handler will require. We don’t ‘finish’ a dog, Steven says, explaining that his organization trains the dogs on most of the odors, but not all of them. The handler teaches the dog the last couple of odors so they not only know how to handle the dog, but also train it.

When a handler knows how to add new odors to the dog’s repertoire, it immediately makes the dog-handler team proactive and a much more powerful tool particularly against the war on terrorism. With terrorism, the response always tends to be reactionary so the dogs need to be several steps ahead.

Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3