How to Discipline a Labrador: And What Not to Do!


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When disciplining a Labrador, many people wrongly assume it means punishment alone, such as spanking or denying food, however, this is not the case. When disciplining a dog we are referring to teaching him rules and learning the correct behavior. So, how do you discipline a Labrador?

To discipline a Labrador use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior, such as giving treats or toys. Negative reinforcement can also be used, such as withdrawing the reward for bad behavior. We aim to increase the frequency of response in both methods.

Discipline is not a negative thing. The word originates from the Latin word “discipulus,” meaning pupil, student, disciple. A disciple is someone that follows, so we want our Labrador to follow what we teach and learn good behavior.

We will look at the exact meaning of positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement and give examples.

However, to hint at “what not to do” when disciplining your Labrador, physical punishment and yelling only causes fear and distrust in your dog. This ultimately hurts the positive relationship that you have with him.

A naughty Labrador sitting a chewed up chair. How to Discipline a Labrador

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Read on to learn how to discipline a Labrador Retriever, and especially what not to do!

Disciplining Your Labrador: Are You Doing It Right?

Owners often make various mistakes when disciplining their dogs. If you repeatedly use the wrong methods to reprimand your Labrador, this can end up being inadequate or counterproductive.

Below is a cool video from “Animal Wised” on how to discipline your dog. It’s only 3-minutes long and reveals 5 common mistakes owners make when trying to correct unwanted behavior:

5 Common Mistakes When Scolding a Dog

There are two crucial moments when disciplining your Labrador is most effective. The first is during basic obedience training when your dog is still a puppy. 

Labradors are an intelligent breed having a good temperament. They are also known for displaying great initiative, especially in working roles, but any dog can be stubborn if you don’t establish yourself as the leader. 

For this reason, the early weeks and months are vital in making your puppy learn the differences between acceptable and bad behavior.

Although young puppies have short attention spans, the best time to learn basic commands is from 8-weeks old. At this young age, training sessions should only be 5 minutes long but can be repeated once or twice throughout the day. Check out my beginner’s guide on how to train an 8-week old Labrador puppy.

The second effective discipline moment is when your Labrador performs unwanted behavior. At the instant your dog misbehaves, you should immediately communicate that his action is not acceptable. This should be done with a firm “no” or “Ahh Ahh” message and/or the withdrawal of a reward. 

Expressing your disappointment and denying a reward immediately after an unbecoming action is performed helps your Labrador associate his bad behavior with the experience of no reward. If this message is given later, a disciplinary moment is missed. 

Why? Because scolding your Lab long after any wrongdoing is absurd as dogs only have a 2-minute short term memory and aren’t able to associate something that has happened hours, or even minutes before.

A classic example of this is how your Labrador will still get excited when you walk through the door even though you were with him 10 minutes ago. This is because he doesn’t remember.

However, dogs can recall your training commands through associative memory, meaning they can remember associations between commands, circumstances, and behavior.

For instance, they can associate the relationship between two things such as being able to respond to commands or remember the location of a hidden bone. Amazingly a recent study also showed that dogs can remember specific events from the past, known as episodic memory.

Why Your Lab Will Disregard Good Behavior: 5 Reasons

There are times when a behavior that needs disciplinary action is not due to a dog’s short term memory or poor training. Instead, your Labrador is putting out bad behavior on purpose, whether he is aware of it or not!

Here are five reasons your dog will defy the ethics of good conduct that you have taught him:

1. Your Labrador is Seeking Attention

If you are too busy and have no time to spend with your Labrador or often leave him in his crate, he will find ways to get your attention. If good behavior doesn’t work, your dog will find a way to get a reaction from you, and that could be by defying the good things you have taught him to do!

Labrador Puppy

Reacting negatively to your dog’s behavior won’t stop him from misbehaving. It might actually reinforce it, at least he gets some attention from you if he carries on barking or jumping on you!

Instead, ignore the bad behavior and reward when he has resumed the learned positive behavior. For example, if your Lab is constantly jumping up at you, ignore him by turning your back on him. As soon as he has all four paws on the ground, reward him.

If your Labrador is repeatedly barking at you to get your attention, don’t yell at him or respond to his demands by picking up the toy he has left at your feet! Instead, ignore him until he becomes quiet, then at that precise moment, quickly reward with a treat and lots of praise.

And of course, find time to be with your dog!

2. Your Dog Hasn’t Been Exercised

Dogs who have no energy outlets will resort to destructive behavior as they need to find a way to entertain themselves. Chewing, biting, barking, digging, pacing, jumping on people, urinating in the house, and general hyperactivity, are all examples of destructive behavior.

In this study, research showed that dogs undertaking physical activity exhibited less undesirable behaviors than a group of inactive dogs suggesting they were less frustrated and stressed.

Rather than punish, find time to exercise your Labrador.

3. Your Lab is Confused

If your discipline skills are inadequate, your Labrador may be confused. If you are consistently punishing your dog and probably doing so well after the event, you are certainly missing the discipline moment. You will only achieve confusion, fear, anxiety, distrust, and aggression in your dog.

Discipline your Labrador by withdrawing the reward as soon as the bad behavior is displayed. Then quickly redirect the unwanted action to the expected one, and reward good behavior when it is performed.

4. The Behavior Was Not Mastered

Your dog may be ignoring good behavior if he had inadequate initial training and did not master the behavior. If you bring home a new dog that has already learned inappropriate behavior, you’ll have to re-introduce the rules of his new home. It will require patience and consistency on your part. My complete guide, Lab Puppy Training Schedule: What to Teach Month by Month, can help you with this.

Similarly, if the training was left uncompleted then the puppy may regress, which means starting all over again. If you do start again, be sure to complete the learning process this time around and avoid inefficient methods such as command nagging and train your Lab to respond to a single cue every time.

Sometimes when puppies are removed too soon from the litter, they haven’t learned certain social behavior skills properly, such as bite inhibition.

Puppies shouldn’t be removed from the dam before they are 8-weeks old as she is still teaching them good canine manners and disciplining them when they bite too hard or step out of line. Removing a puppy too early from its mother can affect the dog’s future behavior, as detailed in this study.

5. Your Lab May Have Separation Anxiety

Your Lab may be exhibiting symptoms of separation anxiety. This means that he is going through a period of stress and anxiety due to being separated from someone, usually their master, but occasionally it can be a former owner or member of the family who is no longer there. 

If you regularly leave your dog in his crate for hours on end, he may also suffer from this condition. There are many myths about how long you can leave a dog in a crate. Check out my top article to find out the truth, How Long Can You Leave a Labrador in a Crate? Myths vs. Reality!

Common behavior problems of dogs with separation anxiety include excessive whining, barking or howling, peeing and pooping in the home despite being house trained, escaping from the home or yard, chewing, and destroying things.

To reduce or resolve separation anxiety, use behavior modification techniques such as counterconditioning. This focuses on developing an association between being alone and good things, like tasty food. For example, you can condition your Labrador to look forward to being alone by associating the sound of your keys with getting a special treat.

Another technique is desensitization. This is where you gradually teach your Lab to cope with being alone by leaving him in tiny steps. For example, start by making progressive departures of 1-5 minutes, and gradually increase.

If your Labrador’s unbecoming behavior is beyond your disciplinary skills, it is advisable to seek the help of a professional trainer. If they are an expert, they’ll know that correcting dog behavior is not done through punishment. 

Read more: Labrador Behavior Problems: Tips That Actually Work!

So, how do you discipline your Labrador Retriever without punishment? Find the answer to that in the next section.

Disciplining Your Labrador: Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Discipline is a dog owner’s way of saying to their pet that certain behavior is appreciated and another is not. To be successful, the dog must be able to understand what actions please their master and the ones that don’t.

If training has been done properly and the dog misbehaves, a “don’t do that” message should be given, or as we usually say, we should discipline our Labrador. 

As already indicated, the most effective way of disciplining your Labrador Retriever is through positive and negative reinforcement. Here’s what that means.

Positive reinforcement, also known as reward-based training, simply means giving a reward to increase the frequency of response.

For example, when you command your Lab to “come,” he will not understand that at first, and that’s normal. You’ll need to use additional gestures to make the dog understand that “come” means walk towards you. 

Once that is understood, giving a reward sends the message that going towards you is what should be done every time “come” is heard. Your dog will quickly learn that good things happen when he does the right thing.

Here’s how positive reinforcement happens:

In positive reinforcement rewards include:

  • Treats: Should be healthy and given in moderation. You can give small pieces of meat, or you can try healthy fruits or vegetables. 
  • Expression of physical attention: Your Lab will enjoy a hug, a gentle pat, or a caress behind the ears. 
  • Verbal praise: “Good dog!” or an enthusiastic “yes!”
  • Toys: Reward him with his favorite toys.

Negative reinforcement means taking something away or removing a reward to increase the frequency of the response. It often confuses people, but it does not mean “bad” or “to punish.”

A classic example of negative reinforcement is when getting your dog to sit, you gently push his bottom down towards the ground putting him into the sit position. Once the sit is achieved, you reward him by releasing the pressure.

You have removed something the dog finds unpleasant (the negative part) to increase the sitting behavior. If you keep doing this, the behavior is reinforced.

Here’s how negative reinforcement happens:

Now that you know the best way to discipline your Labrador, we’ll look at what not to do when it comes to chastising him.

Disciplining Your Labrador: 5 “Don’ts!”

We’ve already indicated that discipline does not imply punishment. Rather, it means reinforcing good behavior and deterring unbecoming behavior. In other words, you should not punish your Labrador. 

Punishment here implies “what not to do.” Here are five “don’ts” when it comes to disciplining your Labrador:

1. Don’t Use Physical Punishment

Dogs should never be physically punished, whether that means hitting, kicking, slapping him on the muzzle, shaking, using a shock collar, using the “alpha roll,” or grabbing the jowls or scruff of the neck.

It also includes other forms of punishment that would bring the dog some form of physical harm such as depriving him of food and water and psychological punishment such as caging or tying him for days.

These forms of punishment do not achieve anything positive. Dogs do not have the reasoning capacity to associate punishment with their action and are, thus, unlikely to change.

Instead, they will develop fear and aggression towards you, ultimately ruining your relationship, as they will no longer trust you. It’s also a crime to abuse an animal and abuse is not just a violent act but also covers neglect and failing to provide for general well-being.

2. Don’t Yell at Your Labrador

Dogs have perfect hearing ability and they can detect the highest and softest pitch sounds. They can tell the difference in your voice pitch and they know that shouting is a sign of your annoyance or anger.

Yelling can cause fear and aggression in Labradors, which could make them turn against you with a bite or they may try to run away. With time, dogs may also adopt a form of indifference to your shouting and learn to ignore it. This would suggest that you’ll never achieve anything with them when it comes to training.

This study showed that dogs trained using aversive-based methods experienced poorer welfare (including shouting) compared to dogs trained using reward-based methods (positive reinforcement).

Rather than shout at your Labrador, you will achieve far greater results if you use a calm voice and make clear and confident commands.

3. Don’t Rub Your Lab’s Nose In His Dirt!

Some dog owners think that rubbing their puppy’s nose in their poop or pee following an accident will make them never repeat it. Wrong! This will only teach your dog to fear you. In any case, it’s not only gross but unhygienic and unnecessary.

We have already learned that dogs learn by association and your pup may associate your displeasure with trying to hide where to “go.” He may potty under the bed or behind the couch if he thinks you will be angry.

Instead, if your Labrador soils your carpet, quickly redirect him outside and then reward him when he finishes off by giving lots of verbal praise. Check out my Ultimate Guide to House Training to learn everything you need to know about puppy potty training.

4. Don’t Encourage Bad Behavior

Sometimes, Labrador owners will have a good laugh at their dog’s bad behavior in the name of “so cute!” If your pup is chewing your slipper and you find it hilarious and cute, you will have a difficult time commanding him not to chew your leather jacket when he gets his teeth around it! 

Similarly, if you find it amusing when your teething puppy is sinking his razor-sharp teeth into the back of your ankles and biting, I’m pretty sure you won’t find it quite as funny when his teeth are much bigger, sharper, and stronger!

The point is, if you don’t want your Labrador chewing or biting anything he finds, you have to be consistent in saying “no!” Ignoring it once only causes confusion and creates the expectation that you can let it go the next time. 

Instead, insist on chew toys for play. Most pet stores have you spoilt for choice regarding chewing and teething toys, or you can always find a good selection on Amazon. I’ve always found that KONG Classic Toy to be the best as it lasts forever and is also great for playing chase and fetch or stuffing with treats!

5. Don’t Reward Negative Behavior in Remorse

Never reward negative behavior as your Lab will presume it’s what you want him to do! As a dog owner with much love for your pet, you might regret that you denied him a treat for disobeying a command, and then decide to give him three in compensation! 

As much as we appreciate your true love for your Labrador, we are sorry to inform you that you just failed your trainer’s test!

If, as a dog owner, you realize that you cannot be firm with disciplining your Lab, seek the help of a professional trainer immediately. You may also want to learn a few toughening up tips, so you don’t undo everything your dog’s trainer achieves as soon as you are alone with your best pal. 

Final Thoughts

Disciplining your Labrador is an important aspect of training. But it’s important to differentiate discipline from punishing. While punishing may cause harm to your dog, disciplining is intended to teach and reinforce positive behavior.

Correction always works better than punishment. Using effective reward-based training and negative reinforcement are the two most effective ways of using discipline to train your dog.

Avoid physical punishment and shouting. Negative disciplining is counterproductive and will only harm the intense connection between you and your dog and in some cases, you could lose it forever.

If you think that your dog’s behavior is becoming too much for you to handle, seek the help of a professional. I hope this article has helped and I wish you luck with your training!

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a female German Shepherd named Willow, and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with her, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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