Labradors are energetic dogs who can make life fun if trained right. But they need training and guidance as soon as they are released into your custody. Sometimes, you may get a grown-up Lab that needs to be socialized and re-educated to follow commands.
When training a 1-year-old Labrador, socialize your dog via gradual exposure and use positive reinforcement. Teach him to follow commands, be patient with him, desensitize him to sounds and other people, counter condition away bad habits, and strategically use harmless punishment.
In this article, you will discover the specifics of training an older Lab, including how to:
- Socialize the Labrador with humans and other dogs
- Use rewards and encouragement
- Familiarize him with commands
- Be patient in the process
- Desensitize him to fear stimuli
- Counter condition bad habits
- Use harmless punishments (only when necessary)
How To Train a 1-Year-Old Labrador
Training a 1-year-old Labrador can seem daunting and complicated. How do you teach an older dog and which strategies should you start with? In reality, it’s not that much different from training a Lab puppy, other than you will need to be more patient and train with greater consistency. Let’s get started on what you need to do!
1. Work on Socialization
Socialization is a catch-all solution that can offset almost every other training gap. Since dogs are judged by their capacity to be social with humans, your Labrador’s willingness and ability to get along with humans (and other dogs) will trigger a positive (or negative) feedback loop that will make him either a friendly or a lonely dog.
Fortunately, Labradors are gentle mini-giants and are naturally interested in socializing. As long as they get safe, gradual, and positive social exposure to your friends, their dogs, and dogs at a dog park, they will be well-assimilated into the good dog norms. A few ways to train your Labrador to be social are as follows:
Grant Gradual Exposure
Labrador puppies can get overwhelmed with social stimuli, so it is crucial to start gradually exposing them to the external environment, other people, and dogs. If a Labrador is 1 year old and has not yet received social training, you have to treat him just like a puppy and be even more patient. It might take a few weeks longer to offset his interest in isolation.
Treat Him for Being a Participant
You should give your dog a treat for simply seeing another dog and not losing his mind. This will ensure that he associates new dogs/people with treats and rewards. This is a form of counterconditioning, which we will discuss later in this post.
Take Him on Walks
This goes without saying because Labradors need exercise. Switching routes to ones with more people can help him see human presence as normal. As a result, he won’t treat every guest’s arrival as a home invasion.
Supervise Doggy Dates
Finally, you can start arranging safe doggy dates. These are in order once you know your Labrador doesn’t try to outbark everything that barks. Having your friends come over with their dogs and letting both the pets see each other from a distance can be enough of a first date. Depending on the canine’s interest in peace, they can hang out together.
If your Lab is having a hard time and won’t stop barking at other dogs, check out this article, Labrador Barking at Other Dogs? How to Stop Barking.
2. Use Positive Reward-Based Training
A 1-year-old Labrador might have a few habits that you want to replace. One of the most commonly used but inefficient ways to “undo” a dog’s habit is to punish him. Even the ethical argument for kindness aside, this doesn’t work because the consequence of bad habits is often delayed, and any punishment you deliver isn’t going to be associated with the habit itself.
Let’s suppose your Labrador tears up the couch because he is anxious. By the time you see the torn couch, your dog has forgotten about the action. If you punish him, he will be more confused than educated. Positive feedback requires more patience but works.
Here are some tips to train a 1-year-old Lab with rewards.
- Set up conditions for his success – If he tears up the couch, introduce a chew toy and keep him out of the room with fragile furniture.
- Reward success – Give him treats for being silent when he notices another dog.
- Gradually raise obstacles – You can gradually start bringing distractions and discipline-testing fixtures into his periphery. Don’t do too much at once, or his willpower will be defeated by temptation.
- Keep rewarding him for overcoming obstacles – Even though you set him up for success, you want to keep him well-rewarded for keeping up his good habits.
- Emulate real-life difficulty – Eventually, you want the obstacles to mimic real life. This means having the same proximity with other dogs, dealing with as much distraction as a real-life scenario, and behaving just as well as you want him to behave outside.
- Reward him for overcoming it – Finally, you should reward your Lab for keeping up with the obstacles and getting disciplined enough to behave according to expectations in real-life scenarios.
3. Teach Basic Commands and Skills
A 1-year-old Lab may be a little old to learn commands. Nonetheless, no Labrador is too old to be guided by the power of rewards and patience. As long as a Lab doesn’t have to unlearn old commands, getting him to follow new commands is fairly straightforward. You just need to add extra weeks to even the most basic commands.
- Wait till the Labrador is doing something – This could be any action like sitting or running. You can also create a context where the dog is in a specific position out of necessity (used for heel and similar commands).
- Use a word that describes the action – This is the command you want to associate with the action.
- Give the dog a reward for the action until he associates it with the word – When a Lab is 12 months old, he takes longer to understand the concept of commands. You need to keep using your command when he is engaging in an action much longer before you can use the word to trigger said action.
- Say the word and wait for the Labrador to start acting – When you try out the command, and your Labrador follows through, you should give him a treat. If he doesn’t follow, go back to strengthening the association.
Do you want to learn all the commands to teach your Lab? Head over to this guide, The Essential Labrador Training Commands Guide.
4. Be Consistent, Positive, and Patient
Consistency is the key to helping an older Lab understand and follow commands. Any unnatural breaks in routine, change of pace, or moodiness in command preference can confuse the Labrador.
It is advisable to assume the 1-year-old Lab will take three times longer than a puppy to learn the same command. This is not precise math, but it does set reasonable expectations, helping you stay positive and patient through the relatively slow learning process.
5. Change Your Lab’s Behavior With Counterconditioning
We touched upon this in the socialization stage. As mentioned earlier, teaching a 1-year-old Lab to learn is easier than making him unlearn old habits. Counterconditioning is a concept of pairing different results with situations where your dog reacts negatively.
Let’s suppose he barks at the Amazon delivery guy. Unless he hates Jeff Bezos for delaying dog food delivery in 2020, he barks because the stranger’s presence makes him feel threatened. Counterconditioning entails giving your dog a treat when the delivery van pulls up. This associates reward with the situation and can get him to calm down.
What’s tricky with counterconditioning is that you need to reward the dog before he acts badly. In the case of a delivery guy, if he (the dog and not the delivery guy) starts barking, rewarding him will associate the barking with the treat, which can strengthen the habit.
Counterconditioning is a proven strategy for pairing something positive with fear to reduce the Labrador’s distress. For example, in this recent study of treatments for firework fears in dogs, counterconditioning was the most effective, with relaxation training coming a close second.
Counterconditioning your 1-year-old Labrador is most effective when combined with desensitization, which brings me to the next section.
6. Desensitize Your Labrador
We have also covered gradually raising the challenge level, obstacles, and distractions, so your dog doesn’t get overwhelmed. But sometimes, the obstacle is just “being normal.” If your Lab gets spooked or too excited by stimuli that are considered normal, you need to desensitize him.
To desensitize your Labrador, you need to reduce the average stimulus like noise to the point where the dog can bear it. Then, you should gradually increase the intensity of exposure (volume in case of sound, proximity in case of a physical entity) while rewarding the Lab for not reacting. If you do this long enough, your Labrador will get desensitized to everyday stimuli.
7. Use Punishment Appropriately
Punishing might seem like a shortcut because the human mind projects itself onto other mammals like dogs. But punishments don’t work with dogs, especially if they are dished out without strategy.
For a punishment to be effective, it must not be harmful to the dog, must be for a clear reason that even the Labrador can see, and must be used sparingly. Some kind and ethical punishments for dogs include:
- Grounding – This is the easier punishment to deliver without going overboard. Grounding the dog should follow a clear cause-and-effect chain. Keep time-outs short, just a couple of minutes will do the trick.
- Scolding followed by silent treatment – Try to err on the side of silent treatment more than prolonged scolding. You should scold your Lab immediately when he is in the middle of doing something wrong and then be silent.
- Looking displeased – Depending on how attached your Lab is to you, you can “punish” him by simply looking displeased. Labradors have plenty of empathy and can pick up on when their actions affect your mood negatively.
If you’re looking for more info on exactly how to punish your dog, check out this article, How to Discipline a Labrador: And What Not to Do!
Many people make mistakes when delivering punishment. And the biggest mistake is punishing your dog for something he did over 30 minutes ago. You have to catch him in action in order for him to associate the punishment with the action.
Another mistake people make when punishing a Labrador is calling him before punishing him. If you punish a dog for listening and coming close to you, he will be confused and will not trust you again. Even “kind” punishments like scolding should be held back if the dog walks up to you. He should have positive feelings about your company.
Finally, the gravest error in punishing a dog is being too harsh. If you end up beating your dog or even “gently shocking” him with the lazy dog parent collar, you will end up damaging the potential depth of your bond in an unapparent manner. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know how much I disapprove of these “techniques.”
Challenges of Training an Older Labrador
One should start training a Labrador while he is a puppy because the more set a Lab is in his own ways, the harder it is to make him follow commands or act differently. Depending on how ‘bad’ his previous training or lack of training is, you may face the following challenges trying to train your older Labrador.
Overcoming Trust Issues
Labradors that don’t have enough social experience can have a general distrust of people. Because people are on edge upon spotting a cautious dog, the Labrador’s uneasiness with people increases.
This negative loop makes a poorly socialized Labrador more introverted and socially nervous. Overcoming this entails gaining the dog’s trust, which can take a long time.
Counterconditioning Difficult Reactions
As covered earlier, counterconditioning is the act of rewarding a dog for behaving differently under the same stimulus. However, some Labradors can have such a negative reaction that there is no room to reward them. It takes a lot of patience and tact to create a context where an untrained Lab will not react or behave in an undesirable way.
Mitigating the Consequences of a Lack of Training
While patience is required to train an older Lab, it is not the only thing needed. You also need a great deal of caution because an undisciplined Lab can attack or threaten people, act too energetically with smaller pets, and even tug at his harness trying to chase cars. While training your older Lab, you need to actively minimize the potential disasters waiting to happen.
Feeding Your Labrador on Time
Finally, a Labrador who has no grasp of basic commands is hard to feed. He will eat food when he sees it but getting him to understand feeding time is difficult. However, this is something dogs pick up on pretty quickly, and even if he doesn’t know how to react to different stimuli, he will know to work up an appetite when he hears anything associated with dog food.
Training a 1-year-old Labrador is easy if you don’t expect him to learn as quickly as a freshly released puppy. As long as you bet on positive reinforcement, remain patient, and counter-condition his riskiest habits first, you will have an easy time training your older Lab.