Dog Selection and Training can be a daunting and rewarding endeavor.
The first thing to do is to select a puppy from a litter. Knowledgeable dog lovers know that calling to puppies in a litter using a sweet voice, “Here little guys, here come here,” and observing the first interested puppy that approaches a prospective purchaser is often the best dog in the litter because that dog is fearless, inquisitive, and might be friendly as well. During the drive home with my puppy, I noticed he was chewing on the door of the wire cat-cage in an attempt to escape from the carrying case.
A puppy must be introduced to new surroundings, given a space of its own or crate-trained depending on various circumstances. If a puppy is to have free reign of one’s home, then a bed on the floor next to the owner will provide limited comfort to the dog while it adjusts to being absent from the litter and its mother. The dog owner must anticipate a lack of sleep for several nights while comforting the dog with a hand next to it in the dog’s bed. The puppy may get some sleep but likely the owner will be tired for several days.
Then there is the housebreaking period of training. Owners make trips outside during all weather conditions while they carry the puppy to train it to develop a preference for preferred locations. And all the while assuring the puppy that screaming inside the house among family members should be ignored.
Then the puppy must be encouraged to recognize its name. Short, crisp-sounding names often prove best. Endearing names such as “Honey Pot,” “Darling,” or Sweetie Pie,” can confuse neighbors especially when the owner walks around the neighborhood trying to recover a lost dog. I am unaware of a dog that was named with a number. For example, “4.” Numbers sound the same to a dog when written, “four,” or spoken, “4.” Living near a golf course might be a problem but other numbers work well; K9 is too general a reference, but 9K might work. I named my dog, Sam.
Yellow labs have a history of chewing nearly everything during the teething phase causing “baby teeth” to appear on rugs, in chairs, and nearly everywhere until the serious adult teeth arrive. Baby teeth have favorite items to chew including shoes, fingers, hands, arms, legs, fringes of bathrobes, full scale bathrobe attacks, corners of rugs, especially pillows after violent pillow-shakes to simulate killing small animals.
The challenge of the chase for Sam involved a vacuum cleaner with an intention of killing it. Wicker chair legs were a favorite chew for Sam. Special attention must be given to cure tendencies to chew on electrical cords. Dives into trash cans and the worst mistake one can make is to teach the command, “fetch” using a sock and rewarding with a treat. This command will be mastered quickly and will haunt an owner for the life of the dog because the dog will “fetch” without command to the point of diving into dirty clothes piles for the reward of a treat.
Labs adjust early to climbing stairs, crawling underneath coffee tables, taking naps on sofas, chairs, and beds. There is nothing a lab likes better than sleeping in one’s lap as a puppy and even when full grown at a weight of 90 pounds, an unexpected leap into one’s lap can be an exciting experience for the owner. A lab is a constant care animal that must be socialized with people, and other dogs. Cats are natural prey but if introduced as a puppy, research shows that some labs will tolerate being near a cat without initiating an attack to kill it. Dogs are often losers in fights with cats—it’s a well-known fact to Veterinarians and to credit card companies as well.
Enrollment in obedience school is recommended to socialize one’s dog with other dogs, although one of our sessions required the trainer to break-up a dogfight using a metal folding chair as a shield from being severely injured while trying to separate the dogs. Cold water works if some is readily available but experience proves that labs are water dogs and cold water might work for some but not for Sam.
Sam was protective of me in class during one occasion when a well-meaning very large dog walked past us; Sam decided to remove a mouth-full of hair from the other dog’s coat. Of course, the obedience and agility commands of sit, down, stay, stand, come, go, jump, over, tunnel, and weave can be learned with continual practice.
My dog trainer used to work with horses and she encouraged me to train Sam using the commands of “Sam Right,” and “Sam Left” and Sam Halt.” The trick is to always speak the dog’s name first because animals don’t speak English and the same noises (commands) elicit the same responses. Sam learned the commands well and one time when he broke away from me to chase a grey heron at the edge of a lagoon, the command, “Sam Halt.” worked to save him from being attacked by an alligator. Sam intended to swim across the lagoon to attack the bird that landed on the far shore. The bird flew low across the lagoon with Sam in hot pursuit with me running far behind him. The drop-off of the bank was too steep to climb over. The distance between an alligator’s eyes in inches multiplied by 3 gives an estimate of length in feet. This guy had about a 2-inch span between its eyes.
At times on walks with Sam, he spotted deer and that attack mode was only stoppable by running along briefly looking for a tree to grab and loop the leash in somewhat of a mountain climbing maneuver to stop the charge. Deer can jump in thick brush and Sam usually stopped when he lost their scent. I ran behind him on several occasions without snake boots and all the while wondering if the hospital had a supply of anti-snake venom in stock. Oh, when involved in boating, yellow labs love to swim and Sam on occasion wanted to join the dolphins that accompanied my travels by water. He learned to swim as a puppy by jumping off the dock, going straight down out of sight and emerging in a dog paddle so I could scoop him up before the current carried him away. He never jumped in again from the dock.
I walked Sam early in the mornings when most people were still asleep. We became friends with an owner of a female black lab; the dog was flunked-out of seeing-eye school because of allergies since persons that are sight-impaired can’t care adequately for a dog with allergies. Sam and the black lab became friends and often ran loose while we walked. The black lab had a collar fashioned by its owner with a strobe light that allowed easy visual tracking of the dogs while they ran all over the place. He should have patented the collar.
I walked Sam four times daily regardless of the weather. He ate three meals a day at normal mealtimes. Sam was liked by all persons and by most of the dogs that knew him, including another lab that he met and accepted when it was a puppy. The lab grew and Sam wanted to attack it whenever we encountered the dog. The dog got stronger and Sam got weaker until one day the owner of the other lab lost control of it and it charged us. Neither dog drew any blood but lots of barred teeth and barking were encountered while I held Sam close to me all the while thinking the other dog would turn on me. That dog was highly trained and the lady walking it was engrossed in a telephone conversation. After that time, we made it a point to avoid one another whenever either of us spotted one of us in the distance.
I put Sam into agility training where owners and dogs run a course of wickets, jumps, tunnels, ramps, and beam walks judged against time and with scores awarded for navigation of each obstacle. The best dogs can run a course under verbal commands and hand-signals from an owner standing still in the center of a course. We entered a judged show once and were asked by the judge to leave because Sam would not stop barking at the other dogs. I knew what the problem was that caused the barking; he wanted to immediately run the course without waiting for his turn.
One day while walking on wet grass near a lagoon, Sam saw a grey heron and went into hot pursuit with me running behind him. He pulled me off my feet as we neared the lagoon and towed me along on the wet grass until we stopped at the edge of the water. I stopped by digging my toes into the ground somewhat like an anchor. I was covered with mud. A doctor stopped his car and came running to help me. I assured him that I was OK. Sam lived to nearly 14 years of age.
He hated motorcycles and wanted to attack every motorcycle he saw I also used trees to stop his attempted attack on several occasions. The seat belts in the rear of my car were chewed to pieces as a result of his frustration regarding motorcycles. He watched thru the windshield for motorcycles and the sight of that one headlight in the distance caused barking and clawing at the insides of my car until the motorcycle vanished from sight. The worst cases involved being at traffic lights with a motorcycle waiting patiently behind the car while Sam tried to break the rear window. I had a rider stop once on a side rode and we both tried to introduce Sam to a parked motorcycle. It didn’t matter if it was parked or not, he wanted to attack it.
Sam was from a long line of hunting dogs in South Carolina. If I ever get another puppy, it might be best to pick the puppy that approaches me last rather than the first puppy that leaves its mother. Sam was a registered American Kennel Club (AKC) dog with a pedigree of several pages. He truly was a beautiful dog, and he knew it. People in the neighborhood still ask about Sam from time-to-time. One lady made a generous donation in his name to the local Animal Shelter.