Labradors are members of the "Sporting Breeds" of dogs, and as such they have been bred to retrieve both upland game and water fowl for hunters. Labs are instinctive retrievers, but do require some degree of trainig before you can take them out for a successful day of hunting. If you do not hunt, but would still like your Lab to enjoy doing the things it was bred for, field training is a great weekend hobby. Both the Labrador Retriever Club of Southern California (LRCSC) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) sponsor programs that test a Lab's working ability in the field. The LRCSC holds "Certificate of Working Ability" tests twice a year. Successful completion of this test gives your dog an excellent start in hunting test programs, and gives him the WC (Working Certificate) award if submitted to the Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., the national Labrador Retriever parent club. The AKC sponsors "Hunting Tests for Retrievers" and these tests are held by many local clubs during the spring and fall. There are three levels of tests; Junior, Senior, and Master. Successful completion of these tests earns you dog the "JH", "SH" or "MH" titles. For more detailed information regarding the AKC Hunting Test for Retrievers, contact the AKC or visit their website, www.akc.org or plan to attend a Hunting Test to see Labs in action.
You can begin training a pup at seven weeks by throwing a toy for him to retrieve. Remember, "retrieve" means going out, picking it up and bringing it back to you. At six months (after all puppy shots have been given) you can take your Lab out to the field. Give pup plenty of time to sniff and explore before you try any serious training. And remember, a puppy's attention span is SHORT! Keep retrieves simple, and give your pup lots of encouragement. At this point, the most important thing you can do is help your pup build confidence. To introduce your pup to water, it is easier if an older (trained) dog can show the pup the ropes. Otherwise, plan to get wet yourself. Don't rush it or frighten him by forcing the issue. Try starting out in shallow water where pup can walk out to his retrieve, and slowly advance to where pup is swimming a few strokes. Labs love the water, and once they feel confident, you won't be able to keep them out of the water. It is best to train with at least one other person once pup is ready to retrieve farther than you are able to throw. LRCSC holds training days for young pups or older dogs just starting their field training prior to Certificate of Working Ability tests. For additional information on field training, check your local library or books for sale at dog shows.